Sotsil

Recipe: to share or not to Share December 28, 2009

sharing recipes1 Sharing recipes is a very natural and human gesture not only among friends and family but also among virtual strangers.  Just type your ingredient or desired dish on google and presto, you get pages and pages of results.  That’s what I like about the Internet.  It lives and breathes democracy in the sense that everyone, regardless of their station in life, has free and unlimited access to any kind of information they need to make their lives easier.

Question for you:  what do you think of people who refuse to share their recipes?

I have a story…

My brother and I were invited to Christmas dinner on the 25th.  I had made some chicken with rosemary, molasses bread, and a chocolate cake as my "contribution".  My friend did not ask me to bring anything but I never want to go to a party empty-handed (in our culture, pot luck dinners are not common; it would be unthinkable to invite friends and then ask them to bring a dish).

My friend prepared food like she was feeding an army; there were only about five guests and counting the friends of their kids, we were about 10 people.  But it was a dinner table laden with abundance.  My friend suggested we start with a Vietnamese soup.  Divine!  It sure hit the spot.  Then my friend suggested we try the salad because she was sure we would go gaga over it.  We did.

I went back for a second and third serving of the Vietnamese salad because it was refreshing and light.  I detected a hint of lime juice, some mint and I think there were sesame seeds or chopped peanuts in it.  It’s a salad I could eat everyday and I told myself I would add this salad to my collection.  It’s even better than the celery root salad I fell in love with years before and which I continue to make.

When my friend stopped puttering about in the kitchen and sat with us, I complimented her on the salad.  She said, "no, I didn’t make it.  My friend did.  I wish I could make it myself." 

"So why don’t you ask her for the recipe and that way you can pass it on to me?"

My friend shook her head vigorously.  "I asked her a few times but she won’t share it with me.  She said she’d be happy to make it for me but there was no way she was going to let me have the recipe."

How selfish, I thought.  But then I remembered that this was the same friend who owned a restaurant.  For someone who makes a living cooking for others and serving exotic and delicious meals, I understand the top secrecy.

Restaurant owners have a right to not divulge their recipe secrets – the same way that Coca-Cola never divulged the secret cola formula that made the soft drink a hit the world over.

After my brother and I left the party, I was still savouring the taste of that wonderful Vietnamese salad.  I was also wondering why non-restaurant owners do act like Scrooge when it comes to sharing recipes.  There must be a sociological explanation for it.

I’m sure the Internet would give me the answer. 

One writer said that people don’t share recipes because the recipe was probably handed to them from a family member who has since passed away.  It could be that while that person was on her or his deathbed, the family was made to swear never to give the recipe to anyone.

Another reason – the obvious one – is that people with commercial food interests have to protect their rights.  The recipe that makes their restaurant or catering business so successful is a real asset.  This one I understand perfectly. 

There are also those who share it only halfway just to make the asker shut up; meaning, they give out an incomplete list of ingredients.  They leave out the one ingredient that makes a world of difference.  Or they omit a step, modifying the cooking time or the technique.

My take on the matter is if you’re going to share an "altered" recipe, don’t share it at all.  It’s dishonest.  It’s unkind.  It’s uncharitable.  Be honest and say you can’t share it. 

Like 98% of the human population, I like sharing recipes…and I go out of my way to share the essential tips that would make the dish more delicious.  Most times, the success of a dish does not depend on the ingredients and procedures.  The secret lies in the "tips."  For instance, oyster sauce is a common ingredient in Asia.  But there are certain brands that have a distinct flavor and when added to certain ingredients, bring out the best of the dish.  When a recipe calls for oyster sauce for example, my tip would be to mix it first with a bit of water so that the taste isn’t too strong or concentrated.  Much will depend on the kind of dish you’re making.  I like to douse my vegetables with oyster sauce, but I wouldn’t pour it into the skillet directly.  I’d put a small amount in a small bowl and add water, whisking it so they blend completely.  These little steps do make a difference.

Going back to this lady who doesn’t share her recipes, her restaurant closed down by the way.  I won’t say that her refusal to share recipes caused the business to fold up, but it sort of confirms the sentiment that when you learn to share, what goes around comes around.  And when you don’t share, that selfishness could have disastrous consequences.  Bad karma perhaps?

sharing recipe2 Eating is a real pleasure.  Why not make others happy by sharing your recipes?

From Calvin Trillin:  "The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers.  The original meal has never been found."

 

Say Cheese! (Quebec Cheese, That is) November 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — sotsil @ 2:52 pm
Tags: , ,

quebec cheese Susan Semenak’s front page story in the Montreal Gazette’s Weekend Life section (Saturday, November 21, 2009) hooked my attention.  I guess it’s because it triggered a sense of pride. Not only is the province oozing with electric power but  is also gushing with cheese power – the kind of cheese that garners top honors in world cheese competitions.

Ms. Semenak featured Le Cendrillon cheese which she calls a true to life Cinderella story.  Le Cendrillon grabbed the gold medal in the World Cheese Awards held in Spain’s Canary Islands. 

Fame comes with a steep price tag, or shall we say, comes with stepped up demand. Manufacturers can’t keep up with orders; for awhile, the cheese was noticeably absent from store shelves.

The famous top placer in the World Cheese Awards is, as Ms. Semenak’s describes it, an “ash-covered soft goat cheese that has a strong tangy taste.”  After it won the gold prize, retailers started ordering it and bloggers/cheese lovers raved about it.  Once upon a time, stores were indifferent to Le Cendrillon saying that it was good cheese but it was nothing to write home about.  They’ve since changed their tune after Le Cendrillon proved to be the “shiningest’ star on the cheese podium.

Quebec’s cheese makers ought to be proud.  Ms Semenak interviewed Yannick Achim, owner of a cheese outlet in Montreal and St. Jerôme.  Mr. Achim said that Quebec cheeses win a lot of awards.  The one in the Canary Islands is just one of many.  For instance, in the American Cheese Society Awards in Chicago, Quebec collected 21 awards; in Switzerland’s Caseus Montanus, Quebec cheeses were also a hit.  But something is missing.  Mr. Achim believes it’s a lack of marketing clout and the fact that cheese makers here in la belle province are too modest.

Ms. Semenak raised a crucial issue about Quebec cheese and it deserves closer attention, enticing venture capitalists or entrepreneurs with excess cash to unload.  They should turn their capitalist dreams to cheese.  While Quebec cheeses are excellent, manufacturers don’t have the marketing mettle to turn this cottage industry into a giant.  Artisanal cheese makers in Quebec also don’t possess the export knowledge and only a few have been able to refine distribution networks.

Perhaps it’s time that Quebec’s venture capital pool work their magic on Quebec cheese so that it can melt its way into international taste buds and become a force to be reckoned with in the future.  But then again, maybe the reason our cheeses are so good is that the artisanal cheese community has remained small and is focusing on what they do best, without necessarily wanting to rake it in. 

Just a thought – what would happen to the quality of our cheeses if we turned this small community into multinationals?

Le Cendrillon is made by Alexis de Portneuf in Quebec City, a division of the Saputo Group.  These “technical specs” below were taken from the company’s web site in its product catalogue (the URL is provided at the top of the photo).

 

saputo source

 

Basic Breakfast Buns October 17, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — sotsil @ 6:56 pm
Tags: , ,

The mornings are getting colder.  We begin to shy away from cold cereals and shift to a warm bowl of Quaker oats or to a generous platter of thick pancakes with brown sausage links, crackling bacon bits and Maple syrup. 

Or else we look forward to honest-to-goodness homemade breakfast buns.  You may have heard of the saying that a baby is God’s way of telling us that life must go on.  Well, warm buns are heaven’s way of telling us that we ought to get our buns off our bed and head straight to the kitchen.  Buns also reinforce the idea that breakfast is a sacred ritual that should never be skipped. 

buns

I do feel sorry for people who deliberately stay away from breads – any kind of bread – simply because they’re fattening.  How can anyone not like bread, especially the sweet ones?  I can imagine getting tired of sourdoughs and baguettes after awhile but buns that are mildly sweet and soft – they’re to die for, don’t you agree?

These basic breakfast buns go with anything – scrambled eggs, egg salad, tuna, ham – or more simple fillings like jam and peanut butter.  Why, they’d probably taste just as heavenly with mashed sweet beans or custard!

People back home had their own version of buns which they called pan de sal.  Try googling the recipe and you’ll get a dozen different ways of making them – some are with the basic ingredients of yeast, water, sugar and salt; some are made with eggs; still others are made with evaporated milk or regular milk.  Mine is a mish-mash of these ingredients and I’d be happy to send you the recipe.  E-mail me at ques2008@gmail.com.  If you like these, you’ll also like Spanish bread (https://sotsil.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/spanish-bread-subtle-sweetness/).

Whichever way you make it, pan de sal isn’t pan de sal without bread crumbs on top.  If you eliminate the crumbs, then your bread turns into a mamon or a type of bread that would raise the eyebrows of your fellow Pinoys who’ll ask, “ano ba ito na ginawa mo?” (translation:  what in heaven’s name is this thing you just made?)

The country was recently ravaged by a couple of typhoons.  I saw some footage on TV about rescue and relief efforts – boxes and boxes of food and clothing.  I hope those boxes contained a lot of rice and flour because Pinoys, as you might have guessed, love their rice and their bread!  During emergencies, they will survive and with generous amounts of good humor – as long as they have their kanin (rice) and tinapay (bread).

buns2

 

Buckling Down For Buckwheat Pancakes September 3, 2009

Chez Cora is a popular breakfast dig here in Montreal.  Montrealers describe themselves as restaurant hoppers so even in times of an economic recession, restaurants and eateries that enjoy a fine reputation are always full.  Chez Cora is one of them.  It has a successful business model and is owned and managed by Cora Mussely Tsouflidou, a native of Quebec who was born in the Gaspé Peninsula.

Cora studied Latin and Greek in university  but when her first child was born, she had to quit school.  By the time her third child was born, she was on her own.  This was sufficient motivation to open a local canteen which tripled in value, thanks to her hard work and homemaking skills.

It was at Chez Cora where I first ate buckwheat pancakes.  They were served to me in a set of three on a large oval platter; fresh fruits delicately scattered along the edges of the pancakes.  Eaten with Canadian maple syrup, I devoured them with gusto.

Waking up one morning in late August, I felt a slight chill and wondered if winter was going to come early this year.  I looked out the window and was dismayed to find that the street was wet, a steady drizzle caressing my window.  To turn my negative thought into a positive one, I said to myself, “time to make buckwheat pancakes.”  The heavy and “wheaty” texture of these pancakes make them a good match for a chilly wet morning.

I had been reading on the Net that the trick to making buckwheat pancakes is to make the batter the night before and to put it in the fridge.  I don’t know why; those who recommended the overnight method didn’t explain why this was necessary.  Some of the recipes had a long list of ingredients, so on this wet morning, I searched again, this time googling “simple buckwheat pancake recipes.”

You won’t believe this but the recipe I finally chose was from no other than Kentucky Fried Chicken!  I thought KFC was strictly a chicken/roll/coleslaw place.  I certainly never saw pancakes in their menu – at least not here in Montreal.

Here is the KFC recipe (taken from http://www.kfc.com/tips/buckwheat_cakes.asp).

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cake yeast (I used active dry yeast from Fleischmann’s.  Cake yeast is not sold in my supermarket)
1 quart warm water (105-115ºF)
2 cups buckwheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup bacon drippings or vegetable oil
pinch of baking soda

INSTRUCTIONS
Dissolve yeast in warm water separately. Sift flours, sugar and salt together, add to water and make batter. Add bacon drippings or vegetable oil. Set at room temperature for 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight. Add pinch of baking soda the next morning. Cook pancakes on non-stick griddle over medium heat, turn as edges start to dry.

Kentucky Whipped Butter (if you like it) Cut up 3 pounds of butter at room temperature in mixing bowl. Beat until smooth, slowly add 1 cup buttermilk and beat until fluffy. Scrape bowl and continue beating until lump free.

I did not have bacon so I used a few drops of canola oil.  Next time, I will definitely use bacon drippings because they would “perk up” the taste of the pancakes.  This is what my batter looked like prior to refrigeration.

buckwheat1

Next morning, the mixture grew in size.  It looked like the yeast was doing its job.

buckwheat2

When I stirred the batter, it shrank back to its normal size.  Just a few tips I want to share:

  • use the right size pan.  If you want smaller pancakes, use the appropriate size.  The pan must be non-stick (mine’s a teflon pan that I wiped with a paper towel dabbed in canola oil).  My MISTAKE was using an oversized frying pan so the batter spread out instead of remaining intact.  This was what I ended up with.

buckwheat3

  • the pan must be hot (about 2 minutes on high)
  • pour a generous amount of batter (unless you want thin pancakes)
  • wait until there are numerous bubbles before turning the pancake (with pancakes made with all-purpose flour or Bisquick, turning them after a few bubbles appear is fine, but with these buckwheat pancakes, I turned the first pancake too early, destroying the shape).  My 2nd and 3rd pancakes were better (the pan had heated up nicely and I waited for more bubbles to appear before flipping them over)
  • and yes, do use bacon drippings as the Colonel says!
 

If not for Peter Reinhart… May 8, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — sotsil @ 8:15 am

…I would not have been a convert to bread baking, nor would I have bought myself a pastry scraper.  I had never used a scraper before.

 

 

 

One of Reinhart’s books, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (Ten Speed Press, 2001) is a gem.  It should be in your kitchen, but it would also make an excellent coffee book table, a conversation starter.  If I ever turned destitute and had to start selling my books for money, this one would be the last to go.

This scraper is now a kitchen favorite.  I want to have a half a dozen in different sizes!

This scraper is now a kitchen favorite. I want to have a half a dozen in different sizes!

 

 In case you were wondering, I’m not being paid by anyone to promote this book and I doubt Reinhart would even bother to read this blog. I think I’ll send him an e-mail one day to let him know anyway.

If you read the reviews on Amazon, most of them speak of the book in glowing terms.  One or two reviewers say it’s not a book for beginners.  I disagree; I am a beginner at bread baking and the book didn’t intimidate me at all.  I managed to follow some of the recipes (Reinhart calls them “formulas”) with no problem.

He said something on page 9 which I’d like to share: “The more technical and mechanical bakers often go to Manhattan, Kansas, where there is a superb school called the American Institute of Baking.  There they learn all about the properties of wheat and the effect of multitudinous sugars upon various strains of yeast.  They learn dough formulas, and they learn about equipment options and methodologies.  Graduates of this program become valuable technical bakers, usually for large companies, and earn good salaries, troubleshooting problems, and guaranteeing consistency in operations that may produce forty thousand or more loaves a day…The other type of baker, the wind-on-cheek baker, often opens a small bakeshop and makes what has become known as artisan bread, the term “artisan” having been driven, sadly, to near meaninglessness by its recent ubiquity. These are the bakers who tend to rhapsodize about their loaves.”

Whether in the kitchen or on living room center piece table, this book would make a conversation going (ISBN: 978-1-58008-268-6).

Whether in the kitchen or on living room center piece table, this book would make a conversation going (ISBN: 978-1-58008-268-6).

 

 

Peter Reinhart teaches at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.  He is the author of at least four other books and is a regular culinary commentator.

If you want to find out more about The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, the ISBN is:  978-1-58008-268-6.  Notice that I don’t have an Amazon banner ad – I haven’t got the foggiest on how to go about doing that!

 

About Me May 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — sotsil @ 4:00 pm

My goodness, NOT another food blog!

 

Why not?

There won’t be anything special about this blog to make it stand out above the rest (I struggle with SEO as it is), but I’ll make sure that I can offer a fresh perspective on food and anything related to it  (that includes morsels (trivia) recipes, tips and gadgets, perhaps a bit of history, and every now and then, a book review).

I dedicate this blog to my parents, SOTera and SILver.  They’ve since passed away but when they were alive, the family always ate together, and eating was a sacred exercise.   Not that we were gourmet enthusiasts and ate in the best restaurants.  Far from it. 

I do thank my parents for teaching us what and how to eat.  My father wanted at least three kinds of courses on the table:  fish or meat or chicken, vegetables and soup.  He wanted wholesome meals minus the fuss and fancy trimmings.  He had a preference for taste, and wasn’t too keen on presentation.  As for my mother, she didn’t believe in skimping; she could whip up an appetizing meal just as easily as she could play Gershwin on the piano.

My parents knew I disliked cooking.  It was only after dad died that I took to the kitchen – now my “safe” haven and refuge.  It’s too bad I can’t show them the recipes I picked up from books, friends and the Internet.  They  would have been tickled pink, because I used to tell them that staying more than five minutes in the kitchen was oppressive.  I would say that often to discourage them from nurturing any hope that I would one day change my mind.

I did change my mind, don’t ask me why.  Now all I want to do is talk about food, and I scavenge for recipes everywhere, yearning to be creative – especially with bread and pastry. 

 

WARNING:  I’m not trying to be another Nigella Lawson or Rachael Ray – not by a long shot.  So please don’t lean on me for expertise. 

But…we can have some fun!