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Decent price on saffron ?

About once every year or two, I order 5 gm of saffron and 1/2 lb (!!!!) of Tahitian vanilla beans from this place: The saffron is from Afghanistan, and is of utterly exceptional quality: deep red, delicate threads. No need to toast them--they crumble beautifully. None of that fishy/musty/soapy smell you get from the cheap stuff.

Vanilla beans are also exceptional in terms of freshness and flavour, though they are on the small side, so there is a little more slicing and scraping involved.

Price? About 60 bucks for both together, including shipping. In know, GET OUT!

5 gm is a lot of of saffron, especially with how powerful this stuff is. But I manage to plough through it pretty well--I occasionally send some home with friends who ask "What did you put in this risotto???" I use it in desserts (ice cream, creme brûlée, semifreddo, genoise, frosting), pasta sauce, soups, curries, stew, meatballs, cocktails, etc. When you have it at that price you can go nuts. The saffron has always remained fresh for a couple of years.

The vanilla beans are a bigger challenge to get through, and they start to dry out after 12 to 18 months. I don't make much by way of desserts. But if you have then, you use them in lieu of extract. Example: delicious pound cake. And as with the saffron, favoured guests get some to take home. This year, I did not manage to get through them, so I am making some extract, which I suppose I will also give away....

Alphonso mangoes?

Depending on what you want to do with them, the canned Alfonso mango purée you can get in many Indian markets is delicious and cheap. Makes fine mango pudding, ice cream, sorbet.

Recent cooking fails?

No knead bread has very weak structure due to...lack of kneading...and a very slack dough. Adding in lots of heavy goodies like grains and seeds is pretty dicey, even with very fresh yeast.

Orange Flower Water and Rose Water-How do you like to cook with these?

I use tiny bit of orange flower water to bump up the flavour in fruit almost anywhere I can. Great in fruit salads (especially good with strawberries and stone fruits). Also great in jam and in fruit tarts.

Nov 21, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

Paul Prudhomme's Spiced Pecan Cake--your thoughts?

Recipe calls for roasting pecans at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. I think they would be incinerated--they brown pretty easily due to their high sugar content.

May 12, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

Basic bread baking guide

If I can summarize all of the chatter above in a single phrase, it is this: "It's complicated."

All of the comments have some truth to them...the problem is that baking a successful yeast bread is all about the technique, not the recipe. Which is why good bread books are so painfully detailed and seem to focus on what seems like needless detail. Think of it this way: Most breads largely or entirely consist of four ingredients: Flour, water, yeast, and salt. And yet the differences among them (texture, flavour, crust, etc.) are dramatic. There are some small differences in terms of the proportion of these ingredients (especially the percentage of water), but the big difference between loaves is in the technique with which the ingredients are assembled, fermented, shaped, and baked. Simply put, bread baking isn't about a recipe--it's about a whole series of techniques that come together to produce a magical thing.

That said, if the goal is a sandwich loaf, here are some thoughts:

1) By baking in a loaf pan, you remove what is probably the most tricky step, which is shaping a free-form loaf. Just rolling it up and tossing it in the loaf pan will make a decent loaf. With a little more effort you can roll it up under tension and end up with a prettier, more evenly textured loaf. But that is not essential.

2) For a sandwich loaf, you are looking for a soft, fine crumb. Several things help with this: First, using all purpose flour instead of bread flour yields a softer, tighter crumb. Second, including some dried milk in the mix also helps soften the crumb--you will see this in many recipes. Third, fats of various sorts also help keep the crumb tender and moist (e.g., butter, oil, lecithin, eggs).

3) I would start with a white sandwich loaf as whole wheat loaves are a little harder to master--they can easily get heavy and dry. Once you have the white loaf down, start experimenting with adding some whole grain flour to the mix (usually you can substitute up to about a third of the flour with whole wheat flour without any modifications).

4) The texture of bread is evened out and reinforced through an extra rising: Rise, "punch down," rise "punch down," shape, proof, and bake. I put "punch down" in quotes because the goal is not to deflate it. You actually want to try to retain as much of the air as possible as you fold it up to redistribute the yeast and strengthen the structure of the loaf. The extra rise also adds flavour.

5) Above all else, what makes simple breads good is...a slow fermentation process. That complexity you get in a great baguette is not an additive or flavouring, and it is not the flavour of the flour--it is simply the end result of a complex fermentation process, carefully managed. Slower fermentation results in a more complex flavour, as a general rule. So if you do your "back of the flour bag" recipe with lots of yeast and a 1 hour rise and 1 hour proof, you will get a respectable but fairly bland loaf. Using a sourdough starter adds the most flavour, but it does take a bit of patience and confidence. For the beginner, the easiest way to add flavour is to use a sponge, in which you mix all of the water, part of the flour, and part of the yeast and let it ferment away for...a while. Even an hour adds quite a lot of flavour. Four hours is even better. But the best flavour, in my mind, comes from one hour at room temperature and then overnight in the fridge. In the morning, add the remaining flour, a bit more yeast, and salt and mix it up to make the final dough. There are other "preferments" as an alternative to a sponge (poolish, biga, pate fermentee, etc.), but I think that a sponge is the most forgiving.

6) That said, what I think the OP needs more than anything is...CONFIDENCE. Remember, it's less than a dollar's worth of ingredients, and even if it is not perfect, it will still be pretty good. So start with the flour bag recipe, and as you gain a little experience, start experimenting a little with pre-ferments.

Jan 21, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

7 spice mixture

Have to share this: I was in a restaurant in Montreal and one of the dishes of the day was ... "steak à sept épices" (steak with seven spices). I asked the server: "Est-ce que vous pouvez énumérer les sept épices?" (Which in this context clearly meant "Can you tell me what the seven spices are?" but could also could literally mean "Can you count the seven spices.") She dryly responded: "Oui, il y en a sept." (Yes, there are seven of them).

Jan 21, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

Why is my curry sauce so pale?

If the issue is simply the colour of the dish, you can easily compensate for that by adding a bit of this or that or playing with the contrasting items on the plate. Change the colour of the sauce to green (toss in some pureed spinach), red (paprika), yellow (turmeric), purple (beets!), or even your desired brown (caramel colour, e.g., Kitchen Bouquet). Or toss in a few colourful vegetables (bits of green, yellow, orange, or red peppers; leafy greens, carrot, etc.). Or pimp it out with some garnishes: Cilantro, darkly fried onions or shallots, etc. Finally, let it be what it is and just add the colour in the form of side dishes (some nice stir-fried gai lan, turmeric rice, a radish rose, pretty carrot roses, blood orange slices, etc.). Of all of the problems with a dish, colour is one of the easiest ones to address.

Jan 21, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

Many vanilla beans

Use anywhere you would use vanilla extract: Pound cake, cookies, caramel sauce (!), creme anglaise, creme brulee, etc.

To use instead of vanilla extract, scrape out the seeds and rub them with a teaspoon or so of sugar, using your fingers. This breaks up and distributes the otherwise clumpy seeds. I don't have a particular bean/extract substitution ratio because it seems pretty flexible (especially given that extracts vary in potency and beans vary in size), but I might use, say, one smaller bean for a pound cake.

Jan 21, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

Pre-minced garlic and ginger?

I don't mind the bottled ginger (though I don't use it myself)--lacks a little bit of the zip of the real thing, but in a curry or such it is fine. However, the bottled garlic has a terrible, chemically taste to it--so I really avoid that.

Jan 20, 2013
zamorski in General Topics

Why is my curry sauce so pale?

If this is the recipe in question, then the sauce will be pale (nothing much in it to make it brown), as in the accompanying photo:

Keep in mind that food stylists are at times utterly shameless at tweaking either the recipe or the photo itself to get the look they want.

Jan 20, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

Roast Chicken Question

You can roast any size bird at that heat--have done turkeys at 500. A bigger issue is that 7.5 pounds is a big ol' chicken, and I would be concerned that it would be tough if roasted in any way, other than maybe the "sticky chicken" approach at 250 degrees. I would braise a chicken that big, myself.

Jan 17, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

Nothing ever rises...

Others have pointed out problems with the yeast, how it is handled, and the ambient temperature. Direct contact with salt can also kill yeast, but I am not attentive to this and still have never had a problem. Similarly, though I have had my breads not turn out as intended on occasion, I have never, ever in decades of regular baking had a bad batch of yeast. Not once. That doesn't mean it can't occur--just that I would not think that that is the most probable explanation here, especially given that the yeast bubbled as expected when proofed.

There is one other very important factor to consider, and one which is, in my experience, a much more likely one at play than yeast problems based on the information provided: The dough! Doughs that are too dry or too heavy can struggle to rise--this is especially a problem for novices who hand-knead, as you can easily work too much flour in AND give up too early when your arms start to cramp. Poor gluten development due to the wrong flour or insufficient kneading are also very common problems, and these impede rising. Whole grain flour and additives such as seeds, nuts, etc. all weaken the gluten and weigh down the dough. The triple-whammy (dry, heavy dough that has not been kneaded enough) yields especially disappointing results.

Poor shaping can also be a factor--if you don't form your loaves/rolls in such a way that they are under tension, they don't rise nice and high.

Using a really hot oven (I start at 475) gives you maximum oven spring by forming steam to expand the loaf before the crust hardens enough to prevent further expansion. Misting the loaf also helps because it slows down crust formation just a little longer. Slashing the bread well also helps get maximum oven spring.

As for the rapid roll recipe mentioned by the original poster...that just looks like a bad recipe: It uses three packages (!) of yeast for 24 rolls--so it might just rise in 20 minutes in a very, very environment. But that is likely to result in an overly yeasty taste. In addition, the recipe calls for "4 to 6 cups of flour, plus more if needed." Factoring in the water in the honey, eggs, and butter, that weighs in 110% to 73% hydration, which is an enormous range. Add in "plus more if needed," and you could end up with a pretty dry, heavy dough.

Sweeter doughs will, strangely enough, also rise more slowly. With a really sweet bread it is advised to use a special osmotolerant yeast While the sugar concentration of the roll recipe (and likely the failed cinnamon rolls as well) is enough that it will slow things down, it is not enough to make it fail.

A few recommendations:

1) Don't give up! Making good home-made bread is one of the kitchen's magical experiences. Anyone is capable of turning out an excellent bread with a little practice and guidance. Anyone!

2) Don't aim for perfection. Even a suboptimal loaf (and I have made more than a few myself) can still be delicious and nutritious.

3) Get a decent cookbook rather than relying on dodgy internet recipes or advice from self-proclaimed know-it-alls like myself. I would get one that focuses on technique, such as Rose Levy Berenbaum's "The Bread Bible." Without more guidance to get started your chances of success are lower and when you do succeed, you may have trouble replicating it. Above all else, you learn very quickly how to figure out which factor of the many possible ones likely resulted in a disappointing result.

4) Invite an experienced friend who is a bread maker to make something together. There is no substitute for that, given that as you are learning, there are many, many things that can go wrong.

5) Consider taking a course--many of them out there at community colleges, community education, bakeries, etc.

Jan 14, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

Osso Bucco Milanese

I think this is a very forgiving recipe: Brown salted/peppered shanks in the fat of your choice, then add mirepoix and a couple of cloves of garlic and saute them. Deglaze with wine (white is my preference). Add some tomato if you want--I usually do not. But if you do, take it easy: This isn't supposed to be a tomato-centric dish. Add herbs and spices (usually sage, bay leaf, and thyme) and rich veal stock. Braise until done in a slow oven (or on stove or on BBQ if, by chance, your range emits a blue flash and a puff smoke and then dies right in the middle of your dinner party). As for the sauce, sometimes I cook it down and use it as is, maybe adding some butter if I am feeling decadent. Sometimes, I puree it with the vegetables, which thicken it up nicely. Other times I thicken it with arrowroot or cornstarch. Really doesn't matter which you choose. Serve with risotto or soft polenta. I feel that gremolata is an essential garnish for this dish.

Jan 08, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

Over-proofed Bread Question

In my mind, to say that a bread is over-proofed means that it was allowed to rise long enough that the gluten was no longer sufficient to sustain the structure of the loaf. That is, just because you let it rise for longer than you usually do doesn't mean that it was overproofed. Based on your description, I think your loaves have been *underproofed* in the past. That is not a bad thing, necessarily--depends on the texture you are shooting for. For me, the biggest problem with underproofing (in addition to a heavy loaf) is "shelling," in which the rolled up loaf forms gaps in between the layers.

To me, an overproofed loaf shows almost no resistance when you poke it, and the indentation does not rebound at all. When slashed, the loaf may partially collapse. And the bottom of the loaf tends to be much denser than the top (as the weight of the loaf has sort of compressed it).

At times it can be hard to distinguish underproofing from poor gluten development (related to the wrong flour or, more commonly, to ineffective/inefficient kneading, lack of autolyse, etc.). For me, I tend to notice more of the compressed bottom of the loaf and a slower than anticipated rise when poor gluten development is to blame. And I find that poor gluten development is more often the problem than is underproofing, when the complaint is that the loaf is too heavy or the crumb is too dense.

The timing to optimal proof obviously varies depending on the temperature, yeast concentration, water concentration, extent of gluten development, extensibility of the gluten, additives, salt content, sugar content, etc. Even for breads that I make very regularly, there is no substitute for just keeping an eye on the dough as it approaches full proof. Full proof will vary by, say, +/- 30% in my hands.

As others have noted, if you really overproof a loaf, your best option is just to punch it down, reform the loaf, and let it rise again (being more careful this time!).

My experience with teaching others to bake is that the natural tendency (fuelled, perhaps, by the natural tendency towards impatience) is to underproof. I generally find myself telling people to wait, but they say "but it is so nice a puffy already!" The one case in which I intentionally underproof is pizza dough and most other flatbreads--these seem to turn out best when underproofed.

Jan 07, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

What should I do with left over soup chicken?

I have given up trying to use "used up stock fixings" for anything other than pet food. It just isn't tasty enough to feed to humans, in my mind anyway. However, both of my Great Danes (picky eaters, both) loved the leftover glop (vegetables, meat, skin, fat--everything but the bones, which I removed). I saved it in the freezer for their periodic hunger strikes, and then mixed it into their kibble. Worked every time.

Jan 07, 2013
zamorski in Home Cooking

I always ruin dried chickpeas - any tips?

Agree with carswell that old chickpeas/beans are the most common reason they cook slowly/incompletely/unevenly. Issue is that each bean has three little openings that let water in slowly--it comes in through these rather than through the 'skin.' When the beans get very old these get distorted/fused/etc. so the water doesn't make it in as quickly. In addition to not keeping them around the house for years, it might help to buy them at a place that you know will have decent turnover (e.g., middle eastern market).

Sep 10, 2012
zamorski in Home Cooking

What to do with dried beluga lentils?

I cook them in chicken broth or water with "flavourings" (any or none of thyme, parsley, bay leaf, carrot, onion, garlic, celery...) and toss them in with any green salad with your favourite vinaigrette--they add a nice texture and some protein. Even better: Add some duck confit, cooked green beans, and dried cherries.

Sep 05, 2012
zamorski in Home Cooking

Viking Range Hood Cleaning Nightmare

I have several pro-style hoods (Viking, Vent-a-hood, and Thermador). All have done a great job, but none were easy to clean--each had its own annoyances and tricks, and each required some practice to avoid sliced up hands. Above all else, I had to learn to accept 90% clean as an acceptable target. Otherwise, blood transfusion, electroshock therapy, or heavy sedatives would be required. Getting any of them to an immaculate standard is just way too much work for me.

May 28, 2012
zamorski in Cookware

Tater Salad: How Do You Take It?

I also am a "switch-hitter," using a vinaigrette with herbs, salt, pepper, and mustard to infuse the potatoes while warm and then mayo to finish it off. My secret ingredient, thanks to Joy of Cooking, is celery seed--it adds a 'je ne sais quoi" to the final product. I prefer chopped cornichons to sweet relish. I love eggs in it, but they are not essential. My pet peeve: Too many onions or too much celery: I like both, but they should be in the background.

May 28, 2012
zamorski in Home Cooking

Classic Sarcastic descriptors

"Citrusy and refreshing? More like sour and dull."

Mar 18, 2012
zamorski in Wine

Substitute for epazote

I found that fresh summer savoury is the closest thing I can come to a substitute. Works great in black beans.

Mar 16, 2012
zamorski in Home Cooking

Electric Pressure Cooker with Stainless Insert?

Cook's Illustrated reviewed some of these a couple of years ago, including Cuisinart, Deni, Nesco, and Fagor. The only one the recommended outright was the Fagor Multi-cooker, which triples as a rice cooker and a slow-cooker. The Fagor's rice cooking function worked well, but the slow cooker function was limited by only having a single heat setting (low)--HOWEVER, it appears as though the current version of the Multi-cooker offers a high setting now. The other cookers had systematic problems sealing properly, so steam leaked out and the food burned.

They did not review either InstantPot or Gourmet. Some reviews of the InstantPot online seem to show that people either love it or hate it, with the main (but not only) dissatisfier being the leakage issue. My hypothesis is that there are people who are very careful with the sealing step and those who are not.

After putting a lot of thought into getting a slow-cooker plus a pressure cooker vs. an all-in-one solution, I decided that given that I have the space and can afford buying two appliances, I would be better off with that approach. But if I had limited space and thrift was a concern, the Fagor Multi-cooker would be my choice. It was about $120 bucks (Canadian) and seemed sturdy when I took a look at it. Biggest drawback to me would be that the maximum pressure is only 9 psi, which still results in much faster cooking than a pot on the stove.

Jan 21, 2012
zamorski in Cookware

Pairing for Za'atar and Pistachio Crusted Poussin with Quince and Rose Jam

My vote: A weighty, slightly off-dry Cab Franc rose. The herbal/vegetal flavours would work well with the za'atar, and the fruity sweetness and acidity would work with the jam.

Best place to look would be the Niagara Peninsula. Rose from the Loire would also work, but they don't have the trace of residual sugar. Beyond that you would be looking for some oddities from California, Washington, etc.

Another idea: A sparkling Rose. If you wanted to make it just a tad sweet, add in a bit of late harvest or icewine.

Dec 21, 2011
zamorski in Wine

Seduced by Costco (Meyer Lemons)

Meyer lemon marmalade is delicious and always a welcome gift. It is good plain (sugar, lemons, water), with a vanilla bean, with pear, with pear and vanilla, with pear and a bit of cardamom...your get the picture.

In my hands, five lemons make about five or six 8-oz jars.

Dec 21, 2011
zamorski in Home Cooking

Complex white wines for under $10?

Finding Grand Cru Burgundy complexity for less that $10...that is a tall order!

In Burgundy, the best bet would be a Macon, though the quality varies a lot. It would be a good place to start though. My experience has been that among the affordable appellations for white Burgundy, Saint-Veran has a bit of an edge in terms of consistency and price/quality ratio. White Burgundy has had very fine vintages (hence consistent quality) over the past decade, except for 2003 and 2001, so with those exceptions you don't have to worry a lot about the vintage.

Other places that might interest you would be a white Cotes-du-Rhone--good value, and also a series of great vintages lately (except for 2008). Good value, interesting, some minerality in some of them. White Rioja is also tasty and good value, but some N. Americans find it a bit austere. Alsatian whites are very, very consistent in quality and tend to have a tight price/quality relationship. Some whites from the Willamette Valley might work, especially the Pinot Gris, though good luck finding a great one for under 10 bucks.

Oct 27, 2011
zamorski in Wine

Recs on amazing pinot blanc wines

I agree with Simon--British Columbia produces some very nice Pinot Blanc. Ontario (Niagara) also produces some very nice ones (Henry of Pelham, Vineland).

To put a finer point on zin1953's comments (with which I agree), I think what appealed to you about the wine you loved had very little to do with the varietal. If it really turned you on to white wines, I suspect that you were liking was a fruity, well-oaked (this was 1999, remember), rich, and well-aged white from a warmer region. As such, if you are looking for that taste (which I also like, at least on occasion), I would look for an aged chard or pinot gris from the New World from a good (hot and dry) year. Oregon Pinot Gris might be a good place to try, though finding library whites is always tricky. I think if you go looking for that same "taste" in Pinot Blanc you will be very quickly frustrated.

Oct 27, 2011
zamorski in Wine

Why is my bread crust not crusty?

Once the bread is done (i.e., at about 210 degrees F), just leave it in the oven with the heat turned off and the door cocked open for about 5 to 10 minutes. Does a great job keeping the crust crusty.

Oct 23, 2011
zamorski in Home Cooking

Cream of Tomato Soup

My approach is driven largely by the desire to use up fresh tomatoes, so I don't use any chicken stock or water:

Saute a good bit of onion in butter or duck fat with some garam masala. Deglaze with some white wine until fully evaporated. Add a bit of flour to thicken and cook for a few minutes. Add sieved tomatoes (I run them through the "food strainer" attachment on my KitchenAid mixer). Cook uncovered at a heavy simmer until reduced by 25 - 30%. Finish with some cream. I garnish with a chiffonade of basil (ideally Thai) and/or some garlic croutons.

Oct 23, 2011
zamorski in Home Cooking

Mexican adobo sauce with chipotle peppers, canned

You can get dried chipotles from this vendor in the UK, which has a good reputation and presumably ships within the EU:

As I mentioned above, just cut off the top (removing seeds if you want less heat) and rehydrate them for 30 minutes in hot water. Very convenient and no waste!

Oct 23, 2011
zamorski in Home Cooking