AlexRast's Profile

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Custard did not set up...

It doesn't look as though it's supposed to be particularly thick, based upon the recipe. It looks to me like it's very much in the range of a "pouring custard", that will still pour quite nicely and be fairly fluid. Were you expecting it to become almost gelatinous and very thick? For that you'd need less fluid, and usually a fair length of time boiling the milk before adding the eggs. For a trifle I'd expect something like pouring custard anyway.

When custard is as thick as it's going to get, it suddenly becomes very smooth and coats a spoon in a very obvious manner; even while stirring it will, of course, coat the spoon to some degree but when done it will be obviously a semi-opaque layer.

With care, you could probably stir a bit of it into some more cornflour, bring the rest up to a warm temperature in a bain-marie, then add the cornflour mixture slowly while stirring; this will get it reasonably thick at any rate.

Jan 19, 2015
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Tips for eating alone in Italy?

I've never experienced a problem dining alone - a frequent occurrence for me on my many business trips to Italy. No one will bat an eyelid. In some, more informal places (busy pizzerie, for example) you may be asked to share a table but this might be a good way to meet others anyway!

I've not seen anyone, however, take out a Kindle or notepad or anything else. There's certainly no expectation that you should be seen to be "busy" or anything.

Jan 18, 2015
AlexRast in Italy

What brands of dark chocolate do NOT use the dutch process??

Many brands of dark chocolate do not use Dutch process, but it should be noted that some do - it's not reserved for cocoa. For instance, some that ARE Dutched:

Droste (obviously, perhaps)
Venchi (most except the organic lines)
Guittard Gourmet Bittersweet (they also have some that are not Dutched; most of the E. Guittard line for instance)

A VERY black colour to a bar is usually a sign that it has been Dutched. Manufacturers are curiously reticent to make any definite claims about Dutching when it comes to bars; I don't have any idea why.

Some that definitely don't:

Michel Cluizel
Scharffen Berger (actually owned by Hershey's now)
Theo Chocolate
Grenada Chocolate Company.

Obviously I'm listing "premium" brands. Brands such as Cadbury's, Hersheys, Nestle, etc. tend not to make definitive statements, and I think it better not to speculate without facts.

Then there's Callebaut. They do just about any chocolate imaginable: Dutched, un-Dutched, you name it. Much of what's available "off-the-shelf" from them tends not to be Dutched.

Jan 18, 2015
AlexRast in General Topics

Home Cooks - How do you minimize food waste?

A variant on the meal planning idea. I tend to have some general ideas about what types of things I might want to make at various times of year, but try to avoid falling into fixed ideas about what I'm actually going to get. So when I get to the shops, I buy what's actually available, in season, and looks good. Once everything is bought, then I make a plan about what I'm going to do with it.

I also keep an inventory of what I have at any given time, and when it was bought, and what perishables need to be eaten by when.

The next stage is, if it was sensible to get a reasonable amount, to think about time-honoured ways to extend the use of relatively large quantities of something. The very best of a large seasonal buy tends to go into a dish that brings out its freshness in purest and simplest form - e.g. the best of the seasonal strawberries will probably be used for strawberry shortcakes and just eating from the punnet.

Then you have the "medium-extension" ways of using an item. For instance the aforementioned strawberries could be baked into a pie or made into an ice cream, bavarois, or other such thing. That uses a fair additional amount.

Next you have the "long-extension" ways - so some other strawberries will go into jam. And then some will probably be frozen (freezing is, as others have noted, a really practical way of providing for future needs).

Things like pies, soups, stews, puddings, etc are all very valuable ways of making the most of perishable items in a way that isn't necessarily preserving them as such for future use. Also anything that can be reheated without significant deterioration in quality is a great way of extending life (or using up left-over amounts) for a long time.

In general I think it's good to build up a database of recipes that either use leftovers in ways that are actually improved by virtue of using leftovers, or of creating things that can readily be frozen or jarred for more long-term storage.

More ideas:

Discover ways to use things already on the edge of spoilage. For instance, soda bread, cornbread, and other such things are a great way of using milk that's gone sour - and can be conveniently frozen thereafter so nothing is wasted. There are all sorts of ways of using stale bread from French toast to ribollita to breadcrumbs. Etc. etc. Of course be aware of items that once spoiled are unrescuable, e.g. there's really nothing you can do with spoiled fish. Bear in mind that expiry dates on almost all perishables are VERY conservative, so understand the difference between "use by" dates and the actual date when something will become unusable.

Resist the temptation to buy things that catch your attention in the shops, just because they look interesting. Such things tend to languish in cupboards indefinitely even if they aren't perishable. Buy only things that you can form a clear idea about on the spot of what you're going to do with them.

Minimise how much you buy of ready meals and very heavily processed foods. Such things tend to have a very narrow range of possible uses, and are very rarely good reheated a second time. Leftovers of them tend to get thrown away. There are times, though, when ready meals are the right answer, e.g. you've come home from a long day and need something for tonight only because for the rest of the week you have clear meal plans. In that situation it may actually be more wasteful to buy a probably excessive amount of raw ingredients that you won't be able to use entirely any time soon.

Be realistic about how much of an item you're actually going to use. In other words, don't buy a 3 kg fore rib if you're only a couple, unless you can think of a very clear way you're going to be able to use all that meat before it goes bad. At the same time, know the things you use so frequently that you should stock up on large quantities. For instance, I buy semolina in 10 kg bulk orders because it's one of the things that I use so regularly I'm going to go through that much quite easily in a relatively short time.

Be careful in planning before going on holiday (or on any journey where you expect to be away for several days). Start thinking at least a week in advance about what you've still got in your fridge that's perishable and what you're going to do with it. Don't end up with perishables that will get thrown away either just before or just after the holiday.

Remember that your local charity will gladly take donations of all sorts of foods. Perishables can be problematic (at least, if unpackaged) but almost anything else you can think of will be gladly received and put to use.

Have you ever reinvented the wheel?

Several times - and on several fronts.

One time I was making puff pastry. Started to think about what would be some really good fillings. Immediately my mind thought - OHHH, wrapped around sausage it would be really good. Oh yeh, old idea.

Looking for a warming vegetarian main dish for winter, I thought of mixing diced carrots and celery into mashed potatoes. Why has no one thought of this before? Oh. The Dutch already have.

Years ago I noticed how well my cast iron pan did at frying various meats. Winter was upon me, and my thinking went like this: "Pushing things to their obvious extreme, if I got the pan as hot as it could go, and slapped a big steak on there, it might give a reasonable approximation to what you'd get off the outdoor barbeque" Sure enough, predictable results. Why had I never looked this up before?

I also tend to make all sorts of old discoveries about the ideal place to grow various things. Such as:

Sweetcorn. I thought "Hmm. Somewhere with cold winters, hot, sunny summers but with intense thunderstorms." Oh. Sort of like the Great Plains. Ah.
Tomatoes. OK, need very long days in summer, hence fairly far north, but lots of sun, and HOT! Yes, Italy does fit the bill for that rather nicely.
Beef. Difficult. Need somewhere with mercurial weather but lush grasses, probably somewhat mountainous but with flat valley bottoms. Cold in winter but probably not Arctic. Just like Eastern Scotland, in the counties of Aberdeen and Angus. Yes, learned something old again...

Jan 15, 2015
AlexRast in General Topics

Foods Without Enemies

Speed of preparation for the harried home cook is probably most of the reason they became popular.

The best carrots IMHO are the *really* fat ones you start seeing about now; the ones that are about 3 cm in diameter (sometimes more!) and can weigh up to 1/2 kilo each. Really strong, sweet flavour every time and a nicer, softer texture.

Jan 13, 2015
AlexRast in General Topics

Help with chocolate hazelnut spread

Not clear on what your modification was exactly. Did you melt the chocolate separately or with the butter? If the latter, did you make sure to stir the resultant mixture or did you simply leave the butter and chocolate melted but separated (which is what will happen if it's not stirred)? Or did you melt the chocolate entirely separately and then add?

In any case, yes, your mixture certainly fell out of emulsion, probably because the amount of oil in the hazelnut mix was more than in the inital percentage of chocolate added, and so the remaining oil separated. Melted chocolate probably didn't seize, because (I assume) nothing was cold, and there would have been minimal water in the hazelnuts. Pouring chocolate in with the machine not running may also have contributed to the problem, because during the "start-up" phase the mixture would have been unevenly mixed. So parts could have fallen out of emulsion immediately, then triggered the rest doing so.

But as for it being gritty - I think that's because you expected the kind of smoothness you'll get from a commercial product. For that you need special equipment; an ordinary food processor with blade attachments can't grind that smoothly. You would need something that actually applies pressure to the mix (not gas pressure, actual mechanical pressure) to release the oil and also compress the resulting mixture so it will be fully ground - something like a proper mill.

It's worth noting though that if you added a few eggs (for the amounts listed in your recipe, perhaps 4) beaten until smooth, aerated and ribbony (as if you were making a genoise) and then baked at a gentle temperature - say, 160c/325F, you should produce a lovely torte.

Jan 12, 2015
AlexRast in Home Cooking

What do you order which you can do better?

Chocolate cake and chocolate truffles. (But I love chocolate!)

Steak. (Love even more than chocolate)

Sausage rolls (Few things are more convenient or satisfying for lunch)

Jan 03, 2015
AlexRast in General Topics

Help needed: Good gravy from red meats

Ah, that actually explains why from my POV resting seems of little value + or -. I'm not at all bothered by less "bleeding" (or to be exact release of juices) during carving; indeed, in some ways to me it can be desirable and you can add this to the gravy. (by just stirring in). I definitely WANT a grey or to be exact well-crusted outside with a very, very red centre indeed for beef and lamb; the contrast is everything. An uniform slice, with the same colour straight through, is undesirable and somewhat bland IMHO. Not that I've noticed resting produces this effect though.

Usually I roast very high initially and then lower later. Retaining juices in the roast is probably of more importance for meats to be cooked thoroughly through - e.g. pork.

Oh yeh, didn't think about that with the cup. Good idea.

On a more experimental note, I tried some changes when I made a pork belly roast a few days ago. Total weight was 1.3 kg. I roasted it very high (225 C) for 1/2 hour, then low (160 C) for another 1/2 hour. The meat came out *perfectly* - that is to say, done to the point that the centre was that very slight pink shade and was still exceptionally juicy. As always the amount of drippings in the pan wasn't even remotely in the territory to be adequate for gravy by itself, but the amount of fat was predictably prodigious. I did drain about half of it off, then did as I suggested I might try, cooking things down until the water in the drippings was gone. Then I stirred in an equal amount of flour as directed to the amount of fat. It was possible to brown it to some degree, although I will say not to the very dark brown I was hoping for, more of a burnt-butter brown. The consistency of the roux afterwards was what I was looking for and expecting. Then I mixed in cold stock. No lumping, and the gravy did thicken very nicely. The only real disappointment was that it wasn't as dark or flavourful as I was hoping, although it was a big improvement on previous efforts. I'll keep experimenting and commenting.

Jan 03, 2015
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Help needed: Good gravy from red meats

Just a clarification - by "losing drippings" I'm being *extremely* exacting - what I mean is, if you pour into a cup, you can't get every last fraction of a ml back into the pan. There's always going to be a residue in the cup, even if you use a spatula. This can make a difference with smaller roasts.

However, I've *never* had enough liquid from any meat, other than turkey, that would even be remotely in the range of volume needed to make an adequate quantity of gravy. Even a full fore rib doesn't even come close. I use carefully reduced stock - from the same type of meat as that being cooked - as the liquid on most occasions.

On a personal note, I've always wondered about the directions to rest roasts. My personal experience has been that resting makes no particular difference one way or the other. That said, I usually do rest roasts as a practical matter because e.g. certain vegetables can't really effectively be made beforehand. Can someone articulate exactly what resting does in terms of improvement of the outcome?

On cooling, though, my understanding is that it's not really a matter of temperature rising or falling so much as being redistributed. The hottest part (the very outside) will conduct some heat to the interior during some time after being removed. (How long is an interesting question). Some of the heat of the outside will be lost to the atmosphere. So in terms of total heat, the roast will lose a bit, (and thus the very outside will be at a lower temperature, but not the centre. Generally, since I (and most of the people I cook for) prefer beef and lamb very rare indeed, every degree of further cooking of the centre is undesirable, but so too is too much cooling so that the centre is cold. (I personally eschew even heated plates because that will slightly cook the meat, but everyone else I cook for is OK with heated plates). With pork of course this is not a problem.

Dec 30, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Another method: Classic roasting (at least for small cuts)

Yesterday I decided to experiment with an entirely unconventional method for roasting. As some will know, in older times roasts were done before a fire, in the open. Some think the move to roasting in a closed oven has diminished the classic roast to a baked joint, and having had the open-fire method many times, I'll admit there is perhaps some truth in that.

However, I reasoned that a reasonable emulation might be achieved, by turning the oven on to high, and when at full temperature (225 C), switching it from oven to broiler, opening the oven door, and only then popping in the roast.

For the experiment I was using a whole beef fillet, one of the easier targets for such an experiment because its thin profile means it should cook fairly quickly anyway. To further the experience I made Yorkshire pudding as well. I started the Yorkshire in the closed oven at 225 and gave it just enough time to start puffing (about 10 minutes). Then I positioned the joint directly above it but still at some distance from the broiler (we're not broiling here; it should be "before" the broiler element but not right up against it) and left the oven door open.

As expected, the Yorkshire immediately collapsed and the house filled with smoke (I did have all the windows open and the fan on, though, to mitigate the problem) After cooking the fillet for 20 minutes with the broiler on the whole time at maximum, I took it out, reverted to oven and left the Yorkshire in. It's notable that even with the door open, the temperature hadn't dropped below 225 during the roasting phase.

I then made the gravy. There were considerably more drippings in the pan than what I would have got with a conventional closed-door method, indeed so much more that I was worried the joint might be overdone above the desired rare. (See separate discussion on my own problems with gravy, not strictly relevant here)

During the gravy-making interval, meanwhile, the Yorkshires completely re-puffed. So nothing lost there, and in fact the result was slightly better, with a crisper top but moister, more custardy centre, not dry. However the difference is marginal.

But the roast itself was spectacularly better than the usual method. It exactly recaptured the flavour I remember from roasts over a fire on the beach that my father used to do. Terrific, heavily browned external "crust", strongly meaty interior, and it wasn't overdone in spite of my concerns.

So at least for small roasts, if smoking the kitchen isn't a concern, this seems to be a viable technique. I suspect you need a limitless power budget if you're going to do a large, thick roast like a fore rib but if it's a small one I would say it's worth trying. I would certainly say it's the closest you'll get to the older before-the-fire method.

Dec 28, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Chuck Roast v Sirloin Roast

Just FYI, the UK sirloin roast is the top part of the loin, above the backbone with the fillet underneath. As far as I've seen in the USA the name for this particular piece of meat is bafflingly vague and ill-defined, and generally regional (within the USA) - the most common name seems to be "New York Strip" but even that is hotly disputed. (Any ideas why no clear name has been settled on for one of the primest cuts of the animal?) It would be a real shame to slow-braise such a cut. Definitely dry-roast. In fact, it can be done at high temperature rather than low and slow without any difficulty. My usual technique would be to start it at very high (220 C or so), then turn down after 15-20 minutes or so to a gentler 175-180. A joint to serve rare - and in fact it isn't as tolerant of a greater degree of doneness as a fore rib because of the lower amount of fat. Indeed, it usually has a lot less fat than the chuck as well (but is definitely more tender and with less connective tissue) I personally prefer it for steak, actually, but it does make a splendid classic roast.

Dec 28, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Help needed: Good gravy from red meats

This is interesting. The key part I didn't know is clearly that the roux and stock have to be at opposing temperatures. That's almost certainly the main cause of problems. It doesn't explain the non-browning of the flour though, but a separate post suggesting equal parts flour and fat suggests that the problem for me there is too high flour to fat (I'm virtually certain it's not equal proportions! - much more flour than fat)

The one difficulty I see here is that, by pouring off all drippings from the pan, you're inevitably going to lose some. Is the goal of losing not a single drop of pan drippings while getting a lump-free gravy an impossible one? I have a perfectionistic streak and often try to achieve the infeasible.

One other potential problem I see is that the time to complete the process may be excessive in view of a roast cooling in the meanwhile on the side. I, by the way, like my beef and lamb roasts very rare indeed, which makes it that much more urgent to minimise gravy-making time (particularly, e.g. with a roast such as a beef fillet with a thin cylindrical shape that cools quickly). But I wouldn't want to "pre-make" the gravy from different meat than the roasting joint, because then you'd be getting gravy not precisely flavour matched to the meat it was being served with.

On the whole, it looks as if the method will work well for large roasting joints such as a whole fore rib or leg of lamb, but might need to be adapted for smaller joints, e.g. the aforementioned fillet or lamb loin.

I have an idea - can you tell me if this would work?

1: Strain off obviously excess fat - not too much but amounts that are disproportionate to the amount of drippings.

2: Boil the liquid in the roasting pan until bubbling and spitting stops (at that point any water should have been boiled off, leaving just fat)

3: Add flour to match amount of liquid fat, stirring to (hopefully) brown.

4: Remove pan from the hob to add cold stock, and stir vigorously.

5: Return from the hob and bring the whole to a boil. Cook until (hopefully) thick.

Any other thoughts?

Dec 28, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Help Me Understand Espresso Brewing?

The difference comes down mostly to grind vs. method.

Espresso as mentioned uses high pressure to extract the coffee flavour from grounds over which water flows relatively quickly. Extraction time is a matter of seconds (20-30 seconds or so, depending upon quantity and preference). Because the water is passing so quickly through the coffee, in order to get good flavour extraction, it has to be fine ground, so that lots of surface area comes in contact with the water. It also needs to be fine ground in order to build up a "head" of steam pressure above the portafilter. A good espresso machine with a vane pump will certainly develop high pressure by itself without any further intervention, but then passing it over coarse grounds would simply make the water flow too fast, hence even less extraction from an even smaller surface area.

A Chemex (drip-style process), by contrast has the water in contact with the coffee for a much longer time, and not under pressure. Under such circumstances, a fine ground will simply become over-extracted. You need a coarser grind so that the amount of flavour extraction is kept under moderation given the long exposure to the water.

The principles are different in part also because the expected volume of output is so different. In an espresso, you're looking for a tiny amount of liquid volume, something like 20-25 g or so. With a chemex, by contrast, the liquid volume is much greater, probably around 200-250 g. Obviously 200 g liquid volume at the concentration of an espresso would be overwhelming, just as 20 g at the concentration of a drip process would seem feeble.

Many espresso blends are also roasted somewhat darker than comparable drip blends, again, to emphasise strength and power over subtlety. But a dark roast in a drip generally just tastes obviously burnt, where by the same token a very light roast in an espresso tastes too "bright" and acidic. (There is a dependence there on origin, in addition)

So as you're seeing, coffee is not just coffee - you've got to match type to process or the results are usually undrinkable.

Dec 27, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Help needed: Good gravy from red meats

This is one of those things that continues to elude me, and that I'd like to learn good technique for doing.

What I usually try is:

Once the meat (be it beef, lamb, pork, venison, etc.) is cooked, remove the roast from the oven. Take it out of the roasting pan. Skim off clear fat but leave any that has any colour or cloudiness to it, as well as a thin amount of the clear fat as well. Put the pan on the hob at a medium-high heat. Then, add (white, usually low-protein) flour. Use enough to absorb the remaining drippings, and form a smooth paste. Spread over the surface of the roasting pan and (attempt to) cook. At a certain point, add (hot) stock gradually, stirring all the time, and continue cooking so that you get something slightly thick. When finished pour into the gravy boat.

What goes wrong:

1) I never seem to be able to get a good dark gravy. My expectation is that it should be a VERY dark, burnt-umber brown with perhaps a tinge of reddish. Instead, the colour is usually at best dark tan.

2) The gravy always lumps, and the lumps can't be got rid of. It doesn't matter how much stock is added at any one time. If I add a lot, I get lumping from the paste. If I try to add a very small amount, it just boils away before the gravy can be formed and I end up with a paste again, albeit flavoured with a reduced stock in addition.

I'm told on the one hand that it should be possible to brown the roux. I've never noticed this. No matter how high the heat, or how long I stir, it doesn't brown; it merely seems to dry and become powdery while remaining pale.

I'm also told that using hot stock should prevent lumping. This is definitely not my experience. Hot, cold, lukewarm, it seems to make no difference. I get lumps every time. I've also tried various different types of flour, with various protein contents and milling finenesses, all to no better effect.

Interestingly, poultry gravy seems to present few problems for me, but perhaps that's because a paler, thicker gravy is usually desirable in that case.

Can anyone diagnose from what I've given as the symptoms what I might be doing wrong? I'd also like to say, please, I'm not particularly interested in "short cuts" or "tricks" such as the use of "secret" ingredients, special equipment or tools, very unusual technique given without explanation as "it works every time...", or enhancers used to improve gravy. I really do want to learn good fundamental technique here. In principle it sounds as though it should be simple but it seems clear I'm doing something very wrong (maybe in fact my entire approach is faulty, for that matter).

Dec 27, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Help with a chcolate cake recipe

This will require some experimentation no doubt because a fairly complex recipe like this has been finely tuned, in all probability. Actually, what it looks like they may have done, based on the ingredients list, is started out with a fairly basic chocolate cake recipe and then experimented with various "tweaks" to see whether they could come out with a better recipe. In general, though, my thoughts are these.

1) Yes, you could certainly substitute milk chocolate for dark, although it will have a small effect on the outcome; the cake will be a bit more tender, less dense. Also when melting milk chocolates you need lower temperatures.

2) Discard the coffee altogether. That simply yields a darker, roastier flavour. In fact, even for the dark version I'd be tempted to discard it anyway; if the intent is to create a *mocha* flavoured cake then coffee is a good addition but for a *chocolate* cake it alters the flavour. Coffee is often used in an attempt to disguise poor chocolate - for that scenario the better choice is, self-evidently, to use better chocolate.

3. However, I also notice that they use buttermilk, presumably for the acid. My actual guess is that their basic recipe may have been something like a devil's food cake that relies on acid/alkali reaction without baking powder (hence the non-Dutch cocoa recommendation) to provide rise; this would also explain the use of baking soda as well. In that scenario, coffee would add additional acidity. Finally, with chocolates and cocoas particularly of West African origin (by far the most common), a high acid content helps to prevent what is often a tannic, astringent quality resulting from the basic bean variety used. Again this second problem is solved with better-quality chocolate. If you want a high-acidity chocolate the best origin is Madagascar and the obvious choice of chocolate would be Michel Cluizel Mangaro Lait 50%. However, I'm not sure acidity is what you want in a milk chocolate cake anyway; it's more commonly used for dark chocolate flavours. Assuming that's the case, I would use whole milk instead of buttermilk. Lower acid, which means you will have to substitute baking powder for the baking soda.

4) As for the cocoa, yes, no doubt that's contributing to the dark-chocolate flavour. However by inverting their choice, and going for a Dutch-processed cocoa, you'll end up with a milder, more milk-chocolate-style flavour. Possibly Valrhona cocoa powder, one of the better Dutch-processed varieties. It will yield a darker colour, but don't associate that with stronger flavour.

5) I see the recipe uses oil, possibly to compensate for the drying effect of all that cocoa powder (cocoa powder is very good at removing moisture). However, for a milk chocolate like effect, it might be worth experimenting with butter or clarified butter. The result will almost certainly be crumblier, less silky; whether or not you find this acceptable will depend a lot on personal preference.

6) Don't underestimate how much using a milk chocolate ganache for the icing will make the resulting cake seem in a "milk chocolate style" regardless of how the cake bit turns out. If you look at the relative amounts of chocolate in each it's clear in any case most of the chocolate is actually in the icing. Milk chocolate ganache is hard to make. You need to monitor the temperature very carefully, not overstir, not let it get too hot. Don't boil the cream, bring it to hot but not boiling. Whisking isn't the best technique, while the mixture is hot; at most, stir very gently and slowly with a smooth folding motion. If the intent is to create a fairly light, air-bulked frosting in American style, then whisk as the mixture starts to cool and stiffen. You can start when it stiffens noticeably. On the other hand, if the intent is to create a denser, thicker icing in French style, then don't whisk at all; merely gently fold and then pour. The recipe they have would create a quite stiff ganache, though, so it's likely they want at least some aeration, unless the intent is a hard icing in English style. I would consider both corn syrup and sugar entirely optional for a milk chocolate ganache too; it's just adding sweetness and a bit of additional stability. The additional sweetness may be too much of a price to pay for a small increase in stability.

Let me emphasise here that you should take my suggestions as ideas for experimentation rather than exacting directions for how to adapt a recipe. Adapting cake recipes is quite difficult to do "by eyeball"; you almost always have to try it and see how it turns out; certainly I have no particular confidence that my suggestions will lead to any specific outcome.

Dec 09, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Please give your recommended recipes that use unsweetened chocolate - thank you!

Yes, I know Chocosphere very well.

"Belgian" chocolate is almost always Callebaut, occasionally Belcolade. Also Cacao Barry is part of Barry Callebaut, although they have separate branding (for the moment).

Good to hear the brownies turned out well. Indeed, that's my own recipe. I've never tried them warm, though - I leave to cool completely and then allow them to mature for 3 days (yes, the brownies actually improve with a certain amount of time to sit). I'd think the centre would be a bit fluid while still warm. What was it like?

Dec 08, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

How to make thin soup with strong mushroom flavor?

I would just simmer some mushrooms in a pot for a while, then reduce just as you would for a meat reduction. You can do multiple simmerings, with a new lot of mushrooms added, to concentrate the flavour. Like meats, mushroom stocks can be simmered for a very long time indeed - it's feasible to do for 24 hours. When you're finished the colour will be very dark brown indeed.

As mentioned by some posters, the very best are ceps (porcini). Dried ones lend a stronger flavour than fresh (perhaps surprisingly). But even ordinary brown mushrooms do a splendid job.

Dec 08, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Please give your recommended recipes that use unsweetened chocolate - thank you!


340 g unsweetened chocolate
400 g muscovado (dark brown) sugar - the darker, the better.
150 g unsalted butter
150 g (by weight) strong white bread flour
3 (UK large) eggs
1 vanilla bean
A generous pinch of salt - perhaps 5 g

Thoroughly grease a 23cm/9" square baking pan. Preheat the oven to 175C/350 F.

Melt the chocolate over a double-boiler. Using a wooden spoon, mix the sugar, butter, salt and the scraped insides of the vanilla bean until fully blended, minimising air incorporation (do not cream). Mix in the melted chocolate. Add the eggs one at a time, blending fully to incorporate each one before adding the next. Mix in the flour, using vigorous motions to develop the gluten to the degree possible (the mixture should become very stiff). Spread into the prepared pan; you will probably have to squash it down with a palette knife to get it uniformly spread. Bake for about 25-30 minutes; the point to take them out is when the aroma becomes densely chocolatey; be sure not to overbake or they will scorch and dry. Allow to cool and then cut into squares.

A note on the brown sugar. I use Billington's Molasses Sugar. Billington's generally, I think, makes the very best sugars; their molasses sugar is the darkest. (its colour is basically the same as a good dark chocolate). Light-brown sugar; anything with a tan colour, would probably be OK but it won't have the same dense richness.

Curious about the brand of the chocolate "chips". If you say large that actually usually means baking drops, e.g. Callebaut "callets", Valrhona pastilles, Felchlin pastilles, Guittard baking drops, etc. etc. Do you have a label on the bag? Some unsweetened chocolates are better than others...

Dec 07, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

I'd like to, but I've never tried homemade . . .

Soda bread doesn't really require any particular "trick" but there are some points worth noting.

The very best soda bread is made with sour milk, not with buttermilk (although buttermilk is perfectly honourable). Getting genuinely sour milk is difficult in modern times; it's achievable if you buy "pasteurised" rather than "ultra-pasteurised" or "UHT" milk, but the window is short; a day or so. It goes from sweet to borderline but still drinkable to sour in about 48 hours. From that point you have about 24 hours to use it before it curdles, separates, and goes completely bad.

White pastry flour is best; something low-protein (9-10%). Ordinary plain white flour is OK but can turn out heavy. Strong bread flour works badly. Don't use self-rising flour because it's got baking powder, which sort of defeats the objective. It will be said, though, that baking powder doesn't do any irrevocable damage.

Adding a bit of butter will also improve the texture; rub it into the flour before adding the milk. When mixing and shaping the dough, work quickly and with a light touch; like making scones, the critical point here is not to overmix but just get it to hold together. Don't use any strong kneading either.

A HOT oven is critical. At last 225C/435F and even better at 250C/480F to start. After about 15 minutes you can reduce the temperature to 200C/400F to prevent the bottom from burning. The dough should go into the oven literally the second you've finished shaping it.

If I were to guess from what you've said what's going on in your case, my conjecture would be that you're working too slowly and carefully. It's literally one of those things that you have to "throw" together.

Dec 07, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

I'd like to, but I've never tried homemade . . .

Thanks for the suggestion. The real problem is that I want actual smooth hazelnut and almond butter, not coarse-ground, which as I understand it is about as well as food processors can do. Also, I prefer almond butter raw - not for any health-related reasons; I just prefer the flavour. Roasted almond butter seems to me a bit "generic", too much like other nut butters; the flavour of the roast predominates. Likewise I'd like raw hazelnut butter.

Not as interested, really, in cashewnut butter; or for that matter most of the very oily, soft nuts that easily grind into butters; the nuts I'd prefer (in order of preference, first to last) are hazelnut, almond, pistachio. I've *never* seen raw hazelnut butter. Raw almond butter is available, pre-ground, without too much difficulty - the issue here is one of freshness. I've also never seen pistachio butter at all.

*Really* effective general-purpose grinders are very difficult to find; I've been offered suggestions (some on CH) for this several times but all have turned out not really to be what I'm looking for - usually because the milling fineness isn't good enough, and often because they're not designed to handle certain types of foods. Oily ones in particular are difficult.

I've made chocolate myself before; a difficult process requiring similar equipment; I did manage to bodge together some DIY machinery but it was very temporary and not something I'd really care to repeat.

Dec 07, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Address our concerns, please

There is a BIG problem with this policy, and it doesn't affect just Chowhound but many other sites. The justification "for privacy reasons we won't discuss..." or similar wording indicating the site will absolutely NOT offer any concrete explanation of why a given post was deleted to a person, even in private, whose post is deleted, is in essence unethical. It pronounces a summary judgement while giving the "deletee" no ablity to explain or elaborate their own reasons for doing what they did, and no appeal of the decision, while at the same time offering no specific rationale for the decision to delete. Any reasonable ethical standard recognises the need for accused parties to be able on the one hand to understand the specific accusations being brought against them and on the other to defend their actions. Systems that do not are tyrannical and prejudicial.

(As a side issue this also indicates that ethically there are necessary limits to the right to privacy, it should be noted.)

Without access to the specific reasons why specific posts were deleted (this access need not be made public but does need to be provided on demand to those whose posts have been deleted), the comment "rest assured that before any action is taken we do a careful and thorough analysis" is not credible. For similar reasons any claims CH might make that they are not accusing anyone of anything are equally invalid. Deletion of a post without explanation is a de facto accusation. The people involved have no way of verifying this allegation and therefore capricious deletion of the posts must be seen as an equally possible and plausible explanation. Such a policy certainly provides a convenient shield for arbitrary decisions made by anyone within the organisation, even if arbitrary removal is not "official" policy.

Meanwhile if the problem is that threat of potential lawsuits is so great in CH's eyes that they feel it necessary to try to give themselves every possible legal advantage while systematically denying it to others then they need to evaluate their own fears. But if those fears are actually genuine, and the likelihood is near 100% that CH would go out of business without these policies, then they need to reevaluate their business model because it is untenable. And if a thorough business assessment indicates that NO business model could be successful, that the threat of lawsuits is sovereign against all businesses unwilling to adopt unethical tactics in the name of self-defence, then the legal structure of liability in Western society needs to be completely reformed from the ground up, because were this situation to be the case, then society would have completely lost one of its necessary properties: general trust between parties operating in good faith.

Short ribs vs. oxtails?

With other posters, I would also advise the oxtails. Very rich flavour indeed. Also consider getting enough additional meat with some good gelatinous bones for a stock. DON'T make the stock with the tails you intend to eat; make it with other meat which will be discarded after the stock has been made by simmering for 12 or perhaps 24 hours). Only then, after skimming, use it with the oxtails. Stewing oxtails in a rich beef stock will futher intensify both the flavour and the richness. Some sort of stew, generally, will be the best choice - start with a base of well-caramelised onions and also sear the oxtails themselves in the pot you'll use for the stewing. Other than that, what else you add is completely a matter of what final flavours you want to achieve.

You could also consider stewing the oxtails until tender, allowing to cool, and then baking in a pie (after de-boning) - particularly warming for winter.

I see one poster has commented on low ratio of meat to bone. That sounds like they've only ever seen the tip bones. You want the big ones close to the base of the tail that are heavy and very meaty; they should each be about the size of a large apple. Don't neglect the smaller ones; they are also very nice, but most of the meat is in the bigger ones.

Dec 04, 2014
AlexRast in Home Cooking

Globe article on local chocolate

As you already know, I think, Taza is something of an acquired taste; certainly the coarse texture is different from what most people would expect.

Bean-to-bar manufacturers are almost always more interesting that couverture remoulders, if only because if you want the couverture it's usually easy enough to get it from the original manufacturer at a fraction of the price.

That said, very new B2B manufacturers have a tendency to be "experimental" without yet having fully mastered their craft, and quality can be uneven to say the least. You want people who have at least enough process maturity to understand what fine chocolate is like and what you need to do to get it.

I would therefore go for Rogue Chocolatier, who have an established reputation and good chocolate. Balao is very nice. I have not tried the Jamaica or Porcelana yet so can't comment but there's no reason to expect they won't be good. Beware, though, that Jamaica as an origin can be uneven due to indifferent post-harvest processing (ferment, drying, storage). Also "Porcelana" is used (one might say abused, in some circumstances) to cover a bewildering variety of possibly-white-bean cacaos, without any necessary genetic link to the "true" Porcelana of the Maracaibo region in Venezuela (and also grown to great success at Hacienda San Jose on the other side of the country). So like anything precious you have to approach things with some caution or at least awareness of the market situation.

Dec 02, 2014
AlexRast in Greater Boston Area

I'd like to, but I've never tried homemade . . .

Brioches (because of the labour involved; not intimidated by the technical challenges. But on the other hand, I've made croissants successfully)

Phyllo (I understand this really does require practice, and a large work surface)

Nut butters - especially hazelnut and almond (requires special milling equipment that can grind these nuts very fine and can handle oils - not easy to acquire or even find. Would love it if someone has some sources for them)

Hazelnut and almond praliné (combination of technique and equipment required)

Macaroons (The trouble here is that Pierre Hermé is just too available relative to the number of times I really want one)

Doughnuts (Same situation as brioches, with the additional complications and risks associated with deep frying)

Dec 02, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Rule #1...always...

Nuts go from slightly brown to completely burnt in a flash. Literally, seconds count. The smaller they are, the more the problem is exacerbated. Unfortunately, your rebellion is probably doomed unless you can develop a sixth sense for the timing.

Nov 26, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Which foods do you wish were more popular?

High-quality, non-sourdough white bread. Hard to find almost everywhere. You usually have to make a determined search. Usually at modern quality bakers the choices are between sourdough whites and various forms of variety breads (non-white). Even guidebooks tend to be of little help thanks to a quirk in the English language that mean that almost all "bakeries" listed in such books turn out to be pastry bakeries much more than bread bakeries.

High-quality, plain chocolate layer cakes. NOT some fussy French-style gâteau, although don't be mistaken, these can be lovely, just not what I seek. Just chocolate sponge with chocolate icing. Dismal versions of these abound, as do excellent French-style pastries. But not good plain chocolate cakes.

Blueberries. For some reason, they've never been particularly popular. I can't understand why. They're one of my favourite fruits, less tart than the other summer berries and with a denser, "heavier" flavour. Incidentally, for those interested, I've found that consistently the "Star" varietal is markedly superior to all others (other than wild bilberries, of course). Get them if you can.

Barley. Obvious reason here: most of it is ingested in liquid form. But as a grain, it's easily my favourite.

Porridge. A stodgy reputation does no favours for it. But it's unrivalled in winter as a warming breakfast. And it's astonishingly versatile too: in addition to plain porridge, you can add all variety of things to it.

Beef fore rib roasting joints. Sadly, even here in England, most of the fore rib is disappearing into steaks. The classic roast is almost disappearing into the past.

Chuck joints. This is now disappearing into mince. Good braises, pot roasts, steak and kidney puddings, and all sorts of other wintry things are becoming harder and harder to make.

Chocolate hazelnut spreads that aren't Nutella. In Germany this is almost a national obsession. Why can't we have the same thing here? The world of chocolate spreads is so much more (and so much better) than Nutella.

Gianduja. Along similar lines to the above. Like the above, a national obsession - in Italy this time. Why not here?

Nov 25, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

What type of cuisine do you NOT like?

The "barrier" I see in this discussion is conceptual:

Making statements about cuisines you do and do not like in no sense necessarily means any sort of implied value judgement about the cuisine, much less the culture and people, of a region or country.

And for the same reasons, making suggestions to someone about cuisines or dishes they ought to try in no sense necessarily means any sort of implied value judgement about the person to whom suggestions are being made.

A conversation that must limit itself to flat statements of "I like X" or "I don't like Y" without explanation, further discussion, or debate is sterile and will degenerate into banality.

Taste is one of the most strongly hard-wired of the senses when it comes to our reaction, and it is unrealistic to imagine that most people don't have strong preferences, or that you can arbitrarily put aside or change your strong preferences.

But by the same token taste isn't entirely subjective; there is an element of basic quality (or lack thereof), and of shared preferences, that cuts across personal and even cultural divides. You can't avoid noticing good food when it's put in front of you.

That's why like/no-like conversations can be interesting: you learn something more about the person you are talking with, and maybe you learn something more about foods you're talking about. I make a plea to all not to reduce conversation either to a duel of ad hominem attacks or to empty banalities by becoming too concerned about value judgements where none may exist.

Nov 25, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

Rule #1...always...

And also, before going out on a major shopping expedition (particularly for a festive occasion such as Christmas), check your stock to see what you have and don't have for what you plan on making. Could save an embarrassing gap in the table.

Nov 23, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics

What are your 3 favorite cuisines to cook other than your own?

1) Turkish
2) Italian
3) Mexican

An interesting aspect of this question I think is that 3 favourite *to prepare* may not necessarily be the same as 3 favourite, because of things like ingredient and equipment availabilities, recipe repertoire, and specific cooking skills required. There are also some cuisines where at least the well-known dishes are elaborate and time-consuming, making them something you might do more rarely simply because of the practicalities.

Nov 23, 2014
AlexRast in General Topics