Friday, December 30, 2016

Gravlax Canapés

     Gravlax Party Platter!
     During the holiday season, banquet style party platters are in high demand.  With a little planning and forethought, a last minute trip to a grocery store to pick up a "run of the mill" deli platter can be avoided.
     Just like in the kitchen of a major hotel resort, a banquet event plan can be drawn up far ahead of time by a home cook.  A detailed event plan lists every item needed an event.  Everything from chafing dish and mirror cheese board rentals to silver serving pieces, utensils and napkins are placed on the list.  If hand passed hors d'oeuvres are planned, then a reservation placed with a temporary staffing agency will be necessary.  A detailed menu with itemized ingredients is also part of an event plan.  No matter whether the event is for 10 guests or 10,000 people, a detailed event plan will make organizing an event much easier to do.
     For a home cook, making banquet event platters for a party adds a personal touch.  Guests really do appreciate the effort made and a few nicely crafted event platters will entertain guests throughout the evening.  Offering a variety of food items is the easiest way to please every attendee.  There should be something for vegetarians, spicy food lovers, fans of classic cuisine and something for those who always want to try something new.  If a few guests have dietary restrictions or allergies, then be sure to make food items that accommodate them too.
     Food items that have a theme are always en vogue when designing party platters.  For a classic Smörgåsbord style party platter theme, Gravlax is a nice choice.  Sliced Gravlax can be placed on a large party platter with all of the classic accompaniments and guests can serve themselves.  Gravlax Canapés are another option and this Smörgåsbord style of serving Gravlax allows a home cook to be a little more creative.          
     Details about how to slice Gravlax are included in this recipe.  Follow the link to the recipe in this website.
     • Gravlax 

     This recipe yields about 1 1/2 cups.
     Step 1:  Place 1/3 cup of Dijon Mustard in a mixing bowl.
     Add 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.
     Add 1/3 cup of granulated sugar.
     Whisk the ingredients together.  
     Step 2:  Measure 1/2 cup of vegetable oil.
     Add a few drops of vegetable oil at a time while whisking, till an emulsion starts.
     Add a thin stream the rest of the oil while whisking to make a translucent sweet mustard sauce.
     Step 3:  Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.  (about 2 to 3 pinches)
     Add 1/4 cup of chopped fresh dill weed.
     Stir the ingredients together.
     Place the Hovmästarsås in a container and refrigerate the sauce till it is needed. 

     Masago Mayonnaise:
     This recipe yields about 2/3 cup.  (Enough to garnish about 25 canapés.)
     Packages of frozen Masago (Capelin Roe) are available in Asian food markets. 
     Place 1/2 cup of mayonnaise in a mixing bowl
     Add 3 tablespoons of Capelin Roe (Masago).
     Whisk the ingredients together.
     Place the Masago Mayonnaise in a container and chill till it is needed.

     Wasabi Mayonnaise:
     This recipe yields about 2/3 cup.  (Enough to garnish about 25 canapés.)
     Place 1/2 cup of mayonnaise in a mixing bowl. 
     Add 1 teaspoon of lime juice.
     Add 1 tablespoon of Wasabi Powder.
     Whisk the ingredients together.
     Place the Wasabi Mayonnaise in a plastic squirt bottle and chill till the sauce is needed.

     Toast for Canapés:
     It is best to figure 2 to 3 canapés per guest.  Each piece of toast will be one canapé.
     The bread should be toasted just before the Gravlax Canapés are assembled.  
     Step 1:  Select a variety of European style breads.  Seedless Rye Bread, Pumpernickel, Black Rye Bread, Whole Grain Bread, French Baguette, Gluten Free Flatbread or Italian Bread are nice choices.
     Step 2:  Cut the bread into 1/4" to 3/8" thick slices.
     Cut the bread into small rectangle shapes that can be eaten with 1 or 2 bites.  (About 1 1/2"x 2") 
     Step 3:  Place the bread pieces on a parchment paper lined baking pan.
     Place the pan in a 325ºF oven.
     Bake till the bread is lightly toasted. 
     Gravlax Canapés:
     Figuring a yield of 2 to 3 canapés per guest is good.   
     Variety is the spice of life, especially for a Smörgåsbord style canapé party platter.  Feel free to garnish each Gravlax Canapé as you wish!  Try different combinations of the ingredients on each canapé and try to vary the color combinations.    
     Extra Garnishes that are needed:
     - Thin sliced Brie Cheese
     - Whole Italian Parsley Leaves
     - Petite Dill Weed Sprigs
     - Thin sliced small Plum Tomato or Cherry Tomato
     - Prepared Horseradish
     - Large diced Roasted Red Pepper
     - Pickled Ginger (sushi style)
     - Capers
     - Thin sliced Lemon Supremes
     - Sliced Egg
     - Small diced Bermuda Onion
     Place a small piece of thin sliced Gravlax on each small piece of toast.
     Garnish each canapé with you choice of extra garnishes.
     Place a dab of Masago Mayonnaise or Wasabi Mayonnaise on a few of the canapés.
     Arrange the finished Gravlax Canapés on a large party platter.
     Place a ramekin of the Hovmästarsås Sauce on the platter.
     Garnish the platter with:    
     - chopped bermuda onion
     - thin sliced lemon
     - capers.
     - chopped oiled egg or hard boiled egg halves
     - dill weed sprigs
    Viola!  A nice Gravlax Canapé party platter!     

Thursday, December 29, 2016


     Scandinavian Gravlax is one of the greatest classic salmon creations that there is!  The salmon is cured with salt and sugar while it is pressed under weight for 3 days.  Many Swedes prefer a 2 to 3 week cure for a much stronger flavor.  After curing under pressure, the salmon becomes very dense and firm, so it is very easy to cut into thin slices.  Properly made Gravlax has a "dry cured salami" kind of flavor and it is not fishy tasting at all.
     The word Gravlax translates to "buried in a grave."  The original Gravlax was made by Scandinavian fishermen.  The fish was salted and buried underground on a beach just above the high tide mark.  The grave process applied weight and protected the fish from scavenger animals.  After about a week or two, the Gravlax was fully fermented and preserved for future use.
     The best salt to use for making Gravlax is Kosher Salt.  The curing properties of Kosher Salt are gentle, so there is less chance of "over-curing or burning" the flesh of the salmon.  Coarse Sea Salt is also traditional, but this type of salt can "over-cure" the meat, which results in a cellular breakdown of the flesh.  If Sea Salt is used, then add a little bit less.
     Sugar is a liquifying agent.  Sugar allows the salt to fully penetrate the salmon flesh, thus resulting in fully cured meat.  Sugar also balances the salt flavor.
     Scandinavian Dill Weed is a strong tasting variety of this plant.  Regular Dill Weed that is found in a common grocery store does not taste as strong, so more should be used.  Dill Weed imparts a very nice flavor to the finished Gravlax.        
     Gravlax is traditionally accompanied by a sweet mustard dill sauce called Hovmästarsås, especially when Gravlax is served with Raggmunk (Scandinavian Potato Pancakes).  Gravlax can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Gravlax most often is served as an appetizer and it can be used to make an interesting banquet style party platter.  
    Many modern chefs prefer a very light cure when making Gravlax.  Sushi quality salmon is a good choice if a light tasting 1 or 2 day cure is desired when making Gravlax.  This is because the curing salt will not have enough time to fully penetrate the meat and the center of the fish filet will be raw.  Sushi quality salmon goes through a deep freeze process to kill parasites and pathogens, so a light cure Gravlax will be safe to serve to guests.
     Classic fully cured Gravlax is best when made with healthy smelling fresh salmon.  Sushi grade salmon is not necessary for making fully cured Gravlax, because the heavy salt curing process will prevent pathogen or parasite contamination after 3 days of curing.  A very thick salmon filet will take a bit longer to fully cure.  
     This recipe yields 1 whole salmon filet.  An average whole salmon filet weighs about 24 ounces.     
     If the salmon filet is very large, then you can cut it in half or trim off a couple of portions for another recipe.
     Step 1:  Select a very fresh whole salmon at a fish market.
     Cut 1 whole salmon filet from gill to tail.  (About a 24 ounce whole filet)
     Leave the skin on the filet.  
     Use thin pliers to remove all of the pin bones.
     Step 2:  Select 1 flat long plastic tub or 1 shallow long plastic storage containers that is big enough to hold the whole salmon filet.
     Line the container with plastic cling wrap.
     Step 3:  Place a generous amount of fresh large dill weed sprigs on the plastic wrap as a bed for the salmon filet.  (About 1 1/2 bunches.)
     Step 4:  Mix 2 cups of granulated sugar with 1 cup of coarse ground Kosher Salt together in a bowl.
     *It may only take 1 to 2 cups of the sugar and salt mixture to coat a 24 ounce whole salmon filet.  Any extra curing salt mixture can be save for later use!
     Step 5:  Sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of coarsely ground black pepper on the salmon filet.
     Generously coat the salmon with the sugar and salt mixture.  The salmon should look like it was heavily dredged in sugar and salt.
     Step 6:  Place the salted whole salmon filet on the bed of fresh dill weed in the plastic container.
     Sprinkle 1/3 cup more of the curing salt mixture over the salmon filet. 
     Step 7:  Cover the sides and the top of the salmon filet with a generous amount of large fresh dill weed sprigs.  (About 1 1/2 bunches)
     Cover the salmon with the plastic wrap.
     Step 8:  Select a second long shallow plastic storage container, that will fit inside the salmon container.  This container must be able to cover the salmon.  
     Place a few heavy items (like potatoes or onions) in the storage container that is sitting on top of the salmon.  (The potatoes or onions will act as a weight to press the salmon.)
     Step 9:  Refrigerate the salmon for 3 days.
     Flip the salmon over once every 12 hours.
     *Do not discard the salty brine liquid that develops in the container!  The brine is what actually cures the salmon.
     Step 10:  *After 3 days in the refrigerator, the gravlax is ready!  The gravlax will be completely cured by the sugar and salt.
     Remove the weights and the plastic wrap.
     Remove the gravlax from the plastic container and place it on a cutting board.
     Scrape off the dill sprigs and discard them.
     *The Gravlax can be served immediately or chilled for later use.  It is best to use the Gravlax within  5 days or the patina will cause the flesh to become slimy.  
     Step 11:  To cut thin slices of Gravlax follow these steps:
     • Place the Gravlax on a cutting board with the skin side facing down.
     • Slice the Gravlax at a 45º angle, but do not cut through the skin.
     • When the knife blade starts to touch the skin, turn the handle of the knife so it is parallel with the cutting board, then glide the side of the blade against the fish skin.  The slice of Gravlax meat will be separated from the skin.
     • Place the thin slice of Gravlax on a platter.
     • Continue with this slicing technique till the amount of Gravlax that is needed for a recipe is sliced.

     Viola!  Gourmet classic Scandinavian Gravlax!  More recipes that require Gravlax will be posted real soon!  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Banquet Cheese Platter ~ Brie, Danish Bleu, French Aged Goat Cheese, Parmigiana, P'tit Basque

     A Classic Cheese Platter For A Big Party! 
     Cheese Platters are highly regarded by many chefs, especially during the holiday season.  Many chefs like to present traditional cheeses of the local region they are working in.  Some chefs like to assemble a platter of select cheeses from several different countries.  As one can see, a cheese platter usually has a well planned theme.  A well planned cheese platter not only is entertaining, it is a medium for introducing interesting gourmet cheese varieties to guests.  
     The better that you know cheese, the easier it is to plan an interesting cheese platter.  When designing a platter that is meant to introduce unfamiliar cheese varieties to guests, it is best to think on the same level as a cheese monger.  Being a cheese monger requires good sales tactics.  When guests ask questions about the cheese, being capable of delivering intriguing answers actually parallels cheese monger sales tactics.  
     Not everybody is interested in trying a new cheese variety or a cheese that is practically unheard of.  When guests are clueless about the variety of cheese on a banquet platter, offer some assistance.  Often the best response is to key upon the preferences of the guests and to find out what cheese varieties that they liked in the past.  
     If a cheese variety on a banquet platter compares with the likes of a guest, then start from there and try to expand upon their tastes.  The worst thing that can be said to a guest inquiring about a specific variety of cheese is "Do not try that cheese, because I am sure that you will not like it!"  Negativity will not sell cheese and such a statement may offend the guest.   It is better to use the preferences of the guest to point them in the right direction.  For example, "If you prefer a milder tasting cheese, then this Mexican Manchego or Basque Sheep Milk Cheese is well worth giving a try!"   
    As one can see, the better that one knows the cheese they serve, the more intriguing the banquet cheese platter tasting experience will be.  All it takes is some time spent researching each cheese on the internet or at a library.  Often the vendor that carries the cheese will provide the history, cheese making process and authenticity regulations that influence the qualities of each cheese variety.    
     Banquet Cheese Platter:
     These bullet points are key items to consider when planning a banquet cheese platter for a large party:  
     • The yield of a cheese platter depends on the number of guests and the event function.  For a New Years Eve Party, about 4 ounces per guest is a good estimate, because the guests will want to indulge.  For a dinner party event, about 2 ounces of cheese per guest is plenty, because guests will be inclined to save room for the main course.  
     • The amount of each cheese variety offered does not have to be equal.  Example:  For a New Years Party of 100 guests, about 25 total pounds of cheese will be needed.  If 5 varieties of cheese are planned for the platter, then the amount of each cheese does not have to weigh 5 pounds.  It is best to go a little heavier with the cheese varieties that the guests will certainly like and go a little lighter with the cheese varieties that the guests will hesitate to try.    
     • Choose a theme for the platter or just go with whatever cheese bargains can be found.  For example, plan a platter that features great cheese varieties of the Alps or a specific country.  Featuring a variety of cheese that comes from one animal (like goat cheese or cow milk cheese) is a good theme too.  Even better, a banquet platter theme that features ancient cheese varieties or the cheese of Trappist Monks that are descendent of the Roman Empire can offer a glimpse into the history of cheese.
     • A clean, spot free mirror surface platter is the best choice for showing off fine cheese.  
     • The presentation style of a banquet cheese platter does make a difference.  Each slice of cheese should be aligned with its own respective Grande Piece.  The Grand Piece is a large piece of cheese wheel that acts as a primary focal point and it lets guests imagine what the whole cheese wheel looks like.  
     • Arrange the cheese slices, so they lead the eyes to the focal point.  This is call flow.  Overlapping cheese slices in a row helps to achieve flow.    
     • The color and texture of each cheese must be considered when planning the design.  For example, place a sharp aged hard cheese next to a soft double cream fresh cheese to create a texture contrast.  Place a light color cheese next to a bleu variety to create a color contrast.          
     • Variety is the spice of life!  Offering a variety of cheese will please nearly every guest at an event.  For example:  
          1. A variety of fresh cheese - Fresh Chevre or Mozzerella
          2. A variety of aged hard cheese - Parmigiana or Extra Aged Gouda
          3. A variety of soft cheese - Brie, Camembert or Limburger 
          4. A variety of semi soft cheese - Bel Paese, Lappi, Kasseri or French Aged Goat Cheese 
          5. A variety of semi firm cheese - Mexican Manchego, P'tit Basque, Cheddar 
          6. A variety of bleu - Danish Bleu, Saint Agur, Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola 
     • Garnishing the cheese platter adds to the pleasing visual effect.  Fresh herbs, carved vegetables or fruit add a nice touch.  The garnish does not need to be complicated or distracting.  One cannot go wrong when simply garnishing with Italian Parsley and Tomato Roses.   
     • Accompaniments should be chosen that compliment each cheese or the entire cheese platter.  Artisan bread, crostini, rusk, shortbread or fancy crackers nearly always accompany a banquet cheese platter.  Fruit preserves, chutney, fine mustard or a variety of pickles make nice accompaniments too.  (Pecan Shortbread Crisps and Crostini accompanied the cheese platter in the photos.)   

     Bias cut (45º angle) a baguette loaf into 3/16" thick slices.
     Place the baguette slices on a sheet pan.  
     Brush both sides of each bread slice with olive oil.
     Bake the baguette slices in a 325ºF oven till they are a crispy golden color.
     Arrange the crostini on a platter or a cloth lined basket.

     Pecan Shortbread Crisps:
     Follow the link to the recipe in this website!
     • Pecan Shortbread Crisps  

     If you are planning a banquet event or party of your own, then this cheese platter article may come in handy.  A cheese platter is a real crowd pleaser! 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Pecan Shortbread Crisps

     Gourmet Shortbread Crisps!
     Crisp shortbread cookies are a nice accompaniment for holiday banquet spreads.  Shortbread Crisps are usually lightly sweetened, so they can be paired with savory items.  Nut, herb or spice flavored shortbread crisps often accompany banquet style cheese platters.  Semi sweet shortbread crisps are nice on their own too.  
     Pecan Shortbread Crisps:
     This recipe yields 35 to 40 thin crisp cookies.  
     These Pecan Crisps are only slightly sweet and they are savory enough to pair with cheese.  
     This recipe is far easier to make with a steel gear driven cake mixer.  This recipe can be made by hand, but creaming butter is hard work.  A paddle attachment on an electric mixer is the proper attachment to use for creaming.
     Step 1:  Place 1/2 cup of unsalted butter in an electric mixer bowl.
     Add 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
     Cream the butter mixture at a medium high speed, till the butter becomes a pale whitish yellow color.  (Do not over mix or the friction will heat the butter!)
     Turn the mixer off.
     Step 2:  Add 1 cup of all purpose flour.
     Add 1/4 cup of fine ground pecans.
     *Use a food processor to grind the pecans to a fine ground consistency.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.  (to taste)
     Mix at a low speed, till the ingredients are combined.
     Turn off the mixer and set the pecan shortbread crisp dough aside.
     Step 3:  *After the shortbread dough is made, it should be formed as a cylinder shape before it is chilled.  A sheet of parchment paper works good for making an even round long cylinder shape.  This recipe will require about 3 parchment paper tubes that are about 1' long.     
     Place a 16" x 12" sheet of parchment paper on a counter top.
     Place a mound of dough that is 1 1/2" tall and 1 1/2" wide across the length of the parchment sheet.  
     *Leave about 2" of bare paper on each end, so the paper can be twisted tight to seal the tube shut and to press the dough into an even cylinder shape.  (Picture the paper wrapper as being a like the wrapper on a Tootsie Roll Candy!)
     Step 4:  Use your hands to roll the dough and paper together to create a long cylinder shape that is about 1 1/2" wide
     Twist the bare ends of the paper to seal and compress the dough into an even cylinder shape.
     Step 5:  Refrigerate the paper wrapped dough cylinder, till it becomes solid.
     Step 6:  Remove the parchment paper.
     Cut the chilled dough on a 45º angle into 3/16" thick slices.  (This will create a thin oval cookie shape.) 
     Place each slice of dough on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.  (Line the cookie dough slices in rows and be sure that there is about a 1" space between each cookie.)
     Step 7:  Place the pan in a 350ºF oven.
     Bake till the pecan shortbread crisps turn a light tan color and they are crisp.  
     Step 8:  Set the pecan crisps pan on a cooling rack.
     Let the pecan crisps cool to room temperature.  
     Step 9:  Carefully use a thin cake spatula to free the pecan crisps from the parchment paper.
     Arrange the pecan shortbread crisps on a platter or in a cloth lined basket.

     Fresh made Pecan Shortbread Crisps add a nice touch to a party platter or banquet spread!                                         

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Coq Au Vin

     A Comfortable French Classic!
     Coq Au Vin translates to "rooster cooked in wine."  The meat of an ordinary rooster is notoriously tough, unless a special cooking technique is used.  A tough rooster can be slowly braised in an acidic sauce and the result is rooster meat that is tender enough to melt in the mouth.
     In modern times, roosters are rarely marketed in regular grocery stores.  Roosters can be special ordered at some butcher shops and they can be found in some Asian food markets.  Basically, because rooster is so tough, it is now considered to be a specialty meat that is only in demand for ethnic or rustic farm country recipes.  In fact, rooster is most often used to make specialty soups than anything else.
     Since rooster is not commonly available, most modern chefs substitute a 2 1/2 pound Broiler Chicken, a 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pound Fryer Chicken or a Game Hen.  A Stewing Hen weighs well over 5 pounds and the meat becomes stringy when stewed, so a Stewing Hen is not a good choice for Coq Au Vin.  I have cooked large Capon as Coq Au Vin, but this specialty bird actually is better suited for other recipes.
     Cornish Game Hens are really nothing more than a young Broiler Chicken that weighs less than 2 1/2 pounds.  One whole Cornish Game Hen is considered to be a single portion, but it can be served as two petite portions during a multi course meal.  A Game Hen is best for a whole bird presentation.
     The acidic red wine braising sauce used to make Coq Au Vin is meant for tough birds.  The meat of a Cornish Game Hen or Small Roaster Chicken is fairly tender, so care must be taken not to braise in red wine for too much time or the meat will literally fall off of the bones.  It is best to keep in mind that if a small tender chicken is used, then the role of the red wine braising sauce is to impart flavor.
     I used a Cornish Game Hen for today's recipe example.  As one can see by the color, the red wine imparted plenty of flavor, yet the meat was not overcooked to the point of falling off the bones.  The result was a whole tender Coq Au Vin that can be used to make a whole bird platter presentation.  This adds class to any dining event!
     Mushrooms, salt pork and a rustic mirepoix flavor a classic Coq Au Vin.  Black Truffles are a classic choice, but they are rarely available outside of fine dining restaurant food distribution circles.  Morel Mushrooms are also a nice choice and they are preferred by many chefs.  Morels add a very rich wild mushroom flavor to Coq Au Vin.
     Coq Au Vin is an old French country style recipe that is still popular in today's age.  Coq Au Vin can be served in the casserole dish that it was baked in for a rustic presentation.  Coq Au Vin can also be served on a platter for an elegant presentation, like the example in the photographs.  Either way, Coq Au Vin is a perfect choice for when a light entrée is desired on a chilly day.

     Coq Au Vin:
     A German executive chef at a country club taught me this style of Coq Au Vin.  The chicken is not sautéed before braising.  The lid is removed from the braising pot part way through the recipe.  This allows the red wine sauce to reduce and it allows the bird to brown.
     The bird must be covered with braising liquid, so select a braising pot that is just a little bigger than the bird or an excessive amount of red wine will be needed.  The dry red wine selection should be good enough to be served on its own.
     Beurre Manie is kneaded chilled butter and flour.  It works like a simple roux to lightly thicken a sauce.  Beurre Manie is used by many French Provence chefs to thicken veloutés that are made a la minute with pan jus and fume or chicken stock.  Beurre Manie also mellows the flavor of a quickly reduced acidic vin rouge sauce.       
     Step 1:  Heat a deep braising pan (or a wide sauce pot) over medium low heat.
     Add 2 tablespoons of diced salt pork fat.  (1/4" cube shapes)
     Gently sauté till the grease is rendered and the lardons start to become crisp.
     Step 2:  Add 3 whole garlic cloves.
     Sauté till the garlic starts to turn a golden color.
     Step 3:  Place 1 Cornish Game Hen in the pot.  (Trussing the bird with twine is optional.)
     Add 3 cups of chicken stock.
     Add 4 dried Morel Mushrooms.
     Add 8 large pearl onions (or 8 small boiler onions).
     Add 4 thick carrot sticks that are 4" long.
     Add 3 thick celery sticks that are 4" long.
     Add enough good dry red wine to barely cover the game hen.
     Step 4:  Tie these bouquet garni ingredients in a cheese cloth sachet:
     - 3 tablespoons of chopped leek
     - 2 sprigs of thyme
     - 3 parsley stalks
     - 1 bay leaf
     - 8 to 10 whole black peppercorns
     Add a bouquet garni sachet to the pot.
     Step 5:  Raise the temperature to medium heat.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer.
     Step 6:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Covered the pot with a lid.
     Place the pot in an 325ºF oven.
     Braise till the hen is almost fully cooked and the meat is still very firm.
     Step 7:  Remove the lid from the pot.
     Continue braising the Game Hen uncovered.
     Braise uncovered till the sauce reduces enough to allow the top half of the bird to lightly brown.
     Step 8:  Remove the pot from the oven.
     Keep the pot warm over very low heat.
     Step 9:  Trim the crust off of a 3/4" thick slice of French bread.
     Cut the bread into a 3"x 2 1/2" rectangle shape.
     Brush the bread with melted unsalted butter.
     Place the bread on a small baking pan.
     Bake in a 325ºF oven till the crouton is lightly toasted and crisp.
     Place the crouton on the center of a serving platter.
     Set the serving platter aside.
     Step 10:  Remove the Game Hen from the braising liquid.
     Place the hen on the on top of the crouton on the serving platter.
     Arrange the carrots, morels and pearl onions on the platter, so they look nice.
     Keep the platter warm on a stove top or in a very low temperature oven.
     Step 11:  Pour the wine broth sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a second sauce pot.
     Discard the sachet, garlic, celery and lardons.
     Step 12:  Place the sauce pot over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1 pinch of tarragon.
     Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper if necessary.
     Step 13:  Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Rapidly reduce till only 2 1/2 cups remain.
     Step 14:  Knead 1 1/2 tablespoons of chilled unsalted butter with an equal amount of flour to make a Beurre Manie.
     Knead the clump of butter and flour, till it is as smooth as putty.
     Add a little bit of beurre manie at a time, while vigorously whisking, till the sauce thickens to a very thin consistency.
     Step 15:  Rapidly simmer and reduce till the sauce is thin consistency that can glaze a spoon.  (The finished volume will be about 1 3/4 cups.)
     Step 16:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Pour a generous amount of the sauce over the Game Hen and onto the serving platter.
     Serve any remaining sauce in a ramekin.

     This is a nice elegant way to present a Coq Au Vin!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Turkish Almond Walnut Plum Baklava

     Of all the desserts in the world, Baklava has to be rated as one of the ten best!  Baklava is on the menu at nearly every Greek restaurant.  This dessert is popular during the holiday season and it is often served during special events.
     Many people think Baklava is a Greek specialty, but this dessert actually originated in Turkey.  Turkey has many great signature dessert pastry recipes that are often overlooked by modern chefs.  The origins of fine pastry making in ancient times can be found in Turkey, Persia and the Middle East.
     Turkish dessert pastries are usually served as petite portions.  Spices, nuts and fruit are common ingredients used for making Turkish pastries.  Greek versions of Baklava do not usually have fruit in the recipe.  Dried fruit or fruit paste is used to make Baklava recipe variations in Turkey.
     Phyllo is usually made with a hand turned or electric powered sheet dough rolling machine.  Making the paper thin sheets of Phyllo by hand is not easy to do.  For the sake of convenience, it is best to purchase some pre-made Phyllo.  Pre-made Phyllo can be found in Greek delicatessens and at most grocery stores.  Phyllo is sold as a frozen dough product.  Once the package is opened, care must be taken to prevent the sheets of Phyllo from drying out.

     *This entire recipe yields 4 portions!

     Drawn Butter: 
     The milk and water should be removed from the butter, so the Phyllo does not become saturated with moisture.  The butter for Baklava should not be clarified at a high temperature.  The milk fats can be saved to flavor vegetables or potatoes.
     Step 1:  Place 12 ounces of unsalted butter in a sauce pot.
     Melt the butter over low heat.
     Gently simmer till the watery milk separates from the butter.  (The butter will float on top.)
     Step 2:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Carefully pour the butter off of the top into a container.
     *Discard the watery milk fat that remains in the sauce pot or use the milk fats to flavor vegetables in another recipe.
     Keep the drawn butter warm on a stove top.  

     Almond and Walnut Preparation:
     Step 1:  Place 3/4 cup of shelled almonds on a cutting board.
     Place 3/4 cup of shelled walnuts on the cutting board.
     Very finely chop the almonds and walnuts together.
     *The chopped nuts should be no bigger than a dried split pea.
     Step 2:  Place the finely chopped nuts in a bowl.
     Add 1/3 cup of granulated sugar.
     Add 1 tablespoon of cinnamon.
     Stir the nut mixture together and set it aside.

     Prune Preparation:  
     Very finely mince 3/4 cup of prunes (dried plums).
     *The minced prunes should be no bigger than a dried split pea.
     Set the minced prunes aside in a container.

     Baklava Syrup:
     Step 1:  Place 1 cup of water in a sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1 cup of sugar.
     Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.
     Add 1/3 cup of honey.
     Step 2:  Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Rapidly simmer and reduce till the syrup becomes a medium thin consistency that can lightly glaze a spoon.
     Step 3:  Remove the sauce pot from the heat.
     Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
     Set the syrup aside.

     Turkish Almond Walnut Plum Baklava:
     Step 1:  Cut 26 square shaped sheets of phyllo that measure 8"x 8".  (More may be needed.)  
     *Always keep the phyllo sheets covered with a dry towel, so they do not dry out.
     Step 2:  Brush a high sided baking pan (roasting pan) with melted butter.
     Lay 1 phyllo sheet on a board and brush it with melted butter on both sides.
     Place the buttered phyllo sheet on the buttered baking pan.
     Butter the second phyllo sheet and place on top of the first sheet.
     Stack a total of 8 layers of buttered phyllo sheets on the baking pan.
     *This first stack of phyllo will be the base of the baklava.
     Step 3:  Sprinkle a thin layer of the nut mixture on the stacked buttered phyllo.
     Step 4:  Place 2 more buttered phyllo sheets on top of the nut mixture layer.
     Sprinkle the chopped dried plums evenly on top of the stacked phyllo.
     *Just sprinkle the minced prunes on the phyllo.  Do not try to spread the minced prunes on the phyllo or the delicate phyllo will tear!
     Step 5:  Place 2 more buttered phyllo sheets on top of the minced prunes.
     Sprinkle a thin layer of the nut mixture on the phyllo.
     Step 6:  Repeat stacking alternating layers of the nut mixture and 2 buttered sheets of phyllo, till you run out of the nut mixture.  (About 3 or 4 layers.)
     Step 7:  To complete the top of the baklava, butter 8 sheets of phyllo and place each of them on top of the stack of phyllo.
     *The baklava should now look like a tall square shaped layered stack of uncooked pastry on the baking pan.
     Step 8:  Using a sharp wet knife, gently trim the edges, to make the baklava square with even straight sides.
     Step 9:  Cut the square baklava into four triangles.
     Leave the 4 baklava triangles butted against each other, without moving them in the pan.
     Step 10:  Place the pan in a 350ºF oven.
     Bake till the pastry turns a golden brown color.  (About 30 to 40 minutes.)  
     Step 11:  *This step must be done while the baklava is still hot!
     Remove the baklava from the oven.
     Immediately spoon all of the syrup on the edges and sides of the baklava.
     *Do not pour the syrup over the top of the baklava!  That will ruin the baklava!  The excess syrup in the pan will eventually be pulled into the baklava pastry.
     Step 12:  Let the baklava set at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, till all the syrup is absorbed and soaked up by the pastry.

     Baklava requires no garnishes or sauces.
     Use a spatula to place a piece of baklava on a dessert plate.
     No garnish is necessary!

     If you take the time to make this dessert correctly, then you will be looked upon as a pastry chef by dinner guests.  Baklava is a very impressive tasting classic Turkish dessert!