Good morning, dear readers. Today's requests include how to cook sea bass and instructions for making raclette, "the official Swiss version or a simple one that can be made at home. Also, does anyone know where to buy raclette cheese or what cheeses may be substituted for the real raclette cheese?"
The final request is for a caramel icing that is never-fail.
The first requests came from Marie-Laure Poire, who sampled raclette at a party out of town. Online sources describe the dish as a wintertime staple in Switzerland that consists of melted raclette cheese served over boiled potatoes, seasoned with black pepper and accompanied by pickled onions and gherkins.
The request for caramel icing came from L.B.H. of Lookout Mountain, who tried the version that calls for a candy thermometer and couldn't get it to turn a caramel or brownish color or to be thick enough to spread.
Cliff sent another version of hot and sour soup, this one with tofu and bamboo shoots.
Hot and Sour Soup
11/2 cups dried lily buds
1/4 cup dried mushrooms ("wood ears")
1/8 cup dried hijiiki (optional)
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
6 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup pork, finely julienned
1/2 pound firm tofu, julienned
1/2 cup bamboo shoots, julienned (canned or fresh)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
11/2 teaspoons chili paste
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
5 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons gingerroot, finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Clean the dried lily buds and soak them in warm water for about 20 minutes. Cut off the hard, tough tip of the stem, and then cut the lily buds in half lengthwise.
Soak the wood ear mushrooms, hijiiki and shiitakes separately in warm water for about 20 minutes, then cut into small pieces.
Bring the chicken broth to a boil, and then add the pork, skimming the surface of any fat.
Cook the pork for 3 to 4 minutes, until the broth comes to a boil again. Add the tofu, mushroom pieces, bamboo shoots and lilies. Let the pot return to a boil, and reduce heat to maintain a low boil. Add the soy sauce, spices, vinegar, salt and sugar. Taste the soup, and adjust the vinegar (you may need to modify up or down by an ounce) for the sour and salt to balance.
Mix the cornstarch and water to create a paste for thickening. Add the cornstarch mixture slowly, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, then garnish with 1/2 teaspoon scallion per bowl, 1/2 teaspoon gingerroot and a drizzle of sesame oil.
Notes: The vinegar is the essence of the sour aspect of this soup. White vinegar gives you the strongest taste. Rice vinegars, wine vinegars, apple cider vinegars, etc. will either be too dilute (not enough acidity) or add extraneous flavors.
Garlic powder is preferred in this recipe, but if you choose to use cloves, leave them whole and add them only to flavor the chicken broth, and remove them before adding other ingredients.
A request for easy whole-wheat bread brought a recipe and a disclaimer from Everett Kidder. "I don't know of any yeast bread recipe which doesn't involve a lot of time, or which we might call easy," he wrote. "But this recipe is a simple one I have used, and it's right out of an old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. I have made this recipe with half whole-wheat flour and half unbleached white bread flour. My family likes it better than the all-whole wheat version."
41/2 to 5 cups whole-wheat flour (or half white, half whole-wheat)
2 packages active dry yeast
13/4 cups milk
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons shortening
2 teaspoons salt
In large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour and the yeast. Heat milk, brown sugar, shortening and salt just until warm (115 to 120 F) and the shortening is almost melted. Stir constantly. Add to the flour mixture and beat at low speed in an electric mixer 1/2 minute, scraping the bowl. Beat 3 minutes on high. Stir in as much remaining flour as you can stir in with a spoon.
Turn out on lightly floured surface and knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6 to 8 minutes total). Shape in a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in size (1 to 11/2 hours).
Punch down and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Shape into a loaf. Place in a greased 9-by-5- by 3-inch loaf pan. Cover and let rise until nearly double, about 30 minutes.
Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for 35 to 40 minutes. You may have to tent with aluminum foil the last 20 minutes to prevent overbrowning. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 2 loaves.
The call for slow-cooker recipes brought an enthusiastic comment from Murphy LaNieve, who had a Woman's Day magazine with "surprising slow-cooker recipes that really looked unusual and good. The best-sounding recipe, however, was not for a slow cooker but for two skillets." So today we begin with the skillets and the brick.
Brick Chicken With Garlic and Thyme
8 small chicken thighs (2 pounds total)
8 cloves garlic (in their skins), smashed
8 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Steamed fresh green beans for serving
In a large bowl, toss the chicken, garlic, thyme, oil, red pepper and salt.
Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Place chicken, skin side down, in the skillet and spoon the garlic and thyme mixture around it. Place a second skillet on top of the chickens and put heavy cans or a brick in the skillet to weight it down (this will flatten the chicken so it cooks up evenly and extra-crisp). Cook for 10 minutes.
Remove the cans or brick and the top skillet, turn chicken over and stir the garlic. Return the skillet and cans, and cook until the chicken is crisp and cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes more. Serve with green beans.
And here's this week's wrap-up of helpful ideas, straight from authoritative cook Jane Guthrie.
She wrote: "Cooks Illustrated just arrived, and the question about the safety of canned goods after the expiration date was one query that was asked and answered.
"I would consider this source trustworthy. It makes me feel better about all the unusual/exotic cans of things I have succumbed to and not used yet.
"The 'best by' date printed on canned foods is not a hard-and-fast expiration date but refers to the manufacturer's recommendation for peak quality, not safety concerns (a direct quote). As long as cans are in good shape, stored in a dry place between 40 and 70 degrees, contents remain safe to use indefinitely.
"The natural chemicals in foods react with metals in cans and over time the taste, texture and nutritional value may deteriorate, but it is possible for some canned foods to last for decades without any change in taste or nutrition.
"There was a shelf-life study by National Food Processors Association in the FDA Consumer, finding 100-year-old canned food remarkably well-preserved. Some nutrients were less, but not others. However, if the can is punctured, rusted or has a deep dent along a seam, has a bulge or spurts liquid when opened, don't use it."
It's good to know all this, and it will be good to cook, good to save and use cans we might not have gambled on in the past. Thanks to you all.
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