Wednesday, 19 December 2012

In the Kitchen with... the Division of Student Development

Seasons greetings from Granville, and a special "Learning through Food" welcome to new readership especially from the Division of Student Development! Over the past couple of months, I've had the priviledge of working with a group of colleagues within our Division known as the Professional Development Committee or PDC, for short. After much planning and anticipation for our December Division meeting, which I must note was very well kept under wraps, all was revealed today that we were assigning fun as our theme for the day. (Or rather that folks were highly encouraged to be open to the activities and to have fun, whether they'd like it or not.) Following a wonderful stand-up sketch from Denison Wellness Coordinator Stephanie (her fourth comedy gig in her 11-year career), everyone was divided up into one of three activity stations under the auspices of our campus-wide theme of creativity and courage: cards, crafts and cooking.

Ever since I began food and culture programming on Denison's campus, and every other time I cook for a group, one of the most anticipated questions I've been asked is "Is there anything I can do to help?" This being said, my ambitious menu planning required the following: everyone has to be able to do something, the food to be prepared needs to fit within our half-hour timeframe, and these food-making activities should be relatively easy to replicate without my physical presence. To that end we went with homemade ice cream and homemade butter. (If you've been keeping up with the blog as of late, perhaps now you'll see why these items have made it into recent programming...).

As first explained in this post, the ice cream recipe and technique that follows is a hybrid of these two sources (1, 2). First, fill up a freezer gallon-sized bag about a third full of ice and add about 1 tbsp ice cream salt (aka, rock salt). Though you can get away with using regular table salt, you'd need a whole lot of it; the larger the salt solid the better your resulting ice "brine" will be of help. The point here is that you need to add salt to the ice in order to lower the melting point of the ice slushie. Next, pour into a regular quart-sized bag, 1 c half-and-half and 1/4 c granulated sugar (the basic starter), and then seal it, removing as much air as possible. Make sure the bag containing the ice cream mix is not meant for the freezer (which is meant to keep out the extreme cold and thus stunts any efforts in freezing it as I learned during our previous food and culture program).

homemade ice cream trial #2
Place the smaller bag inside the larger one. After sealing the exterior bag, shake the bag until your heart's content (which is hopefully the same amount of time for the ice cream to form). Really, one of the very few ways to know if you're ready to add the flavouring/s is to feel for the consistency of the ice cream. If done properly, it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes (I would suggest singing holiday songs to pass the time) and the once-liquidy half-and-half should have transformed into a thickened, if not nearly frozen, yogurt-like consistency. The amount of time from start to finish can vary greatly depending on how much ice and/or salt you've got in the bag, as well as how much you've shaken the bag. In similar regard to using metal coffee canisters, sloshing the bag from side to side ever so gently isn't as effective as constantly moving around the bag would be.

homemade ice cream trial #3, chocolate chip ice cream with salted chocolate caramel sauce
After your half-and-half has thickened, open up the bags and give your [now] ice cream a taste. Once you've gotten over just how deliciously refreshing this is on its own, and should you desire to, add your flavouring/s: a tsp or so vanilla extract, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, fresh berries (squish them a bit unless you like random whole berries in your ice cream), lemon/lime zest/juice, and/or perhaps even instant coffee, basil or caramel sauce. I would suggest adding whatever you want to add (especially something with alcohol in it like vanilla extract) toward the end of the process as some ingredients may slow down the freeze rate. However, if you're using something like cocoa powder or cinnamon, it might be better to fully dissolve these in the half-and-half first before mixing, otherwise you might get clumps of dry ingredients. Whatever the case may be, once you get your ingredients into your ice cream, seal up the bag and mix everything together with your hands; because the heat from your hands may cause some melting, get this ice cream bag back into your ice bag and give it one last shake for 2-3 minutes just to bring it back to its ice cream form. Give the newly flavoured ice cream a taste. Assuming you're happy with it and you haven't already devoured it, put this in the freezer and allow it to fully set. (If the ice cream never actually forms and you only get to a foamy state, it is okay to get this straight into the freezer to finish freezing, giving it a shake every 10-15 minutes until it's done. Before that, though, add more ice and ice cream salt to the larger bag and give everything a shake for another five minutes.)

homemade butter trial #1, whipped cream stage
Following the bagged ice cream, we moved onto our butter which is more of a test of endurance than a technical test that could make your hands numb. I've made homemade butter with my standing mixer in the past, but for smaller amounts, this hand shaken version is much more sustainable. Into a mason jar, which you can find in stores like Meijer and Target, as well as some grocery stores, pour in 1 c heavy whipping cream. You can also use an old pasta sauce jar if you've got one lying around.. basically, anything with a secure lid. You'll see why a little further down why I prefer the mason jars. Tightly screw on the lid components of the jar and quite literally shake it (the jar). Anywhere between 7-10 minutes (again, feel free to kick up another round of singing, or because it's a lot quieter of a process than ice cream making, start up a conversation), and you've incorporated so much air into the heavy whipping cream that it's developed into a homogenous and rather voluminous amount of whipped cream. You could stop here and mix in 2 tbsp (or to taste) powdered sugar; but because some of us need shaken butter (and the resulting buttermilk) in our lives, keep shaking.

Soon (within the next five minutes), the colour of the cream should be changing from white to light yellow as the fat solids (i.e., butter) separate from the rest of the cream (buttermilk). Keep shaking the jar until you start hearing something hitting the sides of the jar; this is your butter and will eventually try to hide from you underneath the rendered buttermilk. Unscrew the jar and use the metal disc of the mason jar to help strain out the buttermilk (this has a fair amount of acidity that would cause the butter to spoil quickly if you left them in the same jar together) and save it for later. And voilà, what's left behind is unsalted butter. You could screw the lid back on and keep shaking just to check if you can get rid of any more buttermilk; don't be alarmed if you keep shaking the jar, no buttermilk is extracted and it looks like you're butter hasn't formed into a homogenous, solid clump. (It's because the butter has reached room temperature and has whipped a bit.) After adding any extra flavourings (salt, basil, oregano, berries, etc.), either serve it immediately, or get this into a fridge to chill to the consistency of a typically store bought stick of butter. Do take note that the aforementioned time frames are rather variant, depending primarily on your amount and commitment to agitating the heavy cream. (Also, try not to focus on the amount of time it's taking but rather on the conviviality of the group and your conversations.)

whole wheat beskuit made with rendered buttermilk
An aside: If you're familiar with my cooking, I'm a huge fan of beskuit which calls for buttermilk but of which I typically substitute since I don't usually buy the store bought stuff.

Now, when I think of butter my mind typically jumps over to France and nearly always with bread. Especially when I need/prefer to demo my recipes, I try to stay clear of any dough-based bread/pastry recipes that require any amount of resting period. The same was true for this gathering, but my culinary orientation insisted I make some kind of bread from scratch. Cue then one of the easiest and most consistent bread recipes: Guinness bread. As the aforementioned link goes much more in depth in terms of culture and process, I'll just summarise the recipe here. For each loaf, melt half a stick of unsalted butter (just under a minute should do the trick). As that's going, get the following ingredients into a mixing bowl: 3 c sifted all-purpose flour (or if you're in a rush closer to 2.75 c non-sifted, otherwise it'll get too dense), 1 tbsp baking powder, a pinch of salt and 1/4 c granulated sugar. After using a fork to mix everything together, pour in all but 1/4 c Guinness (the 14.9 oz size) and use a sturdy rubber spatula to fold it into the dry ingredients. [We're not intentionally saving this for anything per se, but rather 13-ish oz is all we actually need for this recipe.] So that the bread doesn't stick to the bottom of your oven-safe pot (even if it's "non-stick"), grease the bottom of the pot with a bit of the melted butter and then flour the interior (whereby the flour sticks to butter). Tap the pot to evenly distribute the flour and dispose of any excess. Get the batter into the pot, top this all of with the remaining melted butter and then seal the pot with a layer of tin foil, an upside down metal bowl, etc. Bake this in a preheated 350°F oven for 30 minutes, take off whatever you used to cover the pot and then finish baking the bread for 15 more minutes. The result is a moist, brown butter crusted bread that's simply wicked good. And add to that some homemade butter or dip it in your soup... mmm...

As if all of that wasn't enough, I used some of the remaining Guinness for a chocolate orange Guinness cake that had overcooked a bit; luckily I was able to rescue some of it and turned them into bite size cakes topped off with an orange buttercream frosting, both recipes of which can be found in this post.

And to complete the menu of homemade/from scratch recipes, I've been trying to make fresh mozzarella using the items and instructions from this kit. But until I get this process foolproof (which may not be any time soon), I'll forgo talking about the learning process here. I will say though that a series of sites (hyperlinked below) have been very helpful and enlightening and have rendered for me quite a few lessons learned. I suppose if I learn enough about what not to do, I should get this right eventually, no?
  • 5. Simply put, the story of mozzarella is fun to read. As part of this story, as well as its natural etymology, mozzarella is rooted in the Italian mozzare which means "tearing" (as in stretching, ripping). Technically speaking then, I have yet to make true mozzarella and seem to have been making something that looks like  and (for some batches) has the texture of ricotta but has the flavour profile and shape of mozzarella.
  • 4. Mozzarella is a bit of a tricky bugger to make, but so delicious if you can make it happen. So, if you're planning to make mozzarella for others, do try it out a few times to get the hang of it. Otherwise, be okay with enjoying something more ricotta-esque.
  • 3. There's quite a bit of science (molecular gastronomy at its finest) that goes into mozzarella making and what's tough is that there's just about as much science to understand than there is culture. Reading and understanding both will be of great benefit to being one with this cheese.
  • 2. The kind of milk you use is perhaps the most important part of the process, regardless of what anyone else tries to suggest. If you're going to use pasteurised milk (which is fine), as I had been doing for every batch, it will always end up looking like ricotta. Knowing this from the start will save you the heartache of not getting the flowy, stretchy mozzarella you may be expecting. After adding your salt, mash everything together by hand with a bit of the whey (i.e., don't try and extract all the whey before doing this or else it'll get to be too dry) to develop a creamy texture that should help bind the cheese into a more solid mass. Then, wrap it up in some cheese cloth and get it into the fridge for a few hours (overnight is best) so that the excess moisture can be extracted and the cheese has time to fully set and hold its shape. Even its ability to do that is quite an impressive feat. I noticed here though that the blogger seemed to be using the same ingredients I used and somehow came up with mozzarella that stretched; at this point, this is beyond my comprehension. Back to the kitchen!
  • 1. If and when it is possible, go with raw milk. I thought maybe temperature was an issue, as well as time, and in the end, both are clear factors that make it difficult to demo mozzarella making from the very beginning. I am convinced though that raw milk would make the process so much less stressful than this really needs to be. It's also important to let the mozzarella simply "be" and to trust the process. Rigorously stirring and agitating the cheese-in-progress makes it difficult for anything to spin into the beautiful, solid mass it should become. Rather, we consistently get ricotta.

With gratitude for actually reading through my lamentations over mozzarella, I sign off on a positive note of holiday happiness that I have the honour of getting work with such wonderful colleagues here at Denison. Here's to another semester wrapped up and another semester soon to be unwrapped! For these and other photos, click here.

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