Category: Food & Cooking

A Word About Measurements

A Word About Measurements

Before I proceed in posting a flurry of cooking entries, I thought I would take a moment to address the old Imperial vs Metric issue.  As you can see from the picture below, I employ a wide variety of tools to concoct and/or reinterpret other’s recipes from as many countries as I can get my paws on.

The joys inherent in such an endeavor are that you are constantly trying to decipher different systems of measurement.  The biggest challenge is trying to translate a system based on volumes (US/Imperial) to one based on weights (metric) and vice verses. I am going to whole heatedly ignore the unique world of the Aga (place in a warm oven?!) as so few people even know what an Aga is let alone possess one, that those who fall into that minority can teach themselves their own rules.  Don’t be fooled by snazzy programs that assure you that this conversion can be easily accomplished through the magic of  math – the problems are more amorphous than that.

Don't be mislead by straight conversions from imperial to metric

Now most tools come with handy information printed on them but they are really not very helpful.  Metric is based on the mass (weight) and volume on a unit of water, as in 1 millilitre (1 ml) is 1/1000 of a litre of water.  But then that same drip of water conveniently becomes the basis for 1 gram.  Here is a screen shot from the math league that may make more sense.

The end result is that salt, sugar and spices weigh much less than water (as they usually have had said water removed for preservation), and even if 1 ml of  water equals 1 gram in metric mythology – foodstuffs just don’t behave in the same manner.  Just to flog this horse, 1 teaspoon of a spice should in theory equal 5 ml or 5 grams if you will.

But as you can see 1 teaspoon of a spice mix is about HALF of what that same spice mix is in grams/millilitres.  All of this is a very long-winded introduction to what will hopefully be a methodology of measurement that will be accessible to all.  It does combine the use of teaspoons as well as mix of oz/cups/pounds and of course grams/kilos and litres.  For anyone in a non-cups and teaspoons countries – they are indeed actual standardized weights and measurements and really shouldn’t be substituted for what you happen to use as your general cutlery.  Sets of both cups and teaspoon are available from places like pounds shops and supermarkets as well as more high-end kitchen stores or Amazon – and don’t forget Pampered Chef or Jamie at Home reps.  Here is a screen shot from allrecipes.co.uk that will hopefully give an indication of what the future recipes will resemble.

In defense of metric, it is fantastic for baking and cooking in large catering size quantities.  It would probably behoove you metric-shy North Americans to invest in some digital scales and get into the swing of all thing based on 10.

Just wanted to share my thoughts on this topic and warn you about the dangers of blindly trusting any “easy” conversions as they may ultimately disappoint.

Whew!  Now, onward to some actual cooking…..

Salmon on an Ash Plank

Salmon on an Ash Plank

I was afraid that this was a bit of gimmick but I am here to tell you that cooking salmon (or any fish) on a plank is delicious.  This has become a bit of a craze in the States over the past few years and I was inspired to give it a try as a center piece for a Beltane BBQ.  As I live in a weather challenged climate,  I felt obligated to exploring plank cooking for both the oven and the BBQ.  Additionally, as a former apartment dweller for roughly the past 25 years, I realise it is not only the weather that can disqualify you from owning a BBQ.

This technique is usually credited to the indigenous  tribes of the American Northwest but I have found references to both Australian and Scandinavian versions as well.  The basic gist is that you can cook tender and succulent food (fish, meats, veg) over an open flame in a way that is not only practical but adds sensational flavour as well.

Filet on left for BBQ (soaked) filet on right for oven (oiled).

Although I used the same recipe of a Honey Nut Coated Salmon (recipe below), I prepared the boards differently.  For the BBQ soak your plank  – covered in water – for at least two hours.  For the oven I coated both sides of the plank with vegetable oil and let stand.   Make sure that your wood is untreated and has no preservatives.  I sourced my from the Scottish Woodland Trust, but you can purchase cedar cooking planks from most  Whole Food stores or Amazon.  I was using Ash as it is  indigenous to Scotland and for heightened Celtic Symbolism in honor of Beltane.  You do not need to go to such lengths but Ash is tasty I can assure you!  After preparing the planks – preheat your cooking source:  200 C/400F for the oven and Medium High for the BBQ.

Apply Honey Mustard sauce to both filets

Place filets on boards (each plank could have easily held 4 filets) and season with salt & pepper.   Spoon some of the honey mustard sauce over the fish,

Apply Breadcrumb Mix to both filets

 and cover with breadcrumb mixture – that’s it!

Place directly into preheated oven

For oven roasting,  place directly onto the wire rack.  Cook for approximately 20 minutes or until fish is firm but flakes easily.

If using BBQ place on upper rack if possible

If using a BBQ place on an upper rack if possible.  The board will bend as it has been soaked and you will want to keep a close eye on this process for sure.

Oven Planked Salmon - Moist & Flavourful

The fish cooked in the oven was a delight.  It was juicy and flavourful and looked great on the board – much more interesting that a plain old cooking sheet.

Salmon from BBQ - Absolutely divine and worth all the hype!

But the salmon cooked in the BBQ was AMAZING!  The smell, the smoke, the flavour – it makes me swoon just to tell you!   At first I was just so overwhelmed from the smoke off the plank charring away that it transported me back in time like the food critic in Ratatouille.  All at once I was at summer camp (go Jolis Couers), I was in Wyoming on a NOLS course, and it was 2 am at a Pig Roast.

Let me explain – it is a very rare to smell actual wood smoke in Scotland.  If you are far enough out of a city or town to be able to have anything other than a gas fire in your fireplace, you are more likely to burn peat or coal.   These materials do not create very much smoke when they burn, rather remain petite glowing red coals that give out quite a bit of heat and only tinge the air with a slightly sharp smell.

Both Planks the morning after - oven ready to re-use, BBQ maybe not so much!

Suffice to say, big billowing clouds of wood smoke escaping from the grill was a deeply evocative experience for me.  As an added bonus, when you remove the salmon (still on the board) for the table, is gives a fabulous steaming, hissing presentation not dissimilar to fajitas in a Mexican Restaurant.

 All in all an exciting, flavourful adventure that I would highly recommend!

 

Salmon on an Ash Plank

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 2 hours

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Yield: 4 filets

Serving Size: 1 filet

Salmon on an Ash Plank

Ingredients

  • - 4 salmon filets
  • - 1 planks - untreated cedar, ash, oak
  • For the Honey Mustard Sauce
  • - 2 Tablespoons Honey
  • - 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • - 2 teaspoons Butter
  • For the Crumb Topping
  • - 1/4 cup toasted or dried breadcrumbs
  • - 1/4 cup chopped nuts (almonds, pecans or walnuts)
  • - 2 Tablespoon fresh chopped Parsley

Instructions

    Prepare planks according to cooking method - oil for oven, soak for BBQ
  1. - Preheat cooking source - 200 c/400 f for oven, Medium High for BBQ
  2. - Place salmon filets on plank lightly season with salt & pepper
  3. - Spoon the Honey Mustard Sauce over fish
  4. - Top with Breadcrumb Mixture
  5. - Cook for approximately 20 minutes until fish is firm and flakes easily.
  6. - Enjoy!
http://albaliving.com/2011/07/salmon-on-an-ash-plank/

Beer Can Chicken

Beer Can Chicken

In honour of T in the Park (which is taking place just up the road from me) I decided to finally tackle the legendary Beer Can Chicken.

Beer Can Chicken
Although it may appear a bit comical or obscene depending on your view, shoving a beer can in a chicken for cooking actually renders a very flavourful and juicy bird.
Basic Ingredients for Beer Can Chicken
 As this was my first attempt, I decided to keep things really simple. ( I did have to change the Tennents can/tin for a Heineken as my chicken to tin ration was all out of whack.  Fret not, it didn’t go to waste!)
Open both ends of beer can and drain/drink about half can
 This step is important – you must open the can/tin at both sides of the top to allow the steam to escape.  Of course I couldn’t find a church key to make a nice triangle, so I opted for a can opener for half the top and just pressed down with my thumb – be careful not to slice yourself…
Chicken #1 cooked in the oven
 In the name of research I wanted to try cooking  one chicken on the oven and one on the BBQ.  The one for the oven  was very straight forward – just pre-heat to 180 c/350 f and roast away for about an hour and 15-30 minutes.
Chicken #2 on the BBQ

The BBQ was another matter entirely.  It didn’t need to be but fate was not smiling on this endeavour.  First off, my chicken was plain old not cooperating by sitting neatly on its new perch.  As you are to cook this covered, with indirect heat for the hour plus, I had just wrestled my chicken into position when I realised that my wee  BBQ lid could not come close to shutting over my bird!

Alteration #1

 After a quick search for some tin foil to make a tent ( I was out) I grabbed my largest stock pot as a quick stand in.  Things were looking up for about 3 minutes when the Scottish Summer struck.  Anyone in the area  or who was hoping to see the start of the Scottish Open can appreciate just how fierce the newly arrived rain was on this evening.  It was lashing!!!
Needs Must – Alteration #2
 But I persevered…
Instant Read Thermometer – Get One!
 Now I know folks like to feel cheffy by learning where to poke on your fist or your chin to tell if meat is done, but I have a better suggestion.  Get an instant read thermometer!  They are available everywhere that sells kitchen stuff and come in Centigrade and Farenheit depending on your preference –  and guess what – it is what chefs are required to use by law on both sides of the Atlantic to record the temperature of a meal before it can be served to the public.  Particularly when it comes to chicken you don’t want to mess about so cook until the thermometer read 82.5 c/ 180 f in the thickest part of the thigh.

Left Rudder!

 Here are the results!  For ease, definitely go for the oven option.  It was golden brown, juicy and held on to the spice rub.  For sheer adventure, give the BBQ a try.  Maybe check the weather beforehand and if your lid won’t close over the chicken, take a bit of time before it is actually cooking to construct some sort of foil tent.  It did have a lovely grilled taste and (even after I finished it off in the oven after this picture as I couldn’t brave the elements again) the meat was juicy and tender.
A successful indoor picnic!
 We spread the old tartan blanket out in the living room, tuned in for the coverage of the concert and fully enjoyed our indoor picnic – all dry and cosy at last!
Beer Can Chicken

Beer Can Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken
  • 1 can of beer, half drained
  • Olive oil or butter
  • Spice mix

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200 c/400 f or BBQ to High
  2. Create an opening on both side of the beer can and drain/drink half the liquid
  3. Mix spices with oil or butter and rub over chicken
  4. Place beer can on a baking sheet and carefully place chicken over beer can.
  5. Cook for approximately 1 hour and 15 - 30 minutes depending on size of chicken (covered if on BBQ)
  6. Chicken is done when an instant read thermometer read 83 c/ 180 f in the thickest part of the thigh.
http://albaliving.com/2011/07/beer-can-chicken/
Langoustine Roll

Langoustine Roll

 One of the most delicious surprises in the national resources of Scotland is the lovely langoustine.  The nephrops norvegicus is member of the lobster family but are only 8-10 centimeters (or 3 to 6 inches) in length and are also known as Norway lobster, scampi and sometimes even Dublin Bay prawns, which is very confusing as prawns usually mean teeny briny shrimp.  Anyhoo, they are delicious have a taste and texture just like lobster but a touch more salty (and richer if you can believe it) than larger New England version.

The Lovely Langoustine

When I was in the states a few months ago I had the sublime pleasure of having a Classic Maine Lobster Roll from Jasper White’s Summer Shack.  For those not familiar with the Big Daddy of all things lobster in Boston (and that’s saying something) he is a highly acclaimed chef who rose to prominence running the top hotel restaurants in Boston and later his own super-lush seafood mecca Jasper’s.  I first came across his fabulousness when he made a dramatic career turn and closed his super fancy kitchens  to open the Summer Shack restaurant in the old Aku-Aku restaurant in Cambridge, in whose parking lot I once bought a van off a supposed relative of Click & Clack of Car Talk fame for $300 cash.  Jasper’s  new vision was to recreate the casual beach shack experience of his youth using the highest quality ingredients – and boy did he succeed.  Even though his lobster rolls cost $18 they are worth every penny.  After an eight year hiatus I really, really enjoyed my lobster roll.  I also knew that I had to have this more often than once every eight years, and so began my new-found obsession with my local langoustines.

Perfect picnic fare - Langoustine Rolls

I have hunted down and made langoustines from my fish man who brings his van to my door every thursday, the fantabulous fishmongers H.S. Murray in Inverkeithing and I have to report (more than a little sadly) that so far the best bang for my buck has come from  the Tesco frozen version.  The good news is that are consistently available,  a decent price and can even be ordered by online shopping so you can keep them on hand for when the need for a little luxury strikes.  I think that Trader Joe’s carry them in the States.

Tesco Finest £4

These really need to be cooked from frozen, so way before you turn the oven on, I would strongly encourage you to make this divine mayo that Jasper himself uses on his lobster rolls.  Of course you could just use a little bit of plain mayonnaise but this is one of those strange things that is so much more than the sum of its parts – go ahead and give it a try.  It is also totally fab on chicken, potatoes and particularly deadly on a ham sandwich.

Jasper’s Mayo

(Almost) Jasper’s Lobster Mayonnaise

1 cup Hellman’s light mayo

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 big dash of Tabasco Sauce

1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

– Mix ingredients together, cover and refrigerated at least 1 hour before serving.  Will keep for 3 days in the fridge.

Ready for the grill (broiler)

 The lovelies are super easy to cook, just preheat the grill/broiler to high and whack them in the oven for about 5 minutes.  (Note:  I have quite a few Pampered Chef folk in my life so don’t be surprised to see an awful lot of their loot in these posts – I am a very easy target.)

250g (1/4 lb) frozen yields about 150g (1 cup) meat - enough for two small rolls

Not only is cooking these in the oven quick and easy I think roasting them in their shells versus boiling them adds additional flavour, and  I have even taken to cooking tiger prawns/shrimp the same way.  After they cool, remove the meat from the shells and roughly chop.  I tend to save the shells in the freezer for making  yummy stock but if you are going to discard then – please put then in a small airtight plastic bag and maybe even put them straight into the outside bin/trash.  They can really stink if left in a regular bin overnight – bletch.

Mix a small amount of Jasper’s mayo into the cooled meat.  I also like to jazz things up by adding diced celery for crunch and even peeled diced cucumber.  You can also just be a purist and leave the mix unmolested.  Toast a small finger roll, brioche or a hot dog bun, butter generously and pop the langoustines into their cozy new home with just a simple lettuce blanket and a maybe a few minced chives for garnish.  Devour with great enjoyment.

seasonal Scottish strawberries are a revelation
As I was making this on the single most gorgeous day we have had in six weeks I couldn’t resist serving this with the astoundingly flavourful Scottish strawberries.  They are totally different to anything else that I understood to be a strawberry in my previous life.  They are also what is served at Wimbledon for the famous strawberries & cream, so there you go.
Super spicy yum

And just to go totally crazy, I opted for my new favourite vice – Haggis crisps (potato chips)!  They are really good and scratch the itch I get when I crave Old Bay Seasoning chips.  A differently flavour but the spiciness compliments the sweet strawberries and the elegantly rich langoustines.  Who knew?

 HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!

Langoustine Roll

Langoustine Roll

Ingredients

    Jasper's Lobster Mayonnaise
  • 1 cup Hellman's light mayo
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 big dash of Tabasco Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • Mix ingredients together, cover and refrigerated at least 1 hour before serving. Will keep for 3 days in the fridge. This makes more than you need for 2 filled rolls.
  • Langoustine Rolls - 2 rolls
  • About 1 cup/ 150 grams cooked Langoustine or Lobster meat
  • 1 Stalk of celery, washed and diced
  • 2 Hot Dogs Buns - split top if possible
  • Bibb lettuce
  • Chives, minced for garnish

Instructions

  1. Make up Jasper's Mayo
  2. Cook Langoustines or Lobster according to instructions
  3. Remove cooled meat from shells and roughly chop
  4. In a small bowl add langoustine/ lobster meat, diced celery & Jasper's or plain mayo
  5. Toast hot dog buns and butter if desired
  6. Place lettuce and half of mixture in each toasted bun
  7. Enjoy!
http://albaliving.com/2011/07/langoustine-roll/


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