November 24, 2013

Kürbisauflauf mit Hackfleisch: Pumpkin Casserole with Ground Meat

So, now that my pots and pans are all unpacked, I can finally get back to cooking. The first few things that I made were pretty much comfort foods for us - pizza, baked chicken, chili (and subsequently, of course, chili mac), which contributed to the normalization process by which our brains slowly become wired to register "oh yes, this is where you live now. I can tell, because of the food." I didn't photograph anything, because you've seen them all before.

So, now that we've made a couple of "old" recipes (and madly buying spices so that I can make whatever I want without suddenly realizing, for example that I don't have bay leaves yet), it's time to explore some German cooking.

Auflauf, which is a German-style casserole, is one of my new favourite words. We learned it at Restaurant Am Gautor, when Palle ordered it for lunch off of their seasonal menu card. We appear to have arrived in the middle of mushroom season (pfifferlingen = chanterelles; steinpilze = porcini) and pumpkin season. Even tiny shops that sell only one or two food items (like the wine vendor down the street from our apartment) boldly advertise "Kürbissuppe", "Kürbiscremesuppe" or "Hokkaido kürbissuppe"on the chalkboard by the door. Seasonal eating is definitely the fashion, here, and some restaurants, like Gautor have a special supplementary menu to reflect the current offerings.

The undisputed champion pumpkin in terms of market shelf-space, restaurant offerings, and recipes that appear in the freebie television guide, is the Hokkaido Kürbis, which I was more familiar with as a Red Kuri Squash, pictured here.

So of course I plunged into a crash-course of reading through online recipes to try to come up with a viable one. Once I had a basic ingredients list and methodology that seemed to represent the dish as we experienced it in the restaurant, I went ahead and changed and streamlined the process to fit my kitchen style. It was a bit of an enterprise, but well worth it. You could do a meatless version with veggie ground, of course, or adding in a layer of brown lentils which have been seasoned in the same manner as the meat (Vegans will want to break out their favourite cheese-sauce analog for the last step).

(n.b. Some of the photos in this post are a little iffy - new kitchen, new lighting, new setting on the camera...will soon get the hang of the new location, though.)

Kürbisauflauf mit Hackfleisch
(Pumpkin Casserole with Ground Meat)

Serves 4

450 grams cooked potatoes, diced (I used leftover roasted potatoes)
450 grams hard winter squash, such as Butternut, or Hokkaido/Red Kuri
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
250 grams lean ground beef (or beef/pork mix)
1 medium tomato, fresh, diced medium-small
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
pinch of oregano (dried leaf style)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup vegetable stock or broth
pinch nutmeg
90 - 100 grams grated cheese, such as edam, gouda, butter cheese, or other good melting cheese. I used Gouda.

Lightly oil a 7x11" casserole pan (or any shallow 2 litre pan). You could also use 4 individual serving dishes, which would make for a nice presentation.

The primary recipe that I was consulting suggested that the potatoes and the squash be peeled, cubed, and (separately) boiled until tender. However, it seems unnecessary to dirty up that many pans. I used leftover roasted potatoes, and simply roasted the cubed squash, but you could roast it all together, if you had a big enough pan to do it in (sadly, you'd need a bigger pan than the 7x11 casserole in which the dish is assembled). Roast the potato and squash until just tender - don't overdo it, or the squash may turn to mush. Conversely, you could roast the potatoes, and boil the squash at the same time - your call.

Peeling the squash is a bit of a pain, but the skin is not really all that edible (and certainly undesirable), so make sure you get it all off. A sturdy peeler or a good chef's knife should do the trick. Cut the potato and the squash into roughly the same size pieces - that is to say, ideally about the size of a medium-sized red radish. If you're roasting the squash, it will take about 30 minutes at 350 F (180 C), if boiling, not longer than 5 minutes.

Peel the onion and garlic and dice finely. In a medium/large skillet, heat the olive oil and brown the ground meat thoroughly. Then add the onions and garlic. Once the onion starts turning translucent, add the diced tomato. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste, a good pinch of oregano leaves, and the smoked paprika and cayenne. Don't go overboard with the seasonings here, or you risk overwhelming the finished dish. You can use regular paprika if you don't have smoked (also called Pimentón de la Vera), but the smoked variety gives a lovely warming quality to the dish. Allow the mixture to cook for about five minutes over medium heat, and then turn off the heat, cover and keep warm.

At this point, preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C).

In a small to medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, and then add the flour all at once to make a roux. Allow the roux to cook, but not darken, until it starts to smell pleasantly nutty. Add the milk slowly, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, and then add the broth, switch to a spatula, and continue to stir. When all of the liquid has been added, and the mixture is smooth and thick, remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese and a pinch of ground nutmeg. It does not need salt, because it gets plenty from the stock/broth and the cheese. If you are using low sodium versions of those, you may want to add a little pinch, but don't overdo it. Stir until smooth. For goodness sake, don't taste it, or you may end up sitting on your kitchen floor eating the whole lot, instead of making your casserole.

Assembly time! Into your oiled (or buttered) casserole dish(es), put all of the potatoes, shaking them to spread them out into a single layer. They should nicely cover the whole bottom of the dish. If there's too much room around them to make a convincing layer, you are using too large a pan - switch to a smaller one before proceeding.

Next, add the seasoned ground meat mixture as a layer on top of the potatoes.

Arrange the roasted squash cubes over the meat mixture. I could have used a bit more squash, I think - this is a pretty sketchy-looking layer.

Finally, pour your delicious cheese sauce over the casserole, getting as even a coverage as you can, leaving nothing exposed. Place, uncovered in the oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until hot, bubbly, and perhaps slightly browned in places on top.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did not have nutmeg, but I am convinced of its value in this context, because it always brings good notes to any white sauce. Next time, I will totally have nutmeg, and it will go in as written above.

Serve up and devour.

November 13, 2013

Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower Quiche

Good news! My kitchen has now arrived from Canada. Some attrition, unfortunately - my mother's ceramic bread bowl did not make it in one piece, my Lagostina Dutch Oven arrived misshapen and with a dented lid, and my 8" square tempered glass pan was shattered into fragments. The spider was bent out of shape (but has now been bent back into shape, more or less), and the plastic smoothie-blending cup was also broken. Sigh. The packers appear to have had no concept of load shift.

So now, I get to reassemble my spice collection, purchase some staple items (flour, cornstarch, yeast, baking powder, live herbs for the window sill in the kitchen, for example), draft some dinner menus, get cooking, and take some pictures!

In the meantime, please consider this delightful quiche as a brunch option:

Bacon Cheddar Cauliflower Quiche

You will need:

- Your favourite pie crust, lining the pie plate of your choice (this one is a small, six-inch (?) pie plate).
- crisply cooked bacon, crumbled finely, enough to cover the bottom of the pastry
- a layer of grated cheddar
- enough cooked cauliflower to loosely cover the layers below it (make sure the cauliflower is not wet)
- another layer of grated cheddar
- a royale mixture (eggs beaten with milk, seasoned with salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce, any any other seasoning you like)

For a 9" quiche I use a royale made from 3 eggs and 2/3 cup of 1% milk, but you can use any set-custard ratio that pleases you, sized for whatever pan you are using.

Pour the royale carefully over the other ingredients so that they maintain their positions. If you like a golden, glossy crust, dip a brush in the royale and carefully brush a little over the exposed upper portion of the crust.

Preheat your oven to 350 F and bake for 45 to 50 minutes (for a full sized quiche, a bit less for a smaller one - start checking at 30 minutes), or until the crust is golden and the filling is slightly puffed and firmly set. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before cutting, for easiest removal.

Here it is "in the raw", just before it went into the oven:

November 07, 2013

Heart & Blade Burgers

These were intensely, astoundingly, beefy. I got the idea from Jennifer McLagan's book "Odd Bits" where she exhorts the reader to make burgers entirely of heart, but for my inaugural attempt at cooking beef heart I decided to go with her further suggestion of cutting the heart 50/50 with non-organ muscle meat. She suggested brisket, but, based on the availability of the day, I went with bottom blade. For four patties, I used 250 grams trimmed heart, and 250 grams bottom blade, making each patty roughly a quarter pound.

I do not have a meat grinder, which is the only reason that it took me this long to make these. However, I cribbed from Alton Brown's instructions for making ground meat using a food processor, and that worked incredibly well:

Heart & Blade Burger Patties

Prepare the beef heart by trimming any muscle sheath, silverskin, tendons, or veins that may be clinging to the outside. Using a chef's knife, dice the meat into short, thick strips about 5 centimetres long. Next, trim and dice the blade meat into the same sized pieces.

Place the meat in a metal pan in the freezer for about 20 minutes, so that the meat begins to freeze and stiffens, but is still somewhat pliable.

Scrape the meat off of the pan into a food processor fitted with a metal blade, about 250 grams at a time - you don't want to overload the machine. Pulse the processor's blade repeatedly until the mixture begins to look like ground beef. Empty the processor, and repeat until all of the meat is chopped.

At that point, I put all of the meat together in the processor, added a tiny dribble of olive oil, and gave it another few pulses, simply to integrate it into a single mass and make sure there was enough fat to keep the meat from drying out.

Remove the metal blade and season to taste. We wanted to go with simple, almost stark burgers, so that we could really taste the meat. We used only a good pinch of kosher salt, but you could season these any way that you like to season your burgers.

Next I turned all of the meat out onto the counter, and shaped the mass of fluffy meat into four patties, which we fried over medium-high heat in a little butter (you could also use olive oil, of course). I worried that the patties might not hold together nicely, but they did. I was struck by how dark a red they were - lots of iron, for sure. These patties are quite lean, because heart meat is inherently lean. I patted them out quite thinly, because I wanted good bun coverage, but a thicker patty would work fine, too. If you're making them very thick, you might want to poke a hole through the centre to speed up and even out the cooking process, but that's up to you.

Now, I won't lie to you: there is a faint trace of gaminess, of "organ meat flavour" that one gets from the heart, but it is quite mild compared to, say, liver or kidney, and the overall effect is so overwhelmingly meaty tasting that the general impression that you get when biting into your burger is simply that of beef (and rightly so). I suspect that the all-heart burgers would be a little gamier, which would certainly be fine with me, but these were a wonderful introduction into cooking beef heart. Piled up onto a bun with all of the fixings (not pictured, sadly, because we fell on the finished burgers ravenously, and I forgot to take pictures), it made a delicious dinner.

So, what's next? All-heart burgers? Heart Loaf? "Heart"y Meatballs? There seem to be an awful lot of options, and I'm looking forward to further experimentation.