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Cooking with Sparky

Cooking with Sparky
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  • Cooking with Sparky

    Post #1 - July 21st, 2008, 10:57 am
    Post #1 - July 21st, 2008, 10:57 am Post #1 - July 21st, 2008, 10:57 am
    Knife Skills - Pasta Salad

    This is a long overdue thread, which technically I began with our foray into pasta and Mornay sauce. I decided that this summer, I was going to give Sparky cooking lessons - he gets to decide what we cook, and we make whatever it is from scratch. Our next project was predicated on his interest (where little boys’ interests most often lie) in sharp objects; he'd asked to learn to use a knife. After investing in a pair of small Kevlar gloves, I agreed.

    Since he’s already learned the basics of pasta “Salty like the sea, Mom!” I carefully sharpened up our knives, and decided the best beginning for a young surgeon was to make a chopped pasta salad. After cooking and rinsing the pasta, we started with cucumbers, simply sliced. Mom peeled the cucumber by cutting it in half, standing it on the flat surface, and cutting the peel off the sides, and then Sparky took over with his gloves on and Mom nervously standing by. With any rounded surface, cut so you have a flat side (in this case, in half the long way) to place against the cutting board, as otherwise both your knife and veggie might slip. To slice, hold the cucumber with your non-dominant hand curled into a claw shape, so your knuckles but not fingertips are exposed to the knife (the gloves were a bit long, so we had to be extra careful to curl in the excess fingertips.) Using either a pulling or pushing motion (rather than directly down,) draw the knife across the cucumber cut it into slices.
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    (Note: Mommy is not using proper knife technique as she holds her hand over Sparky's to guide)

    Onion: slice as above. Though we could have made our life easier by first making a series of cuts perpendicular to the slices, I wanted to show Sparky how to use the shape of the chef’s knife to chop: I had him hold the knife at it's tip (to get a feel for the tip staying on the cutting board) and the handle, and rock the handle so the heel goes up and down across the onion slices until they were the desired size, leaving the tip on the board.
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    Green pepper: noting that peppers are slightly square, locate a flat side. Stand the pepper with the stem upwards (ours stood nicely, but you may need to cut a small slice off the bottom to make a flat surface for your board.) Slice the flat side completely off the pepper which leaves the seeds and rib behind.
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    Do this for 3 sides, then lay the pepper cut side down, so the stem is parallel to the cutting board for the last side. Slice the flat lobes into strips.

    Tomato (sorry, no pic): Mom cored it by making a curved cut at an angle all the way around the stem, so the core comes out in a little cone (easier with a small, sharp paring knife.) Like all round objects, cut in half so you can put a flat surface against the board. Cut into strips and then cubes (with a roma tomato, we just made 4 cuts the long way and then turned it to make 5 or so more cuts against the strips; I don’t bother seeding tomatoes, I like the extra liquid in a salad.

    Garlic: lay on cutting board, and lay knife blade over; give a sharp whack with your fist, being sure to avoid the blade; this loosens the papery skin. Remove skin and hard root end. Pour small amount of coarse salt on garlic and, pressing the flat side of your knife tip into the garlic (again, avoiding the blade,) grind salt and garlic into the cutting board. Chop the paste and grind again until it is fine enough to be mixed into your vinaigrette.
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    Simple garlic vinaigrette: put mashed garlic and salt in your salad dressing container. Cover with about 2 tbsps of vinegar and a squirt (about a tsp) of Dijon mustard. Add about ¼ cup of olive oil. Mix in herbs: pick & rinse tender tops of desired fresh herbs: we used marjoram, lemon basil, chives and parsley. Roll them together into a tight longish ball. Use scissors to snip small bits into the vinaigrette. Put all ingredients, including cooked rinsed and cooled pasta, and rinsed canned canellini beans, into a large bowl and toss well. Garnish with pretty herb tops.

    Serve.

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  • Post #2 - July 21st, 2008, 12:46 pm
    Post #2 - July 21st, 2008, 12:46 pm Post #2 - July 21st, 2008, 12:46 pm
    What a neat way to pass time in the summer! I'd love to find out what he chooses to make next. What fun! :D
  • Post #3 - July 21st, 2008, 12:49 pm
    Post #3 - July 21st, 2008, 12:49 pm Post #3 - July 21st, 2008, 12:49 pm
    Brilliant!
  • Post #4 - July 21st, 2008, 2:05 pm
    Post #4 - July 21st, 2008, 2:05 pm Post #4 - July 21st, 2008, 2:05 pm
    Looks delicious, but had to do a double-take as it looked like someone had thrown some variagated Euonymous into the salad!

    http://www.magnoliagardensnursery.com/p ... llipo.html
    Coming to you from Leiper's Fork, TN where we prefer forking to spooning.
  • Post #5 - July 21st, 2008, 2:09 pm
    Post #5 - July 21st, 2008, 2:09 pm Post #5 - July 21st, 2008, 2:09 pm
    Rick T. wrote:Looks delicious, but had to do a double-take as it looked like someone had thrown some variagated Euonymous into the salad!

    http://www.magnoliagardensnursery.com/p ... llipo.html

    :D Varigated, yes - but oregano: just as pretty and you can eat it, too!

    Thanks, everybody!
  • Post #6 - July 21st, 2008, 2:41 pm
    Post #6 - July 21st, 2008, 2:41 pm Post #6 - July 21st, 2008, 2:41 pm
    You are a braver mom than I.

    I still have issues letting my 14 year old near knives. I was working one Saturday when my husband called to say, "Don't get upset, but we're on our way to the emergency room."

    Seems my youngest took it into her head to remove old gum from the kitchen floor with a chef's knife. After cutting herself, she was spending a long time in the bathroom and every time my husband asked what she was doing in there, the answer was, "Nothing." He finally went to see for himself what was going on and saw a trail of blood from the kitchen to the bathroom. Blood everywhere. Wouldn't stop. Fortunately, she didn't need stitches and it finally stopped after he applied direct pressure.

    Maybe when she's 21. . .

    Suzy
    " There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life."
    - Frank Zappa
  • Post #7 - July 21st, 2008, 3:20 pm
    Post #7 - July 21st, 2008, 3:20 pm Post #7 - July 21st, 2008, 3:20 pm
    Why do they always preface that statement with "don't get upset?" :roll:

    Your story does point out how dangerous kitchens are to children - we've got a couple general rules, one of which is that Sparky (who is not quite eight) isn't allowed in the kitchen proper AT ALL without permission. He is also a creative type, who could find all sorts of ingenious new uses for all the hot, sharp, pointy, and poisonous things in the kitchen. The cooking lessons are my way of introducing him to the world of food without ignoring the rule. In addition to the cut-resistant gloves, we also bought the longer style of oven mitts - but neither supercede common sense and close supervision. I should also (not being the ultra-patient Mom I'd like to be) admit here to a lot more barking of orders than I'd have preferred.

    The only motion Sparky was allowed to do by himself (after I set his hands up carefully and demonstrated - and hovered) was slow chopping - so it training-wheels-on knife work. Sparky also isn't really old enough at this point to have the fine motor control you need to work a knife on your own (though, somehow, he can assemble Legos with the proficiency of an architect.) However, as I'd hoped, he proudly ate two servings of salad, talking all the while about how delicious it was - polar opposite to last time I presented a similar salad for dinner (which he ate, complaining all the while about how many vegetables were in it.)

    Though it'll be several years before he's on his own, I tried to make sure we went over safety techniques very carefully; I neglected to mention that, in addition to the "claw" grip on the food, I also drilled how to properly grip a knife: (which doesn't show well in the pics, due to the too-big gloves) pinch the knife carefully with your thumb and forefinger on the spine just below the handle, and wrap your remaining fingers around the handle.

    FYI, the following pictorials offer a good illustration of knife anatomy and proper use.
  • Post #8 - July 21st, 2008, 3:26 pm
    Post #8 - July 21st, 2008, 3:26 pm Post #8 - July 21st, 2008, 3:26 pm
    I would love to take a proper knife skills class, but it is just something I've never really gotten around to. I manage well enough and have yet to cut anything important off my person, but I never really learned "the right way" to cut food, other than what I pick up imitating cooking shows. ;)
  • Post #9 - July 22nd, 2008, 9:56 am
    Post #9 - July 22nd, 2008, 9:56 am Post #9 - July 22nd, 2008, 9:56 am
    Lesson two: Breading and deep-frying

    Sparky's next request was for "popcorn shrimp, like the place with the alligator" Now, he's had popcorn shrimp before, but clearly was looking for something specific, so I queried further: apparently he liked the large butterflied shrimp (Ron's uses medium to large shrimp, rather than the tiny ones usually used for kids) and the breading, which was "soft and bumpy." Hmmm - this took a bit of reverse-engineering on my part, but a google image search of "popcorn shrimp" that looked right produced an Emeril recipe(of all things) that I used as a starting place. (FWIW, Sparky liked the result, said they were "soft enough" but not really "bumpy enough" or "big and open enough" to be like Ron's - next time, I plan to add panko to the mix and will teach him to butterfly larger shrimp)

    So, we set up our mise-en-place:
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    Yogurt (1/2 cup per lb)
    Milk (1/2 cup per lb)
    Garlic Powder (pinch)
    Masa Harina (6 tbsp per lb)
    Cornstarch (1/3 cup per lb)
    Pepper (to taste)
    Salt (to taste)
    Trader Joe's Seafood Blend 1 lb bag (Calamari, Shrimp and Bay Scallops, excellent for this purpose, BTW)
    Assorted raw veg (we had broccoli, green beans and green peppers)
    Oil (about 2 inches deep in your casserole)
    Cast-iron casserole (the high sides make this a lot less messy than a skillet)
    Ziploc bag
    Assorted large bowls or ziploc bags
    Large plate
    Cookie sheet covered in paper towels and a cooling rack
    Spider or tongs

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    First, we make a buttermilk substitute for our drench (I rarely keep buttermilk, but always have plain yogurt on hand) equal parts of milk and yogurt to make 1 cup; we did one drench for the fish and one for the veg. To this we added several good grinds of pepper, a pinch of garlic powder, and a 1/2 tsp of salt per cup of drench.
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    We soaked our fish and veggies in the drench while we prepared our dredge: 1/3 cup of cornstarch and 6 tablespoons of Masa Harina, placed in a large ziploc bag. (This was enough to do the fish only, so we repeated twice for the large volume of veggies.)
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    And, working in small batches (IIRC, 4 batches for the pound of seafood) in the tradition of "I shooked and Mom cooked..."
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    We then removed each batch carefully with our fingers, trying to leave as much dredge in the bag as possible. The prepared food went on a plate next to the preheated cast-iron casserole, with the cookie sheet immediately on the other side.

    And, deep frying being more danger than I'm willing to allow my child near, with Sparky watching, standing on a chair a couple yards out of range, into 375 degree oil it went in equally small batches (in all honesty, time constraints made me fry some of this up below temp - it came out fine, but not as browned as I'd have liked. The final batch was fried at the right temp, and it makes a big difference, although it was all good) I cooked it for two or three minutes, until it was browned, then fished the food out with a spider and set it on the rack to drain a bit over paper towels.
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    Sprinkle with salt, and serve immediately (these pics were taken immediately upon leaving the oil.) We made quick dipping sauces by using one part creamy salad dressing (Ranch and Caesar) to two parts plain yogurt.

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  • Post #10 - July 22nd, 2008, 10:43 am
    Post #10 - July 22nd, 2008, 10:43 am Post #10 - July 22nd, 2008, 10:43 am
    Yum, it all looks wonderful! I am very jealous of Sparky's cooking lessons. And his lunch, actually (or supper, whichever it was). :D
  • Post #11 - July 22nd, 2008, 7:00 pm
    Post #11 - July 22nd, 2008, 7:00 pm Post #11 - July 22nd, 2008, 7:00 pm
    I'm loving this thread. Sparky's a lucky kid.
    Joe G.

    "Whatever may be wrong with the world, at least it has some good things to eat." -- Cowboy Jack Clement
  • Post #12 - July 22nd, 2008, 9:24 pm
    Post #12 - July 22nd, 2008, 9:24 pm Post #12 - July 22nd, 2008, 9:24 pm
    MHayes-

    I would love to see more of Sparky's culinary education. It's a lot of fun and he is indeed a lucky kid.
    You're a lucky mom to have someone who is sharing and growing into your love of cooking.
    Suburban gourmand
  • Post #13 - July 23rd, 2008, 7:32 am
    Post #13 - July 23rd, 2008, 7:32 am Post #13 - July 23rd, 2008, 7:32 am
    :oops: gee, shucks, guys...thanks!
  • Post #14 - July 24th, 2008, 9:41 am
    Post #14 - July 24th, 2008, 9:41 am Post #14 - July 24th, 2008, 9:41 am
    Great thread! When Sparky's buddies are making frozen pizzas in college/apartment life, he will be able to make something worth eating. Plus he will have all of your amazing knowledge on how to eat on a budget. (You do the dessert food series right?).

    I never got really involved in making to many things with my Mom, but I watched all the time and learned a lot of things. When I first started cooking a phone call here and there to Mom always got me through the rough spots. I couldn't be more grateful.

    Those cut gloves are great. There have been a few times where it would have been nice to have a pair on.
  • Post #15 - August 9th, 2008, 7:55 pm
    Post #15 - August 9th, 2008, 7:55 pm Post #15 - August 9th, 2008, 7:55 pm
    Sorry for the belated thanks! I am, indeed, the one who started that thread - and Sparky has been my guinea pig for most of it, so he'll hopefully have more than one cheap meal in his toolkit.

    For our next venture, we decided to move on to working with meat, and started with a very simple prep every young man should know: grilled burgers.

    Mise en place:

    2lbs hamburger meat (since it came from Bossy, we didn't get too particular about meat types, but I like ground chuck, usually)
    1/2 a small onion (we actually used a whole one, but decided it was a bit much)
    2 cloves of garlic
    1/2 tsp steak seasoning
    salt to taste
    (few dashes worchestershire sauce)
    pepper to taste
    food chopper
    saucer
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    First, we liquified the onion, garlic, and seasonings in the food chopper
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    Then, we loosely spread out the meat over a large plate
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    We sprinkled the liquified onion mixture over the meat
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    We gently folded the seasonings into the meat, taking care not to compress or overwork it.
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    After measuring our bun against the saucer, we used it as a guide to form our burgers, making them slightly larger than the buns to account for shrinkage. Meat was piled loosely on, and then overturned and formed in our hands.
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    Then, Dad and Sparky lit the chimney starter on the grill
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    And Dad finished them off, along with some sweet corn.
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    And here they are: yield, 4 huge burgers, shown with the corn (that, incidentally, Sparky planted) and Mom's potato salad:
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  • Post #16 - August 10th, 2008, 7:06 pm
    Post #16 - August 10th, 2008, 7:06 pm Post #16 - August 10th, 2008, 7:06 pm
    Oh, Brandon - here's the product description of the gloves, which amuses me: An absolute necessity when food-processing, fishing, handling glass or sheet metal...literally anywhere that you might need to protect your hands from sharp objects. Kevlar?? Gloves are up to five-times stronger than steel for ultra-protection.Features Include:Non-slip latex dipped gripsWill not ignite, melt or conduct electricityIdeal for use when cleaning products such as meat slicers and knivesMachine washable

    Now if I could just figure out how to have a body suit made of this stuff eight years from now when he starts driving... :D
  • Post #17 - September 29th, 2008, 8:38 pm
    Post #17 - September 29th, 2008, 8:38 pm Post #17 - September 29th, 2008, 8:38 pm
    Sparky was home from school today with a slight head cold, so to alleviate the boredom, I thought I would jump back in to the cooking lessons - and, on a bleak, rainy and cold afternoon I thought "homemade bread." Nothing quite lifts the spirits like the smell of bread baking, does it? At any rate, I've been meaning to try the Simple Crusty Bread recipe from Artesan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, just to see if it really worked - and if it didn't, hey, I have a bowlful of really stretchy and inexpensive playdo. It's a can't lose situation.

    So, off we went - with some coaxing, Sparky emerged from his room, hands washed, and watched me measure the 1 1/2 tbsp of yeast into the huge bowl I decided to use. He carefully poured in 3 cups of water and whisked vigorously, sniffing curiously as the yeast began to bloom - we already had discussed that the holes in bread are because the little yeast beasties gorge themselves on the sugars in the flour and get gas. I added 1 1/2 tbsp of sea salt (the recipe called for kosher and I think I should have used a bit more to compensate, but I couldn't find the regular salt) and, with Sparky whisking all the while, I added 2 of the 6 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. We switched to a spatula as I added the rest of the flour, and then I let him go to town (the recipe directs that all the flour be wet - Sparky took that to mean let no glob go unturned)

    Image Image Image Image

    I explained to him that the flour had a glue in it: gluten, and that the gluten was forming thin sheets in the dough, which eventually would catch the gas of the yeastie beasties like a balloon or bubble gum and give us bread instead of flat pastry. To that end, we set the dough aside - near the stove, for warmth - for two hours, after which it had doubled in volume and become almost frothy in texture. I then snipped it into four pieces with scissors, scooping one blobby quarter into Sparky's well-floured hands. The remainder of the dough went into the refrigerator for future use.

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    With a little prompting and a lot of extra flour, he figured out the technique of rolling the top of the dough down into the underside of the bottom, so it became a little ball. This we set on a cornmeal-dusted cookie sheet near the oven, and ignored for 40 minutes (word to the wise, preheat your oven to 450 about 25 minutes in.) After the second rise, I sliced 3 expansion slits in the loaf and put it in the preheated oven, with a pan of hot water sitting directly on the oven floor underneath it.

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    The bread baked for 30 minutes, filling the house with that wonderful fragrance that only homemade bread can offer. Our efforts had produced a beautiful little crusty loaf with a nice chewy crumb, made even better with the Plugra I had squirreled away for a rainy day. Ain't rain wonderful?

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  • Post #18 - September 30th, 2008, 5:38 am
    Post #18 - September 30th, 2008, 5:38 am Post #18 - September 30th, 2008, 5:38 am
    Mhays wrote:Ain't rain wonderful?

    Apparently so.

    Terrific pictorial and Sparky Tutorial!
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #19 - September 30th, 2008, 10:04 am
    Post #19 - September 30th, 2008, 10:04 am Post #19 - September 30th, 2008, 10:04 am
    sdritz wrote:You are a braver mom than I.

    I still have issues letting my 14 year old near knives. I was working one Saturday when my husband called to say, "Don't get upset, but we're on our way to the emergency room."

    Maybe when she's 21. . .

    Suzy


    Ahh....don't do that! Be careful but not too careful. I started cooking early and entered cooking competitions by 15 with full blown knife skills. Now at 21 I've been teaching my youngest bro (since he was 9 and now 12 years old) how to do anything from cut vegetables to preparing Thanksgiving. Since he is a couple feet shorter than me and has much smaller hands I bought him his own mini-Santoku from Cuisinart. I call him little-chef. :wink:

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    (little chef making molten lava cakes)
    GOOD TIMES!
  • Post #20 - September 30th, 2008, 10:24 am
    Post #20 - September 30th, 2008, 10:24 am Post #20 - September 30th, 2008, 10:24 am
    Jayz wrote:
    sdritz wrote:You are a braver mom than I.

    I still have issues letting my 14 year old near knives. I was working one Saturday when my husband called to say, "Don't get upset, but we're on our way to the emergency room."

    Maybe when she's 21. . .

    Suzy


    Ahh....don't do that! Be careful but not too careful.


    FWIW, I agree with Jayz. My mother was/is a nervous nellie, but oddly, the cooking gene passed her over, so there were no sharp knives in her house. My grandparents, as well as her siblings, were really great cooks, so they would routinely get me involved in cooking as a kid. My uncle, my Mom's older brother, would secretly teach me how to use the "big" knife, and then later show off to his sister how well he taught me, while my Mom watched, biting her nails, as I expertly and carefully sliced things. While there was a good amount of my uncle-vexing-his-sister/sibling rivalry in that anecdote, it did have the effect of teaching me how to do something when I was too young to know to be nervous.

    I have a friend whose mother shooed her away from the "dangerous" oven her entire life. Now, her mother's nervosia is so ingrained that she practically shakes anytime she has to put something in the oven.*

    *Like GWiv, I, too, am entering my anecdotage.
  • Post #21 - November 12th, 2008, 10:22 am
    Post #21 - November 12th, 2008, 10:22 am Post #21 - November 12th, 2008, 10:22 am
    Knowing Sparky had a day off school today, I had asked him if he'd like another cooking lesson, and what he wanted to cook next. "Sushi!!!" was the resounding reply. Now, Sparky will eat many kinds of sushi, but what he of course meant in this case was making maki, in particular a California Roll. Now, we've made these together before, but of course I did all the prep work and Sparky helped assemble. However, cooking rice is tricky, and there's a lot of mise to set up for these, so I thought it would be a good lesson in prep work.

    Of course, we headed down to Chinatown to eat at Spring World this afternoon, but I was lucky enough find the ingredients I needed in the groceries there: extra nori (which kind of surprised me, but Dominicks carries it, so why not May Flower Food?) cucumbers, scallions, radishes. We started cooking the rice, a long process, right when we got home. I've been using this recipe in Epicurious successfully for sushi rice cookery; so I had Sparky begin by pouring 1 1/2 cups of sushi rice into a colander in the sink.
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    Then the rice was rinsed and stirred by hand until the water under the colander was no longer cloudy, and the wet rice was left in the colander for a half-hour TV break.
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    When Sparky's show was over, we poured the wet rice into a saucepan with 1 3/4 cups water and brought it to a boil.
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    After boiling for 2 minutes, it came off the heat and rested for 10 minutes.

    During that time we prepped our mise-en-place:First, we halved our avocado by turning the avocado around the pit on the blade of the knife
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    - unfortunately, we immediately discovered it was a bit worse for wear and discarded it...
    we went on to slice a cucumber in half (round object, first cut a flat surface) and then into long strips.
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    We did the same with the radish and scallions.
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    We cut Krab sticks into quarters, and dug some masago out of the freezer.
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    So here's the mise-en-place:
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    Then we covered our rolling mat with plastic wrap, and topped it with a sheet of nori.
    ImageImage

    At this point, the rice was ready, so we dumped it into a cookie sheet to cool, and sprinkled it with seasoned japanese rice vinegar (awasezu,) fluffing with a rice paddle. I'm guessing we used a tablespoon or two of the vinegar.
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    We first decided to go old-school and do an inside-out California roll, so with well-wet hands, Sparky carefully squashed rice onto the nori sheet, leaving an empty inch on each end.
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    We then flipped the sheet over so the rice was on the bottom (easier when you have grown-up size hands, but not impossible) Then we placed the fillings near one end of the nori: Krab, radish, scallion, cucumber and mayo to replace the avocado.
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    The riceless nori end was then folded over the fillings,
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    and the rolling began: you sort of tuck the roll and pull out the mat, squeezing the roll into a tight cylander as you go.
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    We then ended up with a beautiful tight rice roll, on which we spread tobikko with a butter knife, like it was jelly.
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    Inside-out roll cut in 8 slices:
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    Next, we opted for the traditional nori-outside Maki. Same ingredients, similar process except we spread the rice a little thicker, then spread the tobikko on it. Then we topped the edge of the rice with our fillings, tucked the un-riced nori flap over them, and rolled it up. We got a nearly jumbo-sized Maki out of this one (commonly called Futomaki) but it also was beautiful.
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    Considering we'd stuffed ourselves silly at Spring World(for $10, including tip, for both of us) the two maki were more than sufficient for dinner.
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    We capped the evening with an Argentine-style "chin-chin" toast with cucumber bottoms, and called it a day.
  • Post #22 - November 13th, 2008, 1:40 am
    Post #22 - November 13th, 2008, 1:40 am Post #22 - November 13th, 2008, 1:40 am
    Best Mom ever...where's the GNM ( great neighborhood mother ) award? Thank's for making my night. :wink: I'll try to teach my little bro a few new things next time I get home. ( since we're a bunch of burly men I plan on teaching him macho stuff like shucking an oyster, making burgers and ribs, or filleting a whole fish...something to make Mom scared :P )
    GOOD TIMES!
  • Post #23 - November 13th, 2008, 6:40 am
    Post #23 - November 13th, 2008, 6:40 am Post #23 - November 13th, 2008, 6:40 am
    That Sparky is one lucky kid! Truly, it seems to be a great balance of fun and teaching and they're lessons he'll always have. Great job, Michele!
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #24 - November 29th, 2008, 1:56 pm
    Post #24 - November 29th, 2008, 1:56 pm Post #24 - November 29th, 2008, 1:56 pm
    Pies - they're not just for clowns to throw - Part I

    Well, pie season is upon us, and since Sparky and I have spent a lot of time discussing the glutionous properties of flour, I thought it was time to show it's other side: flaky pastry. So, pulling out our sticky but unbowed copy of the Farm Journals Complete Pie Cookbook, we set to work. We were planning for 3 pies, one two-crust, one tart and one one-crust, so we doubled the two-crust pie recipe.

    First, the mise, simple enough:
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    4 cups AP flour
    2 tsp salt
    3/4 cup Crisco, frozen at least overnight
    3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, frozen
    1/2 cup ice water

    Equipment: Metal bowl, placed in freezer or fridge. Food processor or box grater, spatula, clean spray bottle, whisk, zipper pie crust form

    The trick to a flaky piecrust is to keep the fat as solid as possible until it hits the oven. We accomplish this in two ways: everything is kept as cold as possible, and the fats are grated so we get uniform distribution of fat to flour quickly. Piecrust, though it has many of the same ingredients as bread, offers a different view of these ingredients: a good piecrust has as little gluten development as possible. As Sparky remembered, gluten is the glue in flour that fills up like little balloons when the yeasts in bread hiccup, (he has forbidden me to to say they fart) and that also give bread a stretchy, chewy quality. Piecrust needs to be tender and flaky - so we're going to want just barely enough gluten so the end result has structure and holds together until you stick your fork in. Flaky piecrust is created when the little blobs of fat in the piecrust heat up and fry the flour and water into little flakes - this is my method to keep the flour, water, and fat as separate as possible.

    So, first, put the shredding disc in your food processor. Grate your frozen butter and Crisco (we use sticks, they fit in the chute fine if cut in half) by turns, butter following Crisco since it's harder.
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    Measure your dry ingredients into the cold metal bowl, and give them a whisk to incorporate. Add the shredded fats slowly, whisking gently after each addition to break up the long shreds and coat them in flour.
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    You should end up with a lumpy dough that resembles sawdust. Don't worry if you have a few big lumps of fat in there, especially if they're in shreds.
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    Now, add the water a small drizzle at a time, folding it in carefully with the spatula. This is where cold is crucial. You may not need all the water, and the idea should be to add as little as possible to guard against gluten development.
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    When it seems like most of the dough is coming together - it should hold together loosely if you squish it into a ball, put the remaining water in a spray bottle.
    Image
    Divide the dough into quarters, refrigerate dough for at least half an hour or until you need it. Place one quarter of the dough in the center of your well-floured pie form. Check for areas of dry flour and hydrate sparingly with the spray bottle.
    Image
    Form the dough in a ball, making sure that it holds together if you apply pressure.
    Image
    Zip up your pie form, and roll the ball out from the center, pushing hard so it fills the form all the way to the zipper.
    Image
    Repeat with other 4 quarters. At this point, you can wrap each piecrust well in plastic wrap, fold it gently in quarters, and freeze until you need it. Be sure to thaw before you open it up, or it will crack.
  • Post #25 - November 29th, 2008, 7:55 pm
    Post #25 - November 29th, 2008, 7:55 pm Post #25 - November 29th, 2008, 7:55 pm
    Pies - they're not just for clowns to throw - Part II

    So, now we have our beautiful piecrust all rolled out and ready. We start with the most important pie first - the one that goes to work with Dad - a cranberry-apple two-crust pie. One piecrust is laid out in the pie pan and covered with the filling: a heaping portion of sliced apples (about 2-3 cups of peeled sliced Mutsus and Fijis,) cranberries (about 2 cups fresh,) 1 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, 1 tsp pie spices and about a tablespoon of chopped-up butter, which had been mixed previously and had macerated for about 1/2 hour. The other shell is laid out and we cut vents in it to represent an apple and cranberries, and then carefully folded into quarters:
    Image Image Image

    Then we lay it gently on top of the apples, point at the center, and carefully open it to cover the pie:
    Image Image Image

    The two inside lips of the piecrust are then dampened with water, and the whole thing is crimped all the way around with a fork, after which any overhanging edge is cut off with a knife:
    Image Image

    The top is brushed with butter, sugared lightly, and the pie goes into a 425 degree oven over a cookie sheet for about 50 minutes, or until the bubbles of juice thicken. Unfortunately we were a bit rushed with two more pies to make, so I neglected to take the money shot, but you can see it cooling in the background of this shot of
    Pie #2: Pecan.
    Image

    Pecan Pie is, of course, a custard pie - meaning it is thickened with eggs rather than with a starch like most fruit pies (flour, tapioca, cornstarch are typical - I prefer flour)
    3/4 stick of unsalted butter, softened
    1 cup light brown sugar
    3 eggs
    1 tsp vanilla
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/8 cup molasses
    1/2 + 1/8 cup light corn syrup
    1 Tbs bourbon
    2 cups pecan halves, divided

    So, I set Sparky to creaming the butter and flour, and added the eggs one at a time as directed. Then he discovered the "power boost" button on the mixer, and was having such a fabulous time revving the engine that I just kept adding the rest of the ingredients except the pecans and let him have at it. We garnished the edges of the pie with half-circles of piecrust, scattered half our pecans on the bottom and covered them with filling. I did remember to reserve a cup of pecans for the top, which kept Sparky busy for at least a quarter of an hour (I never understood why people bother to carefully arrange pecans on a pie, now I know - it's to keep your children busy during Thanksgiving planning)
    Image

    Unfortunately, the vigorous addition of air to the custard caused it to rise and balloon over the beautifully placed pecans and make last year's ugly-duckling pecan pie look like the beauty of the family:
    Image

    Fortunately, in pie, as in life, beauty is only skin deep:
    Image

    The final pie was an open-faced apple tart from Family Fun magazine, I missed the making of this pie almost entirely as Sparky and Dad had a go while I ran last-minute Thanksgiving errands. It turned out beautifully as well and Sparky was so proud he took his own food-porn shots:
    Side view
    Image

    Interior
    Image

    We enjoyed the last two pies for Thanksgiving dinner, and they were both very, very good: the pecan pie is incredibly rich and dense, and the apple was sweet and velvety. I asked Sparky what he would be making for Christmas dinner, and he said, "Apple pie, Apple-cranberry pie, Pecan pie - and Ginger pie: I just invented that!"
  • Post #26 - November 29th, 2008, 10:01 pm
    Post #26 - November 29th, 2008, 10:01 pm Post #26 - November 29th, 2008, 10:01 pm
    As one of the lucky folks who got to taste Sparky's pies, I have to say they were excellent. The crusts would put mine to shame. The apple was light and flavorful and the pecan appropriately dense and rich without being cloying. I am wishing right now I had a slice with a glass of cold milk.....
  • Post #27 - November 29th, 2008, 11:52 pm
    Post #27 - November 29th, 2008, 11:52 pm Post #27 - November 29th, 2008, 11:52 pm
    Wonderful pictorial, as are these all. So much attention is paid to children and what it takes to get them ahead. Sparky's already there. A cooking prodigy pushed on by a caring parent. And so it is written: be fruitful, multiply and beget many makers of pie.

    Mhays wrote:One piecrust is laid out in the pie pan and covered with the filling: a heaping portion of sliced apples (about 2-3 cups of peeled sliced Mutsus and Fijis,)

    I used a combo of Mutsus, Fujis and Galas this year. I didn't put a lot of thought into why these 3 varieties, but it sure worked. Wow. Delicious.
  • Post #28 - November 30th, 2008, 8:32 am
    Post #28 - November 30th, 2008, 8:32 am Post #28 - November 30th, 2008, 8:32 am
    Thanks, both of you! Gastro gnome, those are my 3 favorite varieties of all-purpose apples: I don't know where to find Mutsus outside of a farmer's market, but we almost always have Fijis and Galas in the house. They're terrific for eating out of hand but also make fabulous pie.
  • Post #29 - March 8th, 2009, 1:14 pm
    Post #29 - March 8th, 2009, 1:14 pm Post #29 - March 8th, 2009, 1:14 pm
    After a short rest on our laurels,
    Image
    (Sparky got a special trophy for being the only kid-competitor in the sMACkdown about a week ago. The Organic School Project kids made it especially for him, personalizing it by spelling out his name preceded by "CHEF" in noodles around the bottom. We also did the first-ever Cooking with Sparky videoabout our mac and cheese, now playing on my web page.)

    Since it was rainy and miserable this weekend, Sparky decided it was time for him to learn something new - his first suggestion: Cake shaped like a truck. Second suggestion: biscotti. I decided to go with the third suggestion: pancakes, something every young man ought to know how to make.

    I'm sure his reason for suggesting pancakes had a lot to do with this video, brought to our attention by germuska - Sparky aspires to use the "force" as a kitchen tool. I, also, had an ulterior motive for this episode: my arch-enemy is the school's "brunch for lunch," prepackaged machine-perfect orbs mislabeled "pancakes" and a small tub of maple-flavored HFCS. I've discussed my favorite recipe for pancakes here, and wanted a pointed illustration of how frumpier homemade cakes are better (fortunately, he's nearly as horrified as I am by "bruch for lunch.")

    So, I poured myself the biggest cup of coffee I could find, and a corresponding cup of juice for the boy, and assembled our mess-en-place with deep apologies to Bridgestone.

    Image

    These cakes have a lot of ingredients, but they create what I believe is the perfect pancake.
    Begin by whisking the following dry ingredients in a bowl:

    Image1 cup whole-grain flour
    (in this case we used whole wheat, but you can sub whatever. Buckwheat, rye, whatever you've got)
    Image 3/4 cup AP flour
    Image 1/3 cup cornmeal (this is crucial IMO)
    Image 1/4 cup oats
    Image 2 tbsp vanilla sugar
    Image 2 tsp baking powder
    Image 1 tsp salt
    Image 1/2 tsp baking soda
    (the recipe suggests cinnamon and nutmeg which I never use, these have such terrific flavor)

    Image

    In another bowl, whisk vigorously:
    Image 1 3/4 cup milk
    Image 1/4 cup honey
    Image 1/4 cup melted butter
    Image 3 eggs
    Image

    These two mixtures were then put together in a bowl and mixed just until combined, so as not to awaken the gluten in the AP flour - the batter is decidedly lumpy.
    Image

    The bowl was brought to the stove, and set aside while we waited for the pan to heat up. A small amount of butter went into our large non-stick skillet on medium heat.
    Image

    When it melted completely and fizzled, batter was poured in, about 1/8 cup to a cake.
    Image

    The real trick to perfect pancakes is knowing when to turn: when they go from looking like this
    Image
    (bubbling but the edges are still wet)

    to looking like this,
    Image
    (there's a pronounced dry edge not visible in this photo, you can see it better below, but the real tell are the bubbles -they should make tunnels near the edge and fill fairly slowly near the middle) you flip them.

    Sparky was really into flipping the cakes, he picked it up very quickly and did the entire batch himself. It's imperative to watch the heat - if your pancakes are too brown when they're turned, turn it down a few notches; if your pan starts smoking take it off the heat until it stops. If the cakes are taking forever to reach stage 2, bump it up a notch. I manned the stove knob while Sparky flipped the flapjacks, turning out impossibly imperfect-looking cakes that were a joy to behold:
    Image

    Image
    (note: this recipe tends to brown a bit more than other pancakes, due to the sugar content - they also burn quite easily if you're not careful)

    Sparky took one look at his efforts and - channeling his inner politician - said "That's not just a mountain of pancakes, that's a mountain of knowledge!" Out of the mouths of babes...
    Image

    So, we all sat down to a terrific Sparky-made breakfast and stuffed ourselves silly.
    Image

    Edited to add link to video.
    Last edited by Mhays on August 24th, 2009, 1:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #30 - March 8th, 2009, 4:25 pm
    Post #30 - March 8th, 2009, 4:25 pm Post #30 - March 8th, 2009, 4:25 pm
    Oh VERY well done, Mhays! Those are extremely attractive looking 'cakes. Tell Sparky that we're all proud of him! Hope that you used pure maple syrup from Québec atop them! :)

    BTW, what cut are those oats? and: why oats?

    Geo
    Sooo, you like wine and are looking for something good to read? Maybe *this* will do the trick! :)

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