As the weather has been decidedly northern European this past week (cold and drizzly), I fought the urge to simply hide under the covers and whipped up two of the richer sauces I’d been putting off during the warm spell: Hollandaise and Brown Sauce. Upon my first perusal of TPC, hollandaise made me nervous. After all, isn’t it supposed to be notoriously finicky, even with out substituting any of the ingredients? But, onward I pressed, in the name of (vegan) science. My bravery paid off—I was rewarded with a slightly obscene amount of smooth, rich, beautifully-emulsified egg and butter-free hollandaise.

Per TPC’s instructions, I began with 1/3 cup of cider vinegar. I boiled it with a few peppercorns and a pinch of saffron, for color (my addition), until reduced to 1/4 cup. In the finished sauce, I found the vinegar to be a bit too pungent. In the future, I would reduce the vinegar further or use fresh lemon juice instead. I decided to substitute blended organic firm silken tofu for the eggs in this recipe, since their role is largely textural. I used roughly 3 rounded tablespoons in place of every egg, or about 2/3 cup for the whole recipe. Since eggs expand when heated, it’s necessary to use a greater volume of tofu than egg called for in the original recipe, as it remains at a constant volume. I blended together the tofu, vinegar and saffron (the peppercorns were strained out) with my trusty immersion blender until silky smooth. I then began to drizzle in the melted butter (1 1/4 cup), which was actually Earth Balance in my case. I debated using the more traditional whisking method to incorporate the butter, but I wasn’t sure how well the tofu would act as an emulsifier, so I deciding to err on the side of blending the living &$*! out of it instead. While not included in TPC’s recipe, I’ve seen many other recipes include a bit of dry mustard to act as extra emulsifying insurance as well —something to keep in mind.

In this case, my ingredients and methodology all got along famously and finished with just a pinch of salt (since EB is already salted) and about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, my lovely sauce was ready to serve. I was shocked by how authentic the sauce looked, tasted and felt. The saffron provided a gentle yellow hue (less vibrant than an egg-based version, but still satisfyingly associative) and the flavor was virtually indistinguishable from a traditional hollandaise. I’d even go so far as to say I preferred the flavor of this sauce as it didn’t have that vaguely unpleasant overtly eggy aftertaste that is often present in a traditional hollandaise. Paired with toasted english muffins, tofu rounds sauteed in olive oil, wilted spinach and roasted tomatoes, my hollandaise completed a scrumptious dinner of Tofu Benedictine, so named for the Benedictine order,  one of the earliest proponents of vegetarianism in Europe. Last night, I spooned some of the leftover sauce onto a pile of steamed asparagus – eaten none-too-neatly with our fingers, it was absolutely delicious —easily the highlight of the meal.

A few days previously, inspired to use my chanterelle brown stock to make brown sauce, aka gravy, I decided to make a springtimey shepherd’s pie. The sauce began with a typical roux, cooked until golden brown, at which time you add the stock and cook until smooth and rich-tasting. I used 2 TBS oil to 3 TBS flour, but found the sauce a bit thin. For a thicker result, I would recommend a bit more roux, just keep the proportions of oil to flour the same. In my case, I stirred a couple of spoonfuls of mashed potatoes into the finished sauce to thicken it, which worked fine for this application but certainly resulted in a slightly more “rustic” result. I also added in about a cup of caramelized crimini mushrooms for good measure = good move. I boiled some russet potatoes until soft, mashed them (with a pastry blender, which worked remarkable well, if you don’t mind scorched knuckles), and stirred in a healthy dose of homemade raw oat-milk, Earth Balance and salt. The oatmilk was a revelation here; it’s rich neutral character paired perfectly with the potatoes. These were without a doubt the best mashed potatoes—ever. I also prepared a pan full of diced cauliflower, green beans, green peas and garbanzo beans seasoned with fresh thyme, salt and pepper. I poured the gravy over the veggies and topped with a (thick) layer of potatoes, dotted with a bit of extra EB. It baked for about one hour at 350 until golden on top and cooked through. It proved a wonderfully cosy dinner for a rainy evening, and the leftovers were just as good – at least so O tells me (they weren’t around for long).

Stay tuned for coming attractions: homemade vegan mayonnaise and tomato sauce, among other wonders…


Brown stock, white sauce and grey days

Last week, when it was still a bit cool out, I made up some brown stock, using dried chanterelle mushrooms instead of veal bones. It was great – rich and deeply flavored. I was astounded at how much body and depth of flavor I was able to achieve just using the mushrooms. The method was virtually identical to the white stock I’d made previously: begin with 1/4 cup of oil, add the mirepoix and cook. However, in this case, you cook the mirepoix until it is deeply caramelized, adding a few tablespoons of tomato paste near the end and letting that brown as well. Then add the salt and about one gallon of water. Then simmer away for at least an hour. Then strain and it’s ready for use. I salvaged the strained veggies and added back a little stock to make a quick soup – couldn’t let those delicious chewy little chanterelle nuggets go to waste! 

Unfortunately, on the cooking front, (fortunately, on all other fronts) the weather over the past week or so has been gorgeously sunny and warm. Not so good for making rich sauces, as was on the cooking agenda. I’d planned on progressing through TPC more-or-less in order, as the recipes tend to build on each other – stocks are turned into sauces, sauce bases into soups, etc, but I’ve revised that plan a bit. Soups during the summer is just not going to happen. But, I would still like to finish off the sauce section before moving on. On that note, I was very happy when I woke up yesterday to find it cold and rainy! And again today!

Yesterday evening, I threw together a dairy-free béchamel sauce. The concept is really quite simple—just using a dairy free milk instead of cow’s milk. The technique is identical to that of the velouté, just using milk instead of stock. I’d been thinking of trying it weeks ago, but I couldn’t settle on a non-dairy milk that seemed workable – coconut had too much of it’s own flavor, same with soy, rice was too thin, etc. Then, I fortuitously stumbled upon this recipe for homemade oat milk the other day. I gave it a shot and lo-and-behold, I soon had a quart of rich, but extremely neutral tasting, oat milk. I whipped up a basic roux with some flavorful olive oil, added the oat milk and let simmer, stirring often, with a couple of cloves of garlic. Just before serving, I pureed it with my immersion blender for incorporate the garlic and added a bit of pepper and nutmeg. Served over whole wheat pasta with spinach and kale and topped with a few red chili flakes it was the perfect rainy day meal – creamy, rich and comforting, but still much lighter than it’s dairy-laden inspiration. Béchamel now in my arsenal, I’m plotting a vegan moussaka…

I’m hoping the cool and the grey will hold out for another day or so, so I have time to try out a basic brown sauce with my chanterelle stock. Then only the (more sunny-weather-friendly) mayonnaise, hollandaise and tomato sauce remain!

Veloutè: a riot of beige

There is really no getting around it- veloutè is just about the least photogenic food ever. I’ve spared you from having to gaze at what looks like a big ol’ pot of wallpaper paste. But, unappealing as it may be, it sure does taste good. Veloutè is just about the most basic sauce in the classical repetoir. It consists of a blond roux combined with a white stock, and sometimes a bit of extra seasonings. From this jumping off point, you can turn it into any number of other Escoffier-approved sauces, but I decided to keep this one as simple as possible for the sake of science.

Roux is one of those things that seems a lot more complex than it is. Similar to stock, technique and proportion is really they key. Begin by heating 2 parts oil, then add 3 parts all-purpose flour. Don’t mess around with different kind of flours – since the gluten content varies, you’ll also have to adjust the oil ratio and cooking times – just don’t go there. Then cook gently, stirring so it stays smooth and doesn’t form a crust on the bottom. Cook for about 5 minutes, until as TPC eloquently instructs “it looks like smooth wet sand.” Then slowly add in the stock (homemade, of course :-)). Strive for something of a temperature differential between the stock and roux. Hot stock and cool roux or visa versa, but nothing too extreme or it will make it hard to combine. After each addition of stock, whisk till smooth and then add a bit more. Repeat…many many times. Add any flavorings at this point – I used a little white wine, a few clovers of garlic and few peppercorns. Either use a bouquet garni or be prepared to strain the sauce before using. Then simmer the concoction for about 30 minutes or until the roux no longer tastes “raw” – basically it should have no lingering papier–mache aftertaste or gritty texture. It should in fact be nice and rich and velvety, which is the meaning of it’s name in French.

As the sauce bubbled away, it let off a wonderful aroma, that oddly reminded me distinctly of Maruchan chicken-flavored ramen. The wave of college-age memories this triggered was a healthy reminder of the visceral power of aroma and taste. Interestingly, about 90% of “taste” is really our sense of smell. When O came into the kitchen, he said it smelled just like something his Nana used to make. Once my sauce was done, I very thinly sliced some potatoes and chopped a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme. In a baking dish, I layered the potatoes and sauce, sprinkling each stratum with herbs. Then I baked it in a 350〫oven until cooked through and browned on top. Like the veloutè, it wasn’t much to look at (thoroughly beige) but delicious. I was amazed by how creamy and flavorful it was, entirely devoid of milk or cheese. The leftovers didn’t stick around long either… always a good sign.

Investing (time) in Stocks

Stock. The basis of so many recipes, and yet something of an antiquated procedure in most home kitchens – it certainly has been in mine. I’ve made de-facto stock, as the first step of a soup, often enough, but I’d never taken the time to prepare stock to store for use in other recipes. Even this first, quite simple, recipe made me realize what a departure from my normal cooking style this project will be. Namely, that it will be slow. Particularly in the past several years of being in school or at work more-or-less full time, my cooking has tended toward dishes that could be thrown together quickly, relying on spices or condiments for much of the flavor. Making stock, in contrast, is all about the slow extraction of flavor from the food itself. Different for certain, but also very satisfying. As The Professional Chef (TPC) decrees, good stock tastes not only flavorful but wholesome.

TPC devotes several pages to veal, beef, fish and chicken stock, among other meaty variations, but also includes a recipe for vegetable stock. Vegetable stock, along with chicken and fish, are classifying as “white” or light stocks, as opposed to the heartier “brown” variations. Apparently an extra-rich stock can be made if you use the nasty bits of younger animals, as they have more connective tissue clinging to the bone, which will melt down into your stock making it richer and more”gelatinous” – yum. But stock is really more about technique than ingredients. The only difference between making a meat stock and a veggie version is that you chuck some extra veggies in the pot instead of bones. And so I decided there was no real need to try to make a un-beef stock, as veggie stock can pretty much go wherever the meaty stuff does.

Considering that I will be using this stock only vegetarian preparations, I figured that a mild vegetable stock would be sufficient for most recipes.  But, since veggies lack tendons and cartilage and such to add fat and body, per TPC, I made sure not to skimp on the oil – 1/4 cup per gallon of water. I began with a standard mirepoix – 2 parts onions to 1 part carrot and 1 part celery, chopped in ~ 1/2 inch cubes. After heating the oil, the onions went in first until they began to release their juices. Then I added the carrots until they began to brown, then then celery. After about 10 more minutes on stove, I added more vegetables, the same total volume as the mirepoix. (I think I may need a scale…). TPC specifies that any “non-starchy” veggies may be used. I used some leftover leeks and portobello mushroom trimmings, hoping the mushrooms would contribute a rich flavor. These sautéed for another 10 minutes. Then I added the gallon of water plus ~ 2 teaspoons of sea salt. The whole pot then simmered for about an hour (while I took a bath). I chucked in the flavoring bouquet (a bundle of cheesecloth containing 4 parsley stems, 1 sprig of thyme, 1 garlic clove, a bay leaf and a few pepper corns) about 15 minutes before the end. Finally, I strained the stock through a mesh colander.

The results were good, but not overwhelmingly so. Really, I was a little disappointed- all that work, and it didn’t taste all that different than something that could have come out of a can… But then, sitting overnight deepened the flavor improved remarkably. And the next day, I made polenta with the stock, to see what sort of difference the flavor would make in such a simple recipe – it was incredible! Worth the trouble…I think. I can’t imagine making stock very often, but a big batch every now and then seems like a great way to use up vegetable scraps and its easy to freeze. I may be a convert after all…

Next, I plan on tackling a less-orthodox vegetarian brown stock. Traditionally, the brown color and richer flavor would come from both the meat an from well-caramelized mirepoix and a bit of browned tomato paste. I’m thinking of subbing dried mushrooms for the meat, to try to capture a similar depth of flavor.

Stay tuned…

Next, my stocks will be turned into sauces!

Posted in &