Monday, April 5, 2010

Change we can believe in

I've decided to move the blog, if you follow this, please come with.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Flavor combinations: a little taste of Spain

I was making dinner for my mom the other day, and we had some pan-roasted fish and sauteed fingerling potatoes.  To make the potatoes, I par-boiled them, and then sauteed them with butter, sherry vinegar, and smoked paprika.  After tasting the potatoes, the sauce was what we kept coming back for, basically to the point of licking the pan.
More than anything else, I think this demonstrates the power of combining classic flavor combinations that we can apply to any number of things.  Yeah, I know that butter isn't necessarily Spanish, just go with it.  For example, you've got a great Spanish wine, and you want to do something in that vein.  These flavors are a great combination to put together with soup, sauce for meat, pasta, rice, eggs, veggies, salad dressing, etc.  Of course, there is basic technique, but what really makes it sing is great flavor combination.
Quiche lorraine is a classic example.  Egg custard with onion, bacon, thyme in a pastry shell.  You can take those same flavors and make a veggie sautee, flatbread, pizza, topping for bruschetta, add to a salad (fried shallots, bacon, thyme).  Filet mignon with black pepper, cognac and cream, dry red wine.  Roasted red pepper, balsamic vinegar, goat cheese, caramelized onions.  Tomato, onion, cilantro, and lime.  Chocolate and raspberry.  Strawberries and cream.  Tarragon and chicken.  PB and J.  Carrot and ginger.  Caviar and champagne.
Case in point:  remembering that sauce combination, and scrounging for dinner the other night, I had some lamb chops that I had just thawed and I thought it would be good to add risotto to it.  Aside from standards of onion and garlic, I put smoked paprika and sherry vinegar in with the risotto as well, and it turned out really great.
Push the edges of these boundaries, combine them with some basic technique, and liberate yourself.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Braised beef short rib a la Nicoise

This recipe is inspired from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  It uses the technique of braising which I love but mostly equate with Winter.  Early Spring is very transitional (especially when you don't live in South Georgia), with cold and dreary followed by warm and sunny.
a la Nicoise is a Mediterranean variety that's kinda half Italian and half French, and has little black olives and tomatoes.  This recipe called for a braise of beef short rib.  I decided to leave the bones in although you don't have to, they can be cut out. This recipe served enough as a main course for 4 people.

8 beef short ribs, well-browned.  Drain excess fat and add

1 diced onion
2 celery stalks
2 carrots
2 garlic cloves
on low heat until aromatic.

Then add:
2-3 sprigs of thyme
28 oz of tomatoes (2 small cans, or 1 big one)
1/2 cup of pitted Nicoise olives
1 bay leaf
1 quart of chicken or beef stock
10 peppercorns

Put the meat back on top of that, making sure it's mostly submerged.  If not, add water as needed, depending on your pot.  Either put it in an oven at 225, or put it on low heat and let it go for a few hours until the short rib is fork tender.  I don't salt it until the end because I don't know how far I need to reduce it until it's done.  If you salt too heavily at the beginning, and you reduce the liquid, it's going to be inedible.
Here is decision time.  You can leave the braising liquid as is (chunky) or separate the meat and the braising liquid and blend it up into a puree (which is what I did in this case).  Serve it with something green for the color contrast (parsley, fresh thyme, etc.).

Side notes
  • Like any other braised dish, the more time you spend on browning your meat, the better it's going to be.
  • Think ahead on this dish.  Make it the day before you plan to eat it, and let the sauce and the meat sit together to really combine those flavors.
  • This can be served with wide egg noodles like papardelle or fetuccine.  Alternatively, you could serve with rice or bread.  Although the meat is great, the highlight of this is the sauce.
  • If you puree, realize that your going to emulsify whatever fat you didn't get rid of in the braising liquid.  Ideally, you defat your braise as much as possible before throwing it in the blender, because the flavor of beef fat is a little heavy.
  • Original recipe called for balsamic vinegar, which you definitely can add to give a little sweet acid.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Making progress on the outdoor kitchen. After having to completely repour the foundation to the house and have a structural engineer approve the plan...finally we have our outdoor structure and future site of the wood-fired oven! Potentially will be making pizzas here week after Master's. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pepin the genius!

I haven't posted in some time, but I have been cooking. Most things have been off the cuff and overall pretty good, but nothing particularly note-worthy. Last night, I threw a few things together a la Jacques (Fast Food My Way) that I had in my pantry, and in fewer than 10 minutes, I had a damn good meal.

Gnocchi, Egg, Truffle for 2

Supermarket Potato Gnocchi (I used 1/2 bag of the minis ~ 8 oz)
2 large eggs, whisked
1/4 cup ricotta
4 scallions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 T butter
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp chili flakes
fresh ground black pepper
white truffle oil and parmesean for finishing

Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil and aggressively season with salt, meanwhile melt butter in oil over medium low heat in a non-stick pan until the butter starts to brown. When the water has boiled, toss in the gnocchi and boil until they float (about 2 to 3 minutes tops) and remove ASAP to avoid overcooking. While the gnocchi cook, saute the scallions and garlic, taking care not to burn the garlic (will become too bitter). When the gnocchi float, transfer directly to the pan with a slotted spoon and saute until the water has evaporated and the gnocchi begin to brown. Toss in the chili flakes and saute for about 30 seconds. Remove pan from the heat and quickly stir in the eggs taking care to break up any large curds (don't want scrambled eggs here). After about 30 seconds, stir in the ricotta (creme fraiche or mexican crema would be dynamite as well), salt and pepper to you liking. Transfer to bowls, drizzle with truffle oil and dust with the cheese.

Time from conception to table, approximately 15 minutes. As good as anything I've made in weeks :) Next time, I may add some crumbled pancetta or bacon...though I'm not sure if more would be less.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Old garlic and camarones (shrimp) al mojo de ajo

As I understand, some Asian religions abstain from eating garlic and onions because they are considered too stimulating and passion-inducing, which thereby destroys the balance required for happiness.  Fortunately for me, I'm not Buddhist, so I cook a bunch of food with garlic and onion.  Sometimes, I even get crazy and add BOTH to a dish!  Go figure.
One thing I've heard cooks talk about is removing the green growth from garlic.  Have you ever tried to plant a clove in garlic in the ground to see what would happen?  Sure enough it grows.  The green is supposed to be bitter and a little difficult to digest.  I've never had much of a problem with it, but what the heck, remove it, it's easy enough, and represents yet another reason you don't want or need a garlic press.

From Drop Box
You can split whole cloves in half, and if they're old enough, you'll have some green sprouts in them. Simply remove them, and mince your garlic. The result stands to be not as bitter as you might normally encounter.

From Drop Box
From there, a recipe for Mexican style mojo de ajo, which roughly translated means smothered in garlic. This is one to try if you're worried about vampires invading your neighborhood because it's really garlicky.  It's really difficult, so pay close attention....

10-12 cloves of minced garlic
Olive oil, about 4:1 oil to garlic by volume
optional:  hot chile pepper or 2 (I added a couple of chipotles)

Put on the stove on super-low, and let it simmer until the garlic is barely brown, maybe a couple of hours. What have you made?

Infused oil and minced garlic confit (kohn-FEE).  Alternatively, you could just cut the fuzzy part of a whole head of garlic off, stick it in foil with some olive oil, and throw it in the oven while you're cooking something else, and you've got whole clove garlic confit, just like the stuff from the olive bar at the grocery store.  It's great stuff to have around, and a good way to make use of bulk garlic.  I can hardly use all the stuff up before it starts growing or goes bad.

From Drop Box
Strain the solids out of the oil. Use the oil to sautee your shrimp (or poach at 180-200F if you really want to be awesome), and serve with fresh salsa, tortillas, pouring the garlic on top of the shrimp.  If you've never had it, and you like garlic, you'll love it!

OK, so it wasn't that difficult, and really very little of it is when you apply a couple of basic techniques and plan appropriately.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Contraption: Lobster Style

So, what did you and your life partner do for Valentine's Day? Yeah, that doesn't sound nearly as good as what I did. Let's see... I placed an order early in the week for a special package to arrive on Friday. An order that I had placed only once before, probably 5 years ago. It was for two 2.5-pound live Maine lobsters to be shipped via FedEx, and arrive at my door in time for a Saturday Valentine's, since Laura was on call Sunday.

The order five years prior included a bisque, some clams, and a Maine blueberry cobbler, which were all good, but the lobsters weren't large enough. I got smart this time, and skipped the promotional Valentines package, opting for only lobsters. I paid about 1/3rd less, and got double the poundage in lobsters. If you've ever ordered live lobsters, you understand that they usually come in a styrofoam cooler, packed with an ice bag, wetted with a little sea water and seaweed, and a packet of sweet Maine sea salt for cooking.

Lindley and I were at home when they arrived, so we quickly checked that they were moving, and placed the container in the back fridge. Live lobsters are only guaranteed to stay that way for about 12 hours after they arrive, so the instructions will tell you to cook them the day of arrival. I figured the environmental factors were all working in my favor: cold temps departing the frigid coastal waters of Maine, flying in the unheated belly of a FedEx plane at 40,000 feet, and arriving on my doorstep on a day when we would receive a rare eight inches of snow. I did feel the need to check them every couple of hours, though. Lindley worked on ideas for Lobster-style Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), in the event that one was a bit too lethargic. Thankfully, we never had to implement that plan. The lobsters showed movement until dinner time.

Since announcing the arrival of live lobsters to both friends and family, I had gotten many comments or "questions" on the subject of lobster movement prior to placing them into the pot (e.g. "Are you gonna cook them alive?"). I say "questions", because they were more like concerns or statements than questions. "Questions" included:

LINDLEY (6 years old) - "Daddy, I saw on Discovery Channel where they rubbed the back of the lobster shell and it fell asleep before they cooked it";
THE PAMPHLET - it came with the lobsters and said you could place them in fresh water for 15 minutes prior cooking, which would kill them. This is basically drowning the lobster, which to me, isn't any better than boiling it alive;
JW - "Don't put a stethascope up to the pot like Bobcat Goldthwait, cause you can hear them scream".

So, what did I do? Well, I gave them about 36 hours to die on their own, then I let the steam do the work. See the pics below for the less than politically correct way to cook a lobster.

You may recall The Contraption I wrote about back in the spring of 2009 that we used at the oyster roast. I had been to the 06 Oriental Market a number of times to procure a contraption for myself after that. After a dozen or more visits I finally managed to obtain one close to the size of the contraption loaned to me for the oyster roast. My contraption is 36cm, whearas the borrowed one was a 40cm version. Not enough to justify waiting any longer, so I purchased it back in September, and placed it on a shelf in the laundry room. I had forgotten the contraption until I was searching for a way to cook the lobster without losing too much flavor. Steam seemed to be the best option, and the contraption did the trick. With two layers, I put 2.5 quarts of water and a cup of sea salt in the bottom, which I let come to a boil, then gingerly placed a lobster and some seaweed on each of the two layers while wearing my silicone Orca gauntlet gloves, and placed the lid on.

Seventeen minutes later, the layers were removed, and two succulent lobsters were paired with twice-baked potatoes from the New York Butcher Shoppe, and some Schramsburg Blanc de Noirs. The audible pleasures heard emanating from the dining room could have been mistaken for "What About Bob?" on the DVD player or pre-Valentines festivities.

As an aside, I saw either a Bordain or Andrew Zimmern show recently that was filmed in Thailand. Hundreds of street vendors were using well-worn versions of the contraption made from bamboo, drums, etc. to serve up steamed dumplings. I may have to try some steamed pork buns on it soon- the 06 market has frozen ones.