Monday, July 27, 2009


From Drop Box
If you haven't been to a Mexican grocery store and eaten churros, don't wait a minute longer. Similar to funnel cake, they are fried to a little crunch, and then coated with sugar. Unlike funnel cake, they are typically covered with granular sugar and can be filled with creamy filling to provide any number of possibilities. This is an expansion off the pate a choux recipe, again showing it's versatility.

Churro batter
8 oz of whole milk or cream
1/4 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
6 oz AP flour
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Like the pate a choux, bring the milk to a hot simmer, add the sugar and salt. Follow this with the flour, let it cool a bit and combine the vanilla and the eggs.
Keep it in a large ziploc bag and let it cool just a bit. You can put this in an icing bag with a large star tip, or do straight out of the ziploc with the same tip, which is how I've ever seen churros. Pipe out 4 inch lengths of batter into hot oil around 350F. Flip them over to get a consistent brown crispy shell, and let them drain on a wire rack. You can either toss them in a plastic bag or bowl with granular sugar and cinnamon. And that's your basic churro.
The longer they sit and cool, the better they'll be. I found mine to be a little soft in the center, that may have been because I had the oil at 375 which was probably a little high. I also didn't have a star tip so they looked like mini corn dogs.
To make funnel cake, just squirt the batter into the oil in a free lattice pattern at 1/4 to 1/2 inch diameter. Tastes just like the stuff they make at the rattlesnake roundup!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mudbugs & such

Food doesn't have to be gourmet to be exceptional. In fact, my favorite dishes are generally the simple ones and I might even say the "primal ones". Big hunks of meat grilled over fire...oyster roast...low country boil... You get my drift.

On Wednesday night, John Beck, the owner of our favorite dining establishment, Sheehan's Irish Pub informed me that he was getting in a shipment of live crawfish Thursday night and for me, Danny, and whomever to show up around 6:30. Of course, that's what we did, with our 3rd being Danny's son John Newman and our 4th the late arriving Mike Brown.

We sat down, ordered some Magic Hat #9, and our waitress informed us that we would be having crawfish tonight and it would be on the house. We informed her that's what we'd come for, and we'd start with 4 pounds. The crawfish arrived with the scent typical of crawfish boil...I think it's a little "clovey" and spicy at the same time. And let me tell you these things were huge! So large in fact that we actually ate claw meat from several.

The highlight of my week had to be helping teach John Newman how to eat a crawfish. Rip off the tail, remove the 1st bit of shell, dip in drawn butter, pull with your teeth, suck the heads! Fantastic! Ate 4lbs with a side of grilled andouille and several beers.

Everyone has their own recipe for low country boil etc, but I think by far the best seafood boil I've found is from the New Orleans School of Cooking, unfortunately, post-Katrina, I don't think they sell this stuff anymore! Theirs is very spicy and flavorful at the same time. Boil up some shrimp, crawfish, or whatever you can get your hands on and transport yourself to a steamy Louisiana afternoon. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Uh, gazpacho, por favor....

I know, it's Spanish. I'm not particularly anti-Spain, but realize that Europe didn't have tomatoes until the Conquistadors took them back from the Americas, as they are native to South America, and have been grown in Mexico since prehistory.
But it's a great refreshing chilled summer soup, the primary ingredients being awesome tomatoes, cucumbers, and salt. There are plenty of other things you can put in it, and you can alter the flavors widely. Warning: as with most tomato dishes, the difference between good and great is the quality of the tomatoes.
The other consideration is whether you want something crunchy, or you want it pureed. You can also do both by pureeing the soup and adding tableside garnishes as your additives.

Thanks to CLG for doing most of the work on this one.

Heirloom tomato gazpacho
1 large brandywine tomato, approx 1.5 lbs, diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, not seeded
1 each of green, yellow, and red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup of good quality olive oil
1/4 cup of minced cilantro
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely minced
salt to taste
juice of 1 lime
12 oz of V8. You can skip this step and add more tomato or water if you'd like. Don't worry, the V8 did nothing to hide the rich flavor of the tomato.

Other additives could be onions and garlic. If you puree the soup but you still want a little crunch, serve garnish of fresh diced tomato, bell pepper of your choice, and onion at the tableside. What goes better with this than grilled bread? Not much, and you can also use stale bread to thicken the soup. You can puree in batches, add a piece of stale bread if you want to give it a little more thickness.

CUSTOMER: Uh, gazpacho, por favor.

SOUP NAZI: Por favor?

CUSTOMER: Um, I'm part Spanish.

SOUP NAZI: Adios muchacho!

From Drop Box

Pate a choux and gougere

More wonders of Ratio, and a couple of easy ones.

Pate a choux ("pot o' shoe") is a pretty versatile thing to whip up and is great for a large crowd if you're entertaining. There are several ways to build it up from it's base, and you can either bake it to a puffy pastry balls that you can fill with whatever you want either sweet or savory, cheese puffs (gougere), or you can make dumplings to finish off your chicken soup. You can even make gnocchi out of this "dough."

Ruhlman's ratio: 2 liquid, 1 fat, 1 flour for the base.

Pate a choux
8 oz water
4 oz flour
1 stick of butter (4 oz)
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs

Heat the water to hot simmer in a saucepan, add the stick of butter and melt it. Reduce the heat and stir in the flour. The dough should come off the sides and turn into a hot batter. Take it off heat and let it cool a bit, then add the eggs one at a time.

From Drop Box

At this point, you can do nothing, or you can turn it into a cheese puff, otherwise called a gougere ("goo jair", funny right?).
To do that, add another tsp of salt to your water bath, then stir in a half a cup of your favorite cheese after your, I happened to use Gruyere, but you could put whatever you want, Ruhlman recommends Parm-Reggiano, but you could use romano, Emmantaler, anything on the harder size that will shred and give more of a savory flavor.

Once you've got the paste, you can cool it down a bit, and put it in a gallon-sized ziploc bag, cut the end off and use like you're going to ice a cake. I heated the oven to 425 on convection bake, and piped out a few golf-ball sized dough balls on a silpat/baking sheet combo. Wet your fingers, and make sure the edges are smooth because little peaks will burn. Bake for 10 minutes on high temp, turn the oven down to 325 and cook another 10-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. In my oven on convection bake, it took another 12 minutes or so. The result? That's right, cheesy poofs!

From Drop Box

Other alternatives are to pipe it out in long strings on parchment paper, run grooves in it with a fork, and freeze until hardened. Take them out and cut into gnocchi, and put them back in the freezer in a bag, until you're ready to use. I think I might recommend not using the gougere recipe, instead, just use the regular pate a choux.
I can't believe I waited so long to make this, it's really versatile. You can make desserts (fill with chocolate sauce, custard), appetizers (fill with a cheese sauce, chicken salad, confit tomato and garlic with herb, etc.). Experiment and go crazy!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Homemade pasta: 3 yards and a cloud of dust

As we're watching a rerun of No Reservations, DOG got excited watching these Japanese dudes make soba noodles. What better lead in to making our own spaghetti? It was 8am.
"Daddy, we're making noodles. But we don't have hats like those guys." Not for long.
From Drop Box

Ruhlman's ratio: 1 egg for every 3 oz of flour. We used 00 from King Arthur, 9 oz flour to 3 large pasture-raised eggs. The result a little wet, had to add A BUNCH of extra flour so the disks would make it through the stand mixer/pasta roller. We finally had it right, rolled them out to 5 on the thickness meter, and had flour EVERYWHERE.
From Drop Box

Cut them down to spaghetti, and of course that's what we were going to have to eat for breakfast. To make it more interesting, we made a little cacio e pepe.
From Drop Box

Cacio e pepe
However much spaghetti or linguini you want. Obviously homemade is preferable
Either olive oil or butter, whichever you prefer
Freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
That's it! You won't believe it if you've never had it, it's amazing and crazy simple.
From Drop Box

Now for the clean-up. Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Little plates

Whenever I go out to a good restaurant, and I see tons of great stuff on the menu I want to try it all. Not everyone offers a tasting menu. But that's one of the things I love about tapas restaurants-the chance to try several things at one sitting.
Couple that with the concept that says that anything you can do large, you can do small, and you've got it. The challenge for this type of menu is that everything is cooked to order, and there's very little prep time involved. It makes it a little hectic, and it would be hard to do it for a huge crowd without a well set up mise en place.

Little plates night
Salmon crudo amuse bouche
Sauteed salmon "Nigiri" with tatziki
Cajun-style barbecue shrimp
Steak frites

Salmon crudo was a recipe of necessity. They had some good wild caught salmon fillets at the store, but they provided a bunch of the belly meat which left varying thickness of the fish. Solution? Cut off the thin part, skin it, and make a sashimi style appetizer.

Per person:
Bite size portion of salmon
Finely minced ginger, a pinch
1/4 tsp of toasted sesame oil
Sea salt
Pulp of a thin half-slice of lime
Lime zest

From Big 'Dawg Eats

With the remaining salmon, I cut into portions that looked like a big piece of nigiri sushi.
Cut salmon into ~2x4 inch portions, season with salt and pepper, and sautee on high heat to medium rare. Set aside.
The tatziki was a little unconventional, but consisted of 1/2 cup of sour cream, tbsp of good olive oil, juice of 1 lime, 1/4 cup of diced cucumber, salt, pepper, and parsley. You can sub plain yogurt and mint or dill, and it goes great with lamb or oily fish.

From Big 'Dawg Eats

The bruschetta was store-bought, but tasted pretty good. Harry and David for the olive/tomato relish and local supermarket for the ciabatta that we toasted in the oven.

For the barbecue shrimp, I took 12 in-the-shell shrimp combined with olive oil, parsley, 4 cloves of minced garlic, cayenne pepper, crystal hot sauce, and some Dizzy Pig Jamaican Fire Walk rub, combined in a bowl to dress. 2 tbsp of butter, and some oil in a large skillet, and cooked them on high heat until just pink. Shrimps out, reduce most of a bottle of beer with a tbsp or so of molasses for sweetness and color. Finished with butter (3-4 tbsp) until thick, and return the shrimps to the sauce. The result? Can you believe that it wasn't spicy enough? Ultimately, we should have left the relish off the bread, and just used it to sop up the sauce.

From Big 'Dawg Eats

The frites were really just thinly sliced, fried new potato chips with home-made Crystal hot sauce aioli. Totally forgot to do the microwave blanch, they would have been crispier. For the mayonnaise, consult any book, but it's really pretty easy. In your blender, combine 1 whole egg with 2 yolks, 1 tsp of mustard powder, 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, and salt. Blend to combine, and with the blender on, add olive oil very slowly at first until you get your emulsification. Keep adding oil until you get the consistency your looking for. The mustard is a good binder, and you can use prepared dijon mustard if you like, as well. To complete the aioli, mince as much garlic as you can stand (3-4 cloves or more), and add to your mayonnaise with juice from a half lime, a little salt, and Crystal hot sauce (or your favorite) to taste and color.

The steak was ribeye that we had cooked a night or two ago, and intentionally left one of them pretty rare for purposes of reheating. The mushrooms were stemmed, sliced thinly, and sauteed in butter with a little salt. Add just a dash of water to the pan and it creates a mushroom sauce. Cup of red wine reduced to molasses consistency for a little sweet kick on the meat, and that's it.

From Big 'Dawg Eats

The results? Well, the plate tells the story. The beauty of this menu and the way it was prepared, was that it didn't all have to come out at the same time. With young kids in the middle of going to bed, we cooked one or two, took a break and dealt with the kids, and then came back and cooked some more.

From Big 'Dawg Eats
Wine pairings:

Adegas Morgadio Legado del Conde 2006 Abarino
From Drop Box

Charles and Charles 2008 Rose
From Drop Box

Descendientes de J. Palacios "Petalos" 2007 Mencia
From Drop Box

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pesto and the joys of summer

From a technique standpoint, I think the cooking in the summer gets easier. There are TONS of great ingredients around, my favorites: tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, herbs, you name it. I want to eat this food for the rest of my life, and I crave it in the winter. Once you have a couple of basic techniques down, the rest is just a matter of figuring out and experimenting with which flavors go together.

A quick summer dinner:

Oven roasted portabello mushrooms stuffed with lemon artichoke pesto
Backyard Roma and heirloom tomato salad
Grilldomed ribeye steak with thyme

The pesto is easy, there's more on that later. The mushroom caps are cleaned, oiled, and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, roasted in an oven at 350F for about 30-40 minutes until soft, or grilled. Be careful, don't burn them, keep them soft.
From Big 'Dawg Eats

1/2 cup of canned artichokes
1 tbsp of capers
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp of minced parsley
1/2 cup of shredded parmesan cheese
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 squeezed lemon

Pulse in your food processor and mix the ingredients.
Drizzle in olive oil until you have a nice, dense pesto consistency. Et voila!

Want a different pesto? Add basil and parsley instead of the artichokes, maybe throw some pine nuts (or pecans?) and finish the same way. Pesto is a smashed wet, oily paste, that is given major depth with your favorite dry cheese and then finished with olive oil. Pick your favorite herbs, add enough fat and seasoning to make it interesting. There's no wrong way to do this. Mystery solved.

As far as the tomatoes go, the more ripe, the better. The dressing is just nice olive oil lightly drizzled with kosher salt or fleur de sel. This is what I'll be dreaming about in 6 months.

Steak: rub with olive oil, kosher salt, ground pepper, and fresh thyme leaves, let it sit as long as you can stand it. Sear TRex style on your grill. This was ribeye, doesn't need a sauce, but if you must, you certainly could.

From Big 'Dawg Eats

Wine pairing: Oregon Pinot 2007 A to Z. Nice minerally, light, low alcohol. Not overpoweringly fruity, with a nice gentle bottom end and short finish (although we didn't really let it open, it was gone in about 20 minutes.)

From Big 'Dawg Eats

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Expanding the double oven pizza technique

So you're making a bunch of pizza, and you've got it down, but away from your company for about an hour if you wait for them to get there before you start cooking. You can't really prep anything but the tomato sauce before they get there.
Remembering the concept of the double oven, you can take advantage of the fact that your egg will tend to cook the bottom faster than the top. Cook all of your pizzas until the bottoms are finished, and set them on a wire rack to cool and rest. Be careful to not put them flat on a surface or else the steam can make them soggy.
From Big 'Dawg Eats

When you're ready to eat, fire up the oven on high broil and use your metal peel to finish them. Spin it around until the edges are evenly charred. You may even consider waiting to put your cheese on it until you do this step. This is going to give a finish closer than to the wood burning stove than either the oven or the egg will alone.
From Big 'Dawg Eats
From Big 'Dawg Eats
From Big 'Dawg Eats

Tonight's recipes:

Pizza Margherita
Fresh drained tomatoes
Sweet and purple basil
Olive oil
String cheese (I was out of mozzarella at the last minute)

Pulled pork pizza
Pulled pork (Boston Butt)
Purple basil
Quick, raw tomato sauce (garlic, small can diced tomatoes, salt, olive oil)

Dough tonight was made from King Arthur LA-4 starter which rises much faster than than their regular sourdough, and provided a nice chewiness. Try it sometime!

Heirloom tomato caprese salad

Tomatoes are just coming in, and so there are going to be a bunch of posts extolling their virtues. I've got some Cherokee purple, Brandywine, rainbow, and Romas growing in a couple of 4x8 foot plots. When they're that ripe, the simpler the better.
From Big 'Dawg Eats
If you need a recipe, there are several to be found. It basically consists of mozzarella, basil, tomato dressed with balsamic vinegar, good olive oil and salt. I chose purple basil for this one, and it's a smaller leaf, a little saltier than regular "sweet basil." The purple basil isn't always purple: some of the leaves are green, some are purple, and some are speckled.
From Big 'Dawg Eats
The first one is sliced evenly into rounds and is a more classic presentation.
From Big 'Dawg Eats
The second one is little more deconstructed into sticks. The ratios are the same, but it's a good trick to use for the tops of these tomatoes which aren't worth wasting as the stem sits way down in them.

Considering these things go for around 5 bucks a pound, it may just be more cost effective to grow them yourself, and that way you don't have to worry if the market has any good ones.
From Big 'Dawg Eats
My first Brandywine is tipping the scales at a pound and a quarter. I picked it just a bit green as some critter took a couple of healthy bites out of it's twin and I had to throw it out.