Thursday, May 19, 2016

Watermelon and Halloumi

We did a Mediterranean themed party, so who better to turn to for inspiration than Michael Symon. So while this is actually using a Cypriot cheese, it fit the bill nicely.  It is a pretty simple recipe, but it tasted outstanding. None left :-(

Refreshing, tangy, tasty and pretty. You can find the original here. I didn't change it up much.

Ingredients

1 small shallot, minced
1 medium clove garlic mashed
kosher salt
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 T honey
1/2 cup high quality, extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
4 T chopped mint
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
24 x 1" diameter 3/8" thick rounds cut from the core of a seedless watermelon
24 x 1" diameter 3/8 thick rounds of halloumi
2T vegetable oil
Rice flour/water slurry to coat the halloumi

Method

Mash the garlic with a little salt to make a paste. Place the shallot and garlic in a bowl. Add the vinegar and honey, Mix well. Whisk in the extra virgin olive oil. Add the almonds and mint, stir well.
Place the watermelon rounds in a single layer in the bottom of an 8x13 non reactive dish. Pour the mixed dressing over the watermelon. Allow to rest for at least an hour and up to 3.hours.
Coat the individual halloumi rounds with a little rice flour slurry. Heat up a cast iron pan over medium heat with the 2T of vegetable oil. Test temperature of pan with a few drops of water.
When hot enough, place the halloumi on the pan in a single layer. When you have laid out the last round, the first round will be ready to flip.
Once the halloumi rounds are cooked, remove from pan and place on top of the watermelon, serve immediately

Monday, April 11, 2016

Rhubarb

Rhubarb doesn't get as much visibility as it should here in Dallas, TX. When buying some yesterday I was asked by the cashier at the supermarket if it was like celery... But I digress.

It is a delicious stalk that needs very little attention - making it a great ingredient for smoothies, and pies - or for just plain snacking. And it is really simple to prepare.

Ingredients

2 1/2 lb Rhubarb, top and tailed, cut into 1" lengths
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar.

Method

Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a non-reactive sauce pan. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until some of the juice has rendered out. Turn the heat down to low, put the lid on the pan and cook gently for about 15-20 minutes - until the rhubarb has softened.

Uses

Smoothie - equal volumes of chilled, prepared rhubarb (see above), Greek yogurt and ice. Blend until smooth. Add some strawberries if you want extra flavors

Pie filling - use the prepared rhubarb as a filling for a double crust pie or a simple crumble (crisp).

Eat out of hand. The sweet/tart taste of rhubarb makes a delicious snack on its own

Make a sauce to accompany pork. Perhaps add a dried plum to the prpared rhubarb, heat gently and puree.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Duck Salad

Madame and I were too lazy to go to the store - or even anywhere last Sunday. So fridge and freezer diving we went. What did we find?

Some left over frozen (raw) duck breasts, mushrooms, scallions, lettuce, avocados and oranges. Easy - let's make some pan fried duck with an orange/mushroom sauce that will serve as a dressing over the lettuce leaves. Served with a ZD 2001 merlot and we were in heaven. Sadly the 2001 ZD merlot is not easily available. They only made 1470 cases of it. We were lucky to find a bottle or too.

I would have preferred it if the duck breasts had had some fat on them, but beggars cannot be choosers. We made do!

Ingredients

3 T vegetable oil (divided use)
2 duck breasts - skin and fat removed, lightly seasoned with salt on both sides
Segments of 2 oranges
5 scallions, white and green parts only, sliced into 1/4" pieces
4 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced - about 6 slices per mushroom
1 avocado, diced 
a handful of lettuce leaves, torn
salt and pepper to taste

Method

Heat 1 T of oil in a large skillet until very hot. Add the duck breasts and leave undisturbed for about a minute and a half - essentially until they release from the pan. Turn them over and repeat. Set the duck breasts aside.
Add the remaining oil to the hot pan, followed by the scallions and mushrooms. Turn the heat down to medium low and cook for a few minutes - until the mushrooms have wilted. Add the orange segments and any juice, return the duck breasts to warm up.
To serve, make a pile of lettuce n the plate. Pour over the pan juices. Slice the duck breasts thinly, mound on the lettuce and add the mushroom/scallion/orange pieces. Decorate with diced avocado. Grind a little black pepper over the dish.

Voila - about 25 minutes start to finish. It got the "We can serve this to people" accolade. Amazing what can be done with weird looking stuff in fridge and freezer. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Cooking with Kenji

Serious Eats/The Food Lab is one of my favorite sites to visit. Kenji applies scientific principles to experimentation with food. He went to MIT, so not surprising that he has a scientific bent.

There of us (all Chris's) went to a cooking demo/book signing at a local Central Market a couple of weeks back. It was all about breakfast. Some amazing hints, an entertaining lecture and delicious food. Too much to get into in detail (hint, buy the book), but now having seen his personality and approach I find the book even easier to comprehend.

The one thing I will mention is the mayonnaise. None of the drizzle slowly while whisking stuff. No use the stick blender and a tall container. Eggs/water/acid in the bottom, oil on top. Put in the stick, blend for about 20 seconds. Voila mayonnaise. One piece of great advice about the oil. Use a relatively neutral oil at the beginning. If you plan to add a fruity olive oil, then add it at the end and whisk it in by hand.

One of the Chris's had brought back some oil from Nice after a business trip. So of course we had to add that into the mayonnaise. Oh my.

We made some of the mayonnaise with a finely chopped garlic clove blended in. Served as a dip with some naan split open, drizzled with oil, sumac, and salt, toasted for 10 minutes in a 350 oven.

We also used the same garlic mayonnaise as a base for poached eggs on toast. Kenji also taught us an outstanding way to poach eggs. So, home made bread, garlic mayonnaise with poached eggs for supper on a Sunday. It doesn't get a lot better than that.

OTBN 2016

I have posted about Open That Bottle Night before. It was an idea started at the Wall Street Journal several years ago. The idea being that yu share special bottles of wine with friends, tell stories, eat and drink too much (sometimes) and generally have a fun time.
This year we had 11 people - including a special guest, Heather, who had been interning and taking classes in Europe last year. Having her tell us about her experiences working in all aspects of the trade in Burgundy was a real treat.
As usual, the wines were varied. The foods were delicious. The pairings very good and the stories even better. Of course there was drama too. Heather had a difficult afternoon, Cathy had had food poisoning earlier in the week, Chris F had been delayed with his mother in law. All in al it was amazing it all came together.
I had taken a class earlier in the week with Kenji from The Food Lab. He had demonstrated making mayonnaise using the stick blender. So of course I had to try it. Garlic mayonnaise on naan chips served with (of all things!) Cupcake prosecco and a  Cremant de Bourgogne. Heather had brought some creme de cassis from Dijon, so some had kir royales...But I digress.
OTBN 2016 wines

First Course

Chuck and Jeanine are from Louisiana and made an oyster stew/soup (still not sure what to call it - except fantastic). Oysters, artichokes in a creamy broth. And with it, something unusual. A white Chateau Neuf du Pape - Chateau La Nerthe. Mostly Roussane it had a wonderful crispness that cut through the richness of the soup. A terrific way to start the evening. Chuck and Jeanine had spent time in Chateau Neus du Pape and the neighboring town of Orange -where there is an outstanding Roman Theater.

Second Course

Scott and April brought their favorite Sushi - from Gui in Dallas. It is a special tuna roll that the owner makes up for them specially. We complemented it with the Chateau La Nerthe from the previous course - saving their wine for a later time. 

Third Course

Heather made a traditional Burgundian duck confit, served with a cassis sauce and duck fat roasted potatoes. While living in Beaune she befriended a local wine store and brought back some of the Morey-Saint-Denis for us all to try. An oysyanding pairing and some lovely stories from Heather about her time in Beaune.

Fourth Course

Chris and Erin made a Boeuf a la Bourgignon that was another hit. We ate well this evening. It had a lovely silkiness to it - lots of rich stock and a bottle of the Chateau de Beucastel in the dish, and another to taste with it. Another wonderful pairing. The wine had just enough tannin to cut into the richness and meatiness of the dish. Perfect balance. 

Fifth Course

We had decided on a cheese course. At Christmas last year two French colleagues (France and Benoit from the Franche-Comte region of France) had introduced us to Macvin du Jura as a pairing with Vacherin Mont d'Or. Macvin is a "vin de liqueur" - a drink made by adding a pomace brandy (or marc) to unfermented grape juice. It is quite oxidized and earthy. So pairing with the rich cheese was outstanding. We couldn't find another Vacherin, but we were able to find a Jasper Hill Farms Winnimere cheese instead. We pusched thinly sliced garlic into it, poured some of the Chareau d'Arlay macvin into it and baked it. Served with baguettes.

Intermezzo

Scott and April brought a delicious Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon for us just to roll around in our mouths. Oh my what a delicious, big, rich cab with amazing fruit and structure. We sipped that while letting everything else settle prior to dessert

Dessert

Cathy and Nacy brought some delicious chocolate mousse cakes and something new to me. The Belle Glos Dairyman Pinot Noir from  the Russian River Valley. For me it was fascinating to have had the very traditional Morey-Saint-Denis from Burgundy and the very much more fruit forward, powerful Belle Glos. Entirely different expressions of the grape, but both absolutely delicious in their own way.

Epilog

This is probably the first time that Cupcake has ever been served in such exalted company. It was a fun evening with everyone telling their stories, laughing and generally letting their hair down. Each year we do one of these - with different people we are reminded what a great time can be had with everyone telling stories, bringing interesting wines and lovely food. Thanks to all who came.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Israeli CousCous Salad

This dish is adapted from something we saw on America's test kitchen. We tried it with the usual tweak here and there. Took it to a party and it was pronounced very good. For a change, the ingredients are measured by volume.
The recipe is a bit fiddly with lots of steps, but well worth it.

Ingredients

3T olive oil
2 Cups Israeli Couscous
2 1/2 cups water
2 Shallots sliced finely
1/3 Cup red wine vinegar
1/3 Cup granulated sugar
1 t Dijon mustard
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
4T Extra Virgin Olive oil
2 bunches of aarugula (rocket). Not terribly precise I am sorry to say
1 bunch fresh mint
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
5 oz crumbled Feta
1 pomegranate - arils only
6 oz chopped, toasted pistachios
Coarse sea salt to taste

Method

Place the 3T olive oil and the couscous into a cold pan. Heat on medium until the coucous is lightly toasted.  Immediately add the water, stir and put the lid on. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes (could be a minute or 2 more or less) until the water has dissolved. Turn the heat off and leave covered for a few minutes
Combine the vinegar, sugar and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cover and leave until cool
Meanwhile make a dressing by combining the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and mustard in a large bowl.
When the couscous is cooked, lay out in a single layer on a sheet pan until completely cooled.
Wash the arugula and mint, remove the arugula stems. Place the couscous into the bowl with the dressing. Add the strained, pickled shallot. Toss quickly. Add the arugula and mint, toss again. Add the peas and pomegranate and toss again. Finally add the feta cheese and pistachios. Toss one final time. Shake some coarse sea salt over the salad and combine.
Serve after resting for a few mintes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

khachapuri - First attempt

A facebook friend had been traveling in Georgia (the country, not the US state) and mentioned that he had had a fabulous dish - called khachapuri. He suggested that I try making it. He knows that I am a sometime baker and so would relish the challenge.

This is the finished dish..

A small loaf of bread filled with gooey cheese and an egg baked in the hole. He was right, it is delicious - and pretty easy. The dough is a bit soft and wet, so it is tricky to handle, however.

Ingredients - Bread

1 t yeast
pinch of sugar
70 ml luke warm water
70 ml luke warm whole milk
15 ml olive oil
200 gm bread flour
5 gm kosher salt

Ingredients - Filling

200 gm queso fresco (or other soft crumbly cheese)
50 gm fresh goat cheese
a little milk to make the texture a paste
2 large eggs

Method

This bread has a lot of yeast for the amount of flour, so it has a tendency to rise very quickly. I retarded mine by keeping it in the fridge. Partly because we didn't eat it the day we expected to. It had to sit for 24 hours longer than anticipated.

Dissolve the sugar in the milk/water and add the yeast. Allow to become foamy - about 10 minutes

Mix in the flour, oil and salt and knead for about 5 minutes by hand. You may find you need to add a little more flour to stop it being too sticky.

Allow to rise until about double original volume. This is largely a temperature thing. If you do it in the fridge at 37F (2C) it takes about 24 hours.

When ready to bake, set a pizza stone (or upside down baking sheet) in the oven and preheat to 500F - yes it really is that hot. Allow to heat for at least 45 minutes.

Make the cheese mixture by creaming the cheeses - adding a little milk if necessary.

Shape the dough into 2 equal sized balls and roll each out until it is 10 inches (25cm) in diameter. I did it on parchment (greaseproof) paper.

Put 1/4 of the filling on the first round, leaving a margin of about 1" (2.5 cm) all the way around.

Roll one side of the circle towards the center. You want to stop about an inch (2.5 cm) before the center. Roll from the other side so you have a center channel. Twist the ends to make small knobs. 

You will have made little boats.

Divide the rest of the cheese mixture between the boats



Repeat with the other round.

Bake the boats on the pizza stone or baking sheet for 15 minutes. The cheese mixture will be all bubbly and gooey.

After 15 minutes, crack an egg into each boat - you may need to poke the filling first to make room for the egg. Return to the oven and bake for 4:30 - until the white is set, but the yolk is still runny.

Serve with a green salad - and in our case a glass of pinot noir. I would imagine that a really nice 
Belgian Trippel would go well. 


Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

We had a small event this year - but that didn't mean we skimped on anything. Serious Eats provided much of the inspiration, so although we didn't follow any of the recipes precisely, the essence was there.

The secrets were:

  • Home made cornbread
  • Sausage stuffing (dressing because it was outside the bird}
  • Low and slow sweet potatoes
  • Spatchcocked turkey - recipe here - no need to improve on perfection! I dry brined using 7T and 1T baking powder and followed the storage instructions from here.
  • Standard home made cranberry sauce - using bitter orange marmalade as a flavoring - from this blog post
For the Serious Eats recipes, please follow this link.and search for Thanksgiving. For our meal, please read on.

Cornbread

I was quite suspicious of this cornbread - it seemed awfully wet. But it came out spot on. There is no wheat in the recipe, so no gluten formation. Those friends of ours who have gluten issues are delighted.

Ingredients

15 oz yellow corn meal. We just used Quaker.
6 t baking powder
1t baking soda
2t kosher salt
1t sugar
2 1/2 cups buttermilk (we used left over from making our own butter)
1 stick unsalted butter - melted
3T rendered pork fat (from salt pork that we had rendered for a different dish)
3 eggs

Method

Preheat 10" cast iron skillet in a 375 degree oven. Whisk the eggs into the buttermilk and drizzle the melted butter whisking constantly. Mix the corn meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar thoroughly. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix quickly. Do not over mix. When the batter is mixed, grease the inside of the hot skillet with the pork fat. Pour the batter into the hot pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes - until the internal temperature reaches 205 degrees.
Leave to cool in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack.

Sausage Stuffing (Dressing)

Because this is not stuffed into anything, I prefer to call it dressing. But either way it was pretty darned delicious. The Serious Eats recipe calls for sage sausage. No luck finding that here, so we substituted.

Ingredients

1 recipe bread pudding (as above) cut into cubes - about 3/4"
1 stick unsalted butter
12 oz sweet Italian sausage
12 oz hot Italian sausage
1 large yellow onion - diced
4 stalks celery cut into pieces the size of the onion dice. Any leaves are fine too.
3 cloves garlic - minced
A small handful of sage leaves - minced fine
3 1/2 cups turkey stock (we used frozen left over from a year ago, thawed) - divided use
4 eggs
1t habanero vodka (aka secret ingredient)
Kosher salt/pepper to taste. You won't need much because the sausage is well seasoned.
1/4 cup minced parsley. 

Method

Place the cut corn bread onto a sheet pan and bake in a 425 degree oven turning occasionally until the outsides are fairly dry and a little toasted. 10-12 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, wait for it to stop foaming then add the sausage. Cook the sausage, breaking it up with the wooden spoon until there is no more pink.
Add the onion, garlic and celery. Cook until the vegetables are soft (10 - 15 min(. Do not allow the vegetables to brown. Remove from the heat. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of the stock.
Whisk together the remaining stock, the eggs, habanero vodka, and half of the parsley.
Place the sausage/onion mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the egg mixture and then add the cornbread. Transfer to a 9x13 baking pan (or a 10x14 oval pan) and cover with foil
You can leave it overnight in the fridge. It does firm up.
When ready to bake, cover with foil and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes. At least that is what the recipe said. I turned the oven up to 400 and it still took an hour for the insides to be properly heated through - probably because I started it out too cold from the fridge.. I had suspected this, so allowed extra time in the timetable anyway. (See this posting from several years ago). And because You want the internal temperature (in the centre) to be over 150 degrees.
Bring out of the oven 15 minutes before serving and sprinkle the rest of the parsley on top.

Sweet potatoes

The good folks at Serious Eats suggested that we warm the sweet potatoes in the circulator at 145 degrees for a couple of hours. Then bake them low and slow. I tried this a couple of days ago, and in a blind tasting we couldn't tell the difference. So ditched the circulator for the big day.
There are also schools of thought about texture. I like them not to be whipped. A rough mash texture. But YMMV

Ingredients

4 large sweet potatoes (Beauregards, garnets or whatever you can get your hands on).
16 sprigs of thyme
1T vegetable oil
1 stick (4 Oz) softened butter
1t habanero vodka (aka secret ingredient)
3T sweet sherry (we had some PX left over from another party, so used that. Good move!)

Method

Rub the skin of the sweet potatoes with oil, wrap them in foil with 4 thyme sprigs in each packet. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in the 300 degree oven until the interior registers 208 degrees. The sweet potatoes should be quite soft.
Remove them from the oven, peel the sweeta potatoes into a large bowl. Beat in the butter and habanero vodka. Add the sweet sherry and beat some more. When the sweet potatoes have reached the desired consistency, transfer to vacuum bags and store in the fridge. To reheat, use the circulator set at 150 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Easier than trying to it on the stove top because you can setit and forget it..





Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Squash Salad

In the summer here in Texas there is an abundance of squash - zucchini, yellow squash, crook-neck, 8-ball and a host of others. Our trip to the farmers' market on Saturday yielded some nice, firm zucchini - about 6" long each. Zucchini can be annoying to cook - all that water has to be driven off before they will brown - and then all of a sudden they are black. If you don't drive the water off, they are all limp and mushy - almost able to be sucked through a straw. Am I making them sound appetizing yet? I thought not.

Then I saw this thing advertised. It is a spiralizer. Once you get past the "gluten free" hype and stop trying to pretend that strands of zucchini are pasta, the idea is quite handy. The tool is unnecessary - at least for this dish. A good old-fashioned vegetable peeler is all you need. But the spiralizer did spark some thinking.

The secret to this dish is your choice of olive oil. It would be revolting with a neutral tasting oil. We used a California Koroneiki oil, an oil with lots of peppery notes and a silky, buttery mouth feel.

Ingredients (2 Servings)

4 medium sized zucchini
16 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 T capers, rinsed and drained
A few sprigs lemon thyme, leaves only chopped finely
A few glugs of high quality, peppery extra virgin olive oil. Probably 1/4 cup
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Kosher salt to taste
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
1 avocado diced into 1/4" pieces
Crunchy sea salt for finishing

Method

Peel the zucchini, and then slice into ribbons length wise using the vegetable peeler. Discard the core where the seeds are.
Add the tomatoes, capers, lemon thyme, olive oil and lemon juice to the zucchini slices in a bowl and toss to coat. Add the seasoning salt and pepper to taste, and toss again.
Place 1/2 the avocado onto each plate. Mound the squash salad over the avocado. Sprinkle  some coarse salt on the surfaceof the salad. Frind some pepper onto the plate to make it look interesting, serve immediately


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sous Vide corn on the cob

I have had this perpetual search for the best way to do corn on the cob. Kenji at Serious eats turned me on to an approach that turned out fantastic. It involves the vacuum sealer and the circulator. So worth it, and so easy - at least easy once you have the vacuum sealer and circulator!

Ingredients

2 Ears of fresh corn - shucked
2 T butter ( I used home made, cultured butter), but I suspect any would do.

Method

Place water in a large container and set up the circulator. Heat the water to 83C (181.4F). Place the shucked corn into vacuum bags. Ad 2T butter. Vacuum seal the bags and triple seal them.
Place the bags in the water bath at 83C for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, take the bags out of the water bath. Cut open the bags and serve the corn with a little coarse salt.
Serious Eats suggests adding some flavorings to the butter in the bag - we didn't this time, but may experiment later.

Caprese Salad

Kenji at SeriousEats makes some excellent points about Caprese salad. The keys are:

  • Use really fresh tomatoes
  • Use really fresh Mozzarella (none of that supermarket pizza topping Mozz.)
  • Use really fresh basil, and tear it. (From the garden is the best)
  • No vinegar
  • Fruity olive oil
  • Coarse salt.
So I made it his way tonight. Outstanding. I hadn't previously realized what a dulling effect vinegar has. It was so fresh, so tasty this way. I think there will be a lot more in our future.

Watermelon

This is just crazy good. The "Watermelon Ninja" demonstrates a no-mess way of cutting up watermelon. I can't do it any more justice than simply posting a link here.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Pita Chips

Hardly worth writing about, one might think. But one would be wrong. You can buy some crisp, flavorless abominations in a bag - or you can make your own really simply. I tried using white and wholewheat chips. The white pita made far and away better chips. So here goes.

Ingredients

6 Plain white pita chips
6T olive oil
Salt to taste (about 1t)

Method

Pre-heat oven to 350F - 325 if using wholewheat pita. Cut each pita into 6 pie-slice shaped pieces. Open up each piece so that the inside is completely exposed.
Place the pita pieces rough side upwards on a wire rack over a sheet pan. Brush each piece with a little oil and then sprinkle on some salt. Place the loaded wire rack and associated sheet pan into the middle of the oven. Bake for about 11 minutes (slightly longer for whole wheat), turning the rack around front to back (not over) about 1/2 way through.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cover.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Coleslaw with buttermilk dressing

Now that we make all of our butter, we are often left with buttermilk to spare. Because we culture the butter, the buttermilk has a bit of a tang. Ideal for coleslaw we thought. And we were right.

Ingredients - Dressing

1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise 
1/4 cup pickle juice
1 t hot sauce
2T cider vinegar
2T spicy brown mustard
salt/pepper to taste

Ingredients - Slaw

1 head green cabbage chopped into small pieces.
1/2 medium yellow onion, minced finely
3 large carrots, peeled and grated

Method

Make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients. Combine the cabbage, carrot and onion, add the dressing and toss.
Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow the flavors to blend.


Simple but not easy - cacio e pepe

Some good friends introduced us to the Roman dish - Cacio e Pepe (Cheese and pepper - in this case black pepper). It has very few ingredients, is simple to make but everything has to be just right. I made it this evening as a rehearsal for an event next weekend. Madame (who generally sneers at anything pasta) was blown away by this. So thank you Rocco and Judy.

Ingredients

2T kosher salt
6 oz bucatini - preferably extruded through bronze nozzles to get that slightly rough texture - ideal for holding sauce
1 1/2 cups Pecorino Romano - salty sheep's milk cheese
3 T butter (divided use)
1 t cracked black pepper

Method

Bring 1 gallon of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook until just shy of al dente (this is what makes it simple but not easy). Meanwhile, melt 2 T of butter in a large skillet. Add the cracked black pepper and toast the pepper until you can just smell it. Again, simple but not easy.
Reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and drain the rest. Add the drained pasta to the butter/pepper skillet. Add all but a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, cook for a minute or so. Turn the heat down to low and add the cheese and remaining tablespoon of butter tossing quickly with tongs.
Serve in warmed bowls.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Grilled Romaine and peapod salad

The back story. We have decided to grow peas this year. And much to our surprise, they have started producing. Not a lot yet, but the young, tender freshly picked peas were just demanding to be eaten. So, what to do? Peas and mint are classic. Radishes provide a spicy bite, red peppers some extra sweetness, Romaine as a base and avocado/steamed eggs for richness. It all came together remarkably easily. Grilling the romaine really helped. Technically it wasn't grilled, but griddled on the ridged side of the cast iron griddle.

Ingredients

1 Dozen whole young pea pods (if fresh, then no need to blanch, but blanch in hot salty water for 15 seconds if store bought)
1/3 Shallot minced very finely (yes it really is that little)
6 Radishes sliced thinly. 
A bunch of mint (probably around 20 leaves) chopped small.
1 Diced red pepper (1/4 " dice)
1 t white sugar
4 T cider vinegar
1/2 t habanero vodka (or any other hot sauce to taste)
10 T neutral oil
2 T Finishing oil (I used a high quality extra virgin olive oil
1 Avocado cut into 1/2"  pieces
1 Romaine lettuce heart split in 2 pieces lengthwise and lightly oiled and seasoned with salt/pepper on the cut side.
2 eggs steamed like this (for 6:45 instead of 6:30 to get the yolks a little firmer) and peeled like this
Pepper to taste
Coarse sea salt to finish and provide crunch

Method

Make a vinaigrette combining the mint leaves, vinegar, sugar, both oils, hot sauce, and shallot. Leave to steep for a few minutes while you prepare the rest of the vegetation.
Add the red pepper, radishes and pea podsto the vinaigrette and mix thoroughly.
Cook and cool the eggs.
Heat the griddle until it is "rocking hot". A drop of water on it will sizzle like fury. Place the romaine cut side down on the griddle surface and cook for a couple of minutes. You want a nice char on the cut surface. It will hiss and steam a bit. Turning on the vent hood would have been a great idea if I had thought of it soon enough.
Peel and dice the avocados. Slice the eggs in half.
Assemble the salad, pouring the veg laced vinaigrette onto the hot romaine hearts. Add the avocado and egg halves. A couple of grinds of pepper and a few coarse salt crystals finished it off.

Serve with a crisp, cold white wine. We served a Spier 2014 Sauvignon Blanc. 


Monday, April 27, 2015

Asparagus and Shiitake

This recipe is (very slightly) adapted from Americas Test Kitchen. The episode was broadcast a week or so ago, and can be found here. Slight modifications included adding some of our "secret ingredient" (aka habanero vodka) for some heat and the habanero floral flavors and poached eggs for added body.. This is a simple (but not necessarily easy) dish. It only takes a few minutes, but you do have to resist the urge to fiddle with it. I don't know how critical the quantities are - I probably had more shiitake than the original recipe called for, but that was fine by me!
The poached eggs are not in the original recipe, but poached egg yolks and asparagus are such a great combination.

Ingredients

14 oz bunch of asparagus (no more than 1/2" diameter) cut into 1 1/2" lengths. Woody bottoms removed
6 oz Shiitake mushrooms sliced into strips the same thickness as the asparagus
1 T Neutral oil
2T Soy sauce
1T finely minced (or grated) raw ginger
2T Dry sherry
1t Habanero vodka
1T Jaggery (indian brown sugar)
1t Toasted sesame oil
2T Water
2 Eggs, poached
2 Scallions (green parts) thinly sliced on the bias for garnish.

Method 

Heat the oil in a 12" non stick saute pan over high heat until almost smoking. (Thin wisps of smoke are OK). Add the asparagus/shiitake in a single layer, turn the heat down to medium and leave to fry while you make the sauce/glaze, and start to poach the eggs.
Whisk together the soy sauce, ginger, sherry habanero vodka, sugar, sesame oil and water in a small bowl. 
When the asparagus.shiitakes have been in the pan for 2 or 3 minutes, turn them over to cook on the other side. The idea is to get a little char on the asparagus. When they are charred all over, add the sauce, stir and cook to evaporate. The steam from the liquids will finish cooking the asparagus.
Pile into bowls and serve with a poached egg on top of each bowl.
Maybe garnish with some scallions (green parts).

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mixology Party

We decided that it would be fun to have a party that was themed around cocktails and food. Often hard to do because the flavors can clash. However after much conspiring with cocktail meister extraordinaire, Chris Dempsey, we came up with a menu and an approach that would work. Next trick was to find victims (I mean guests) who could be forced to try the food and drinks. Yup, we managed that too. So now we had to do it.
Chris has a portable bar, so it made setup really easy.


Photograph Courtesy of Andrea Willis


Photograph Courtesy of Jim Brewer
The cocktails were Caribbean inspired


Photograph Courtesy of Jim Brewer
so the food had to be as well.

This is the escabeche that we served with the Ginger in the Islands cocktail


Photograph Courtesy of Jim Brewer

for which this is the recipe http://seabirdskitchen.blogspot.com/2015/03/escabeche-or-escoveitch.html

The little numbers on the place cards were the initial seating positions. There were 14 people at 2 tables - 1 for 10 people and the "kids table" with 4 more. To make sure that the "kids" weren't left out, we wanted to make sure they were rotated into the grown-ups table. So, each place card had a number on the inside too. At the end of the course, the guests looked at the number on the inside of the card to see their next seat. Then adjourned to the bar where Chris made the next cocktail and talked about it. We scurried in the background clearing plates/making sure glasses were clean, etc. for the new seatings.

The napkins changed colors too - each course had one of the Jamaican flag colors.

The next course was a jerk pork dish - Usain Bolt's Aunt'a recipe no less. Served with red/yellow sweet potatoes and flour/corn dumplings. http://seabirdskitchen.blogspot.com/2015/03/jerk-pork.html

For dessert we made lemon pots au creme - but with a slight twist. We infused some star anise into the dish as well, and served the dish with pernod in small liqueur glasses and a single ice cube to get the cloudiness.


Photograph Courtesy of Andrea Willis

The basic pots au creme recipe is here - http://seabirdskitchen.blogspot.com/2012/09/lemon-pots-au-creme.html . The difference being 5 star anise pieces and rum instead of brandy. The recipe was scaled up to use a US quart of cream.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jerk Pork

This dish is, apparently, Usain Bolt's favorite. It is adapted from Jamie Oliver's recipe which in turn is inspired By Usain Bolt's Aunt Lilly. It is unbelievably rich, but very tasty. I guess that the sprinter requires a lot of calories. By the time you have added dumplings and yams (well in our case sweet potatoes) you have a potentially very high Calorie course. Again this was done for a good sized group of people, so the amounts look huge. Starting with 10lbs Pork Belly. Fortunately we have a good connection (Ali Morgan at rare edibles in Dallas). She was able to source a big piece of Berkshire pork belly for us. So big that I will be using some of it to make bacon.

Ingredients (marinade)

16 green onions (trimmed, but both the white and green parts)
2 heads garlic
3 Habanero peppers
24 stalks of thyme - leaves only
8 fresh bay leaves - no stalks
2 t ground cloves
2 t ground all spice berries
1 t ground nutmeg
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup Jamaican rum
2 T honey

Ingredients (bonus flavor)

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
12 whole allspice berries
1 habanero sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup water
1 t kosher salt

Ingredients (everything else)

10 lbs pork belly. Remove some of the exterior fat, but you do want to make sure that you leave plenty. Do remove the skin if the pork still has skin on.
6 large yellow onions sliced.
12 fresh bay leaves
6 lbs sweet potatoes (mixture of yellow and red) cubed into 3/4" cubes
8 oz AP flour
3 t baking powder
pinch salt
2 oz masa harina (corn flour, usually used for making tortillas)
1 cup water (for the dumplings)
2 oz unsalted butter
oil for frying (unmeasured, but generally shallow)

Method (marinade)

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. If it won't blend, add a little oil. 

Method (pork)

Cut the pork into 1 12" cubes. Cover with 1/2 of the marinade and leave to sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 300F. Oil a saute pan, heat the pan until you just see some wisps of smoke. and start to brown the pork. At these quantities, you will want to work in batches. It is important to get the meat browned. Better to do in 3 or 4 batches than to overcrowd. Place the browned meat into a dutch oven with a tight fitting lid. With the last batch of meat, add the onions to the pan and stir, scraping the brown stuff off the bottom of the pan. Add a little salt at this stage. It helps the onions release some liquid which in turn deglazes the pan somewhat. Pick the meat pieces out and add them to the dutch oven. Continue to sweat the onions until they are soft. Add the rum and cook down. I suggest that you briefly turn the heat off, add the rum, and then turn it back on. You don't want the rum catching fire and spreading. When the rum is almost dry, add the remainder of the marinade. and 2 cups of water. Stir to combine.
Pour these contents over the browned meat in teh dutch oven. Stir well to combine. Cover and place in the oven for 3-4 hours. Check every now and again to make sure it has not dried out. It will release a lot of fat. Depending on your sensitivities, you may want to pour some of the fat off.
Meanwhile make the bonus flavoring by bringing the liquids to a boil, adding the flavorings, simmering for a few minutes and allowing to rest. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. The bonus flavorings are there to boost the flavor of the dish as it nears the end of the cooking time. This was not in the original recipe, but the long cooking time had dulled the flavors a bit, so this boosted it back up. Add the strained bonus flavors at about 30 minutes before serving
Also, about 30 minutes before serving remove the prok from the oven and crank up the heat to 400F, Bring the sweet potatoes to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Drain and dry. Heat the butter and a similar quantity of oil in an oven proof (not nonstick, and make sure the handle isn't plastic) saute pan. Transfer the sweet potatoes to the hot saute pan and place in the hot oven. They will take about 15-20 minutes to brown and cook through.
Make dumplings by combining the flour, masa harina, salt and baking powder together with the cup of water. You will have a sticky dough. Knead a few times, and form into a log about 1" in diameter. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Break off pieces of the dough about the size of a ping pong ball. Roll into a sphere and then flatten the ball into a disk. Boil the disks in the water for 12-15 minutes. They wil initially sink, but then float. I flip them over about 1/2 way through. They become nice and puffy.
Transfer the pork to a warmed dish - bringing as much or as little of the fat as you want. Do make sure you get the thick, tasty onions and other juices, though. Serve with the dumplings in the dish and the sweet potatoes handed separately.


Escabeche or Escoveitch

Or just pickled fish.
This is a large recipe that I haven't scaled back yet. It was a starter course for dinner for 14 people. And yes there were left overs. The fish was red snapper, procured from our local fish-monger - TJs on Oak Lawn in Dallas. I had the fishmonger fillet the fish and remove the skin and pin bones. A major time saver. The dish takes a long time to make - but is not particularly labor intensive. It has to rest, refrigerated at least overnight.

Ingredients

2 cups white wine vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t granulated sugar (I think raw sugar might be more interesting)
1 cup juilenned carrot
1 cup julienned daikon (not traditionally Jamaican, but was a decent substitute for chayote
1 habanero pepper sliced thinly into rings
12 allspice berries
1 large yellow (sweet) onion sliced into thin rings
Neutral oil for frying the fish.  May need to clean the pan between batches
3 1/4 lbs red snapper fillets
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup (more or less) seasoned flour (salt and black pepper seasoning)

Method

Bring the vinegar, water, salt and sugar to the boil. Add the carrot, daikon, habanero, allspice and onion. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes and set aside over very low heat to keep warm.
Rinse the fish fillets in water to which the lime juice has been added. This helps remove some of the fishy flavors. Dry the fish, cut the fish into 3/4" pieces and dredge in the seasoned flour.
Heat the oil in a large skillet until it is shimmering. Shake excess flour off the fish, then fry the pieces until nicely browned and almost cooked through (a couple of minutes/side). If you have to work in batches, at some point the flour from previous batches will start to burn and get nasty. When that happens, pour off the browned flour and oil. Wipe the pan and re-oil/reheat.
Place the cooked fish in the container in which you wish to serve it, and pour the reserved pickled carrot and daikon over it. Make sure that the liquid covers all of the fish and the vegetables are sitting on top. Cover the dish with cling wrap and refrigerate at least overnight or up to 24 hours.
Serve garnished with a sprig or 2 of thyme.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

OTBN 2015

We hosted another "Open That Bottle Night" event on February 28. Same format as usual - we asked our friends to bring a bottle of wine, a story about it and a dish that paired with it. And as usual, the guests stepped up.
The 2015 OTBN Wines


David and Sandra demonstrated the "MollyDooker shake" and shared a delicious bottle of "Carnival of Love 2011" paired with Sandra's Salmon Creole. The wine is 100% Shiraz, hard to find and bottled with nitrogen - so it doesn't age fast. The shake releases the nitrogen and replaces some of it with air, so the wine aerates fairly quickly. Fascinating mixture of flavors - all the usual Shiraz spice, but some warm, almost chocolatey notes. Quite the experience

Stephanie and Fabian told a hilarious story about mislaying a bottle of Sbragia, calling the winery, getting a new bottle and then discovering the original in the car. That was certainly our gain, the 2009 Sbragia Cabernet Sauvignon was outstanding. Paired with stuffed baby bella mushrooms - delicious.

Fred and Sarah brough a 2012 21 Gable Spier pinotage served with lamb sosaties.  Lesson learned - none of us knew that the South African pintoage (except Fred and Sarah of course!) is a cross created from the Cinsaut grape and the Pinot Noir grape in 1925. Cinsaut was known as Hermitage in South Africa - hence the name. Sosaties (or Malay hebabs) are lamb kebabs marinated with curry powder, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, bay leaves, vinegar, milk.... Then skewered with pieces of dried apricot between. Lots of mouth excitement there.

Rebecca regaled us with hilarious stories of her times in Italy - and brought a 2012 Barbera D'Alba from Bruno Giacosa. Paired with dates stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in pancetta and drizzled with truffle oil. Another winner of a pairing.

We made Guacatuna - tuna salad using creamy avocados, sweet chili, green onions, and fresh seared/rare tuna. Served on grilled home made bread, and topped with crunchy sea salt. The recipe is here. Served with the very flinty/minerally 2002 Vina Gravenia from Rioja. The wine had been shown at the TexSom conference in Dallas 5 years ago, and tasted well then. So as our last case dwindles, it seemed appropriate to share it with friends.

Before the serious event got started, we had some NV Cremant de Bourgogne from Val de Mer, and to finish a bottle of the extremely well priced Costieres de Nimes Perrieres  - a Carignan, Grenache, Syrah blend from the very southern Rhone. Some chocolates (M&Ms! and dark chocolate/pomegranate balls) went nicely too.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Devilled eggs - but the technique is important

I saw this video a couple of days ago, so immediately had to find an excuse to try it. It works as advertised (much to Madame's surprise).

Ingredients

4 large eggs
1 T mayonnaise
1t habanero vodka
1t sweet pickle juice
1T tarragon mustard
salt/pepper to taste

Method

Using this approach , cook the eggs for 10 minutes. Immediately plunge into iced water. Use the technique from the video to peel the eggs (and it works flawlessly). Scoop out the cooked yolks, mix with the remaining ingredients and reintroduce to the whites. Serve cold with some grilled bread.

You can, of course, add any flavorings to the egg mixture


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Soba noodle soup

After the success of the cold soba noodle salad, madame thought it would be nice to have a soup with soba noodles in it. I figured that cooking the noodles in the soup would probably make it cloudy, so I did things separately. Using the technique that I learned from Chef McDang - make a flavorful broth quickly and then cook the chicken in it. Similar technique to this. But I didn't have any lemon grass or galangal on hand.
Madame gave this the "We can serve this to people" accolade.

Ingredients


4 oz Soba noodles cooked for 4 1/2 minutes, drained and rinsed
3 cups water
1/4 cup fish sauce
4 kaffir (Thai) lime leaves
1 serrano pepper cut into thin rings (more or less according to desired spiciness)
6 green onions (white and green parts used separately
1 1" piece piece of ginger chopped (no need to peel, it will be strained out)
1 medium carrot cut into 1/4" cubes
3" daikon root peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (yes this really was between the 2 of us) sliced into thin strips
Cilantro leaves to garnish

Method

Place the water, fish sauce, lime leaves, serrano rings, green part of the green onions,
and ginger into a medium saucepot. Bring to a simmer, and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes. Strain and retain the broth.
Bring the broth to a simmer again, and add the carrot and daikon. After 30 seconds, add the sliced chicken and continue to simmer for about 3 minutes (until the chicken is cooked through).
Place some noodles in the bottom of a warmed bowl, and ladle over the chicken, broth, carrots, daikon. Garnish with some cilantro leaves.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Soba noodle salad with clams

We wanted something light for dinner this evening. Having recently had cold soba noodles as a salad at a nice restaurant, I thought it might be nice to try to reprise it. It didn't come out the same, but it was awfully good.
Here's what it looked like

The wine was a Tavel Rose.

Ingredients - Dressing

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 t toasted sesame oil
8 scallions - white and light green, sliced thinly
Juice of the core of 1 Cara Cara orange
1 t finely minced ginger
3T Rice wine vinegar
1t dry sherry
1T granulated sugar (to taste)

Method - Dressing

combine all the ingredients, taking care to keep the scallions whole. Set the dressing aside.

Ingredients - Salad

Supremed segments of a Cara Cara orange. 
4 oz soba noodles
1 carrot shaved into strips using the vegetable peeler
4T roasted peanuts
12 clams steamed open
Some lettuce leaves

Method - Salad

Cook the soba noodles in boiling, salted water for 4 1/2 minutes. Drain, rinse and allow to cool. In a non reactive bowl, combine the noodles, carrots, peanuts and the dressing.
Steam the clams until thy just open and lay them on top of the salad. They should remain slightly warm.
Serve in small bowls.




Saturday, January 31, 2015

Baked Patagonian Toothfish

The perennial problem with dinner parties is in trying to find dishes that can be prepared "a la minute" and still being around for guests. So in preparation for an upcoming dinner, I thought it would be fun to do a baked fish dish - perhaps with some strongish tapenade flavors. I was planning to use cod, but my fishmonger didn't have any true cod, so I used Chilean Sea Bass (aka Patagonian toothfish). You want a thick, firm white fish that can stand the heat of the oven.
Today's was practice. So the ingredients are probably a bit off. Also I cooked about 1 1/2 lbs of fish for 2 of us for a Saturday lunch. Clearly too much.

Ingredients (Tapenade)

1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1T capers, rinsed
1 clove garlic chopped
1 medium shallot chopped
1t habanero vodka (I make this by steeping dried habaneros in vodka)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil. 
A small handful of parsley leaves
2 anchovy fillets
A few grinds of black pepper

Method

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend until combined. There will be a few small olive chunks - you don't want a paste.

Ingredients (Fish)

2 Roma tomatoes sliced very thingy longwise.
1/2 medium yellow onion sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lb firm, thick white fish. I did this in a single piece, but for the party we will do individual pieces
3T olive oil
1/2 quantity of tapenade
pepper to taste

Method

Combine the tomatoes, onions, garlic, 1t of the oil in a mixing bowl. Leave to stand. Pat the fish dry. Oil the fish. Lightly oil a baking dish (I used a low sided enameled casserole dish).  Place the fish into the baking dish skin side down. Make a few (depending on the way you have portioned the fish) deep slits in the top surface of the fish. Spread the tapenade directly onto the fish, rubbing it into the slits. Shingle the tomatoes on top of the fish. Top with the onion/oil/garlic mixture.
Bake in a 450F oven for 20 minutes, leave to rest at least 10 more.

Note, of course the temperature of your oven, the type of dish and the thickness of the fish will factor into the timing. So watch the fish after 10 minutes.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Chicken in Milk with butternut squash

I won't post the recipe here - but here's the link. It isn't a Chris original, I pinched it from Jamie Oliver - he deserves all the credit.

However there are a couple of caveats:


  • Do make sure that you use whole milk. 
  • The amount called for is an Imperial pint - i.e. 2 1/2 US cups
  • The garlic is a bit more harsh than I was expecting.
  • It is probably a good idea to squeeze the garlic out from its peel. The recipe calls for unpeeled. I cooked it that way, but then found that the skin was annoying. Squeeze the garlic out on to the chicken
  • Do make sure that the chicken is a snug fit. You want the milk to come above half way up the chicken
I served it with some butternut squash - done in a way I had never tried before (and yes this is mine!)

Ingredients

1 butternut squash - thin end cut peeled and cut into 1/4" medallions, the bulb end peeled, seeded and cut into wedges.
Light coating of oil for cast iron griddle
Salt/pepper to taste
Small pat of butter to coat the squash after fruing

Method

Microwave the medallions for 15 minutes on 50% power - essentially cooking them through. Do the same with the wedges but for a shorter time - about 10 minutes.
Heat the griddle on medium high heat until a drop of water dances and steams. Lightly coat with oil (I used grapeseed) - don't bother with extra virgin olive oil, it is too expensive and any flavor compunds are lost at this temperature anyway.
Fry the medallions and wedges until well browned on each side (about 5 min/side). Season, toss with butter and serve.
I used these as a base to serve the chicken on. Quick, easy, delicious. Ticks all of the boxes.

 


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Butter

During the evening of the first of the big (fortunately not everything in Texas is bigger) earthquakes in the Dallas area, we were having dinner with some friends at FT33. Matt McAllister dropped by the table and asked how we liked the butter. It was very good, very much in the European cultured style. He mentioned that it was made in house. Of course that conversation provided the inspiration to go off and make some. Madame was away for a bit, so that seemed like the ideal time. I wanted to make sure that I had time to find a cleaning crew if it went badly. I cultured the cream using some store bought creme fraiche, but didn't culture it for long enough. The 1 quart of cream, 4 oz. of creme fraiche yielded 21 oz of butter.

Ingredients

1 Quart (US quart - 32 oz, 4 cups....) heavy whipping cream
4 oz creme fraiche
3/4 t kosher salt

Method

Stir together the cream and creme fraiche. Leave in a warm place for 24 - 36 hours until the desired level of tanginess is reached. Note, I was too impatient, and the place wasn't warm enough.
Refrigerate the cream mixture until ready to make the butter.
Chill the bowl of a stand mixer. 
Pour the cream into the mixer bowl, and beat with the regular mixing paddle (not the whisk) on a medium slow speed. The cream will go through stages. After a few minutes it will have increased in volume and then thickened to the texture of whipped cream. That took about 1/2 the time - about 10 minutes. (Note that whisking cream for whipping is a much faster process). The cream volume then decreases and the cream becomes the texture of icing. All of a sudden, the cream separates into a thick fatty substance (proto-butter) and a milky liquid (traditional buttermilk). At that point the mixture sloshes about in the bowl. The buttermilk has a tendency to want to jump out of the bowl. The solids + paddle + buttermilk give much opportunity for mess making.
When the butter has reached that stage, transfer it to a fine mesh strainer, lined with 4 layers of cheesecloth. Allow the buttermilk to drain. Squeeze the solids to force more liquid out.
Rinse the solids with a lot of water (while in the cheesecloth, but don't dilute the buttermilk). Turn the butter onto a cold counter, knead it a bit by hand (it didn't show signs of melting). Flatten it, ad the salt and then knead for longer to incorporate the salt.
Form a log in parchment paper, place the log inside a plastic sealable bag and refrigerate.  

I drank the buttermilk immediately. It was fantastic. Not that acidic, slightly off flavor and disgusting texture of the stuff in a green carton.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Salt Baked Potatoes

We were at a an event where appetizers were passed around. One of the finger food dishes was baby baked potatoes split and topped with sour cream and chives. Perfect one bite non-messy finger food. They tasted so good, that we just had to them at home. These potatoes are small waxy potatoes - not the kind one usually bakes. So, what to do?
The answer - bake them in a bed of salt. The salt has several effects. It keeps the potatoes off the base of the cooking vessel so that the bottoms don't burn in the high heat of the oven; it seasons the potatoes; it provides some insulation when serving them so they don't cool off too quickly. Also they look quite pretty.


The picture is a "before" picture. We were too busy devouring them to take an "after" picture. We served them with grilled lamb chops, stir fried cabbage, mint sauce and lashings of butter.

Ingredients

Several evenly sized small red/white waxy potatoes (3/4" to 1" diameter)
Enough kosher salt to cover the base of your cooking vessel to the depth of about 1/2 inch

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 425F
Wash the potatoes and pat dry. They don't need to be bone dry. The salt will take care of that
Place the salt evenly in the bottom of a casserole dish. Try and avoid bare metal because salt can be corrosive. I used a Le Creuset casserole dish.
Place the potatoes into the salt bed, pushing down slightly so each potato is abut 1/3 covered. Place the larger potatoes near the edge of the dish and the smaller ones near the center. The edge gets hotter quicker, so they turn out cooked at about the same time.
Put the dish onto the center rack of the oven and cook for about 20 minutes. Turn the heat down to 300 and cook for another 15 - 30 minutes. The time range is there to give you a bit of a margin of safety. They are done before 30 minutes, but they will hold their heat nicely - if for example you forgot to heat the grill for the lamb chops. But that is another story

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mushroom soup

This month's issue of Fine Cooking had a terrific looking recipe for mushroom soup. However I didn't completely remember the ingredients when I went shopping. No matter, what came out was another "We can serve this to people" accolade from Madame.
What did I do wrong? I was convinced that the recipe said to use dashi - that stock used in Japanese cooking, made from kombu (kelp) and dried bonito flakes. After all, there would be lots of umami resulting from this. I thought it would be interesting to make my own dashi, so I followed Alton Brown's recipe for that.
The recipe actually called for chicken stock. Never mind! I also used more mushrooms than the recipe called for. I did follow the technique carefully - because it seemed unusual to me. I am glad that I did because the result was outstanding.

Ingredients

4t unsalted butter (divided use)
1T olive oil
1t whole cumin seeds
1/2 lb white mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
6oz oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Negro Modelo beer (or other dark/brown beer)
3 large leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced into thin rounds
2 cloves garlic, minced. 
2 cups dashi + 2 cups water warmed to a low simmer
2 t habanero vodka or other hot sauce
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt/pepper to taste
Torn cilantro leaves as garnish
1/2 t sherry vinegar per serving

Method - and this is where Fine Cooking really shone

Melt 2 t of the butter + the oil in a 6qt pot on low/medium heat. I used the trusty Le Creuset for this and it worked well. When the butter is melted, add the cumin and cook until they brown a little. They should start to become fragrant and nutty. Take care not to burn the butter. 
Add all the mushrooms, turning the meat up to medium high. Cook the mushrooms until they become quite dry. The recipe said 8 - 10 minutes. Mine was more like 12 minutes.
Add the beer and continue to cook until dry.
Add the remaining butter and the leeks, cooking the leaks until soft. when the leeks are soft, add the garlic and cook a while longer - until the garlic is fragrant.
Turn the heat off and add the dashi and hot sauce. Stir and blend (taking care to put a kitchen towel over the blender goblet)  in batches until silky smooth and thick. Return the blended mixture to the original (but now cleaned) pot. Stir in the cream. Over low heat, bring the mixture up to a slow simmer. Adjust the seasoning.
Serve in warmed soup bowls with some drops of sherry vinegar and a few cilantro leaves on top.



Chickpeas and pepitas - a really simple salad

I had read somewhere that a salad made with chickpeas and pepitas would be pretty good. The pepitas give some much needed crunch. But there is always the question of what else to add. So for this salad, some onion, red pepper, pomegranate, Meyer lemon juice and olive oil were the additions. A little habanero vodka for some extra character and it was a thing of beauty. It was a "We could serve this to people" kind of dish.

Ingredients

1/2 a small onion - diced into pieces about the same size as the pomegranate arils
1 pomegranate  - arils only, left intact
1/2 red pepper - diced into pieces about the size of the arils
1 tsp habanero vodka (or other hot sauce)
Juice of one Meyer lemon
2 small cans chick peas/garbanzo beans drained, rinsed and strained
a small handful of parsley leaves roughly chopped
1/2 cup pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds)
High quality Olive oil to taste (maybe about 1/4 cup)
A few grinds of black pepper
Salt to taste
Large crystal sea salt for added crunch
A few lettuce leaves torn into large pieces.

Method

Combine onion, arils, red pepper, habanero vodka, lemon juice, chick peas, parsley in a bowl. Mix well. Add the pepitas, mix well. Add the olive oil - the chick peas should look glossy. Adjust the seasoning. 
Serve on some lettuce leaves. Add a few large sea salt crystals to taste

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kitchen Trick - Woody Herbs

How much of a pain is it to get the leaves off tarragon, rosemary, etc. In my world it is a huge PITA. So I cast around thinking about how to do it. I came up with this when making tarragon mustrd this morning.

I wanted something like the pile on the right while starting with the things on the left


Step 1 - remove the leafy top bits. The stems there won't hurt.
Step 2 Poke the woody bit from the top through a hole in a colander.
 Step 3 Pull the stem through from the outside of the colander leaving the leaves in the colander
The leaves stay in the bowl, and the woody stem comes out cleanly.

Kitchen Trick - Marking Bowls

Do you ever need to know the weight of what you put into the bowl before zeroing the scale? Yeah, I know it shouldn't happen, but I have been caught out a couple of times. My simple cure? I write the weight of the bowl on the bottom using a sharpie. Then if I need the weight of the contents, no need to dirty another bowl - just subtract the weight of the bowl from the total weight.
Of course, being better organized would help too!



Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fresh Bread Every Day

I am lucky enough to have had some  baking teachers. Some of them know who they are, but many don't. In this post I want to acknowledge the people who have really helped my bread making journey. I will probably forget some, but here goes.

My late Aunt Jill used to make all the bread that her family ate. It was whole wheat, sturdy and delicious. She made me realize that it was possible.

Mark Bittman in the NYT for publishing the no-knead bread approach

Daniel Leader for his amazing book called LocalBreads - it really started the ball rolling with the wonderful variety of artisinal European breads. Opened my eyes to what happens when ratios are varied. Introduced me to the world of baker's percentages.

Peter Reinhard on this craftsy course  introducing me to the stretch and fold method of dough making. Suddenly I was able to handle much larger amounts of dough.

Mike Avery at sourdoughhome  for explaining to me why my sourdough starter was leaving me with flat limp dough. And thus helping me make fantastic sourdough.

Clint Cooper of The Village Baking Co. in Dallas for answering my newbie questions so patiently

Ciril Hitz in this video for demonstrating how to shape loaves.

Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day  (twitter @artisanbreadin5) for the method that ensures I have fresh bread every day.

All in all a very helpful crew! Now I make dough once per week and have fresh bread every day. And it is very good.

The daily bread is mostly small (because I don't have a huge oven) baguettes that I take to work with either cheese, soup (or both!). We also bake a couple of normal (1 1/2lb) sized loaves for toast, etc. Left overs become croutons and breadcrumbs.

Yes I do weigh everything. Yes it is metric. But the ratios are easy.  The Imperial weights are not directly equivalent. I rounded the flour to a convenient amount and scaled everything else accordingly.

 Ingredients

2 Kg  Bread flour (1 use King Arthur)                    5lbs = 1 bag
1.36 Kg room temperature filtered water                6 3/4 cups
14 Gm Rapid rise yeast                                            1/2 oz
44 gm salt                                                                1 1/2 oz (maybe a little more)
a little vegetable oil to prevent sticking

Method

In a large bowl mix the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and mix thoroughly. Cover and leave to stand for 20 or so minutes to hydrate the flour.
Lightly oil your work surface, turn the dough out onto it and lightly oil the dough. Stretch the dough by anchoring one end to the counter and pushing the dough away from you with the other until about doubled in length. Fold the dough back on itself, rotate half turn and stretch again. Stretch and fold four times. Cover the dough again and allow to rest. 
Stretch and fold following the preceding procedure twice more at 25 (give or take) minute intervals. By now the dough should be smooth and stretchy.
Put the dough into a container that has room for it to double in volume. Leave the dough at room temp until it has doubled.
Take the dough out of the container onto your work surface (do not flour). Stretch and fold once more, form a ball, replace the dough into the container and refrigerate.
When baking you want to have a pizza stone on the upper middle rack and a pan for water on the rack below it. You will use about 1 cup water in the pan.

My morning ritual for making bread for lunch goes something like this:
  1. Turn on oven to 425F
  2. Put water on for tea/coffee
  3. Retrieve dough from fridge and tear off some 175 gm (6 oz) pieces. Roll gently on a floured board and allow to relax
  4. Replace Container in fridge
  5. Make tea/coffee
  6. Form the dough into mini baguettes
  7. Drink tea/coffee
  8. Place dough in couches to rest and rise a bit
  9. Shower
  10. Transfer shaped dough to floured peel
  11. Slit the dough using a razor blade making three lengthways cuts
  12. Place water into the hot pan that is on the lower rack (creates steam in the oven for a better crust), taking care not to scald yourself.
  13. Transfer loaves to oven and bake for 24 minutes
  14. Dress
  15. Pull loaves from oven and place in brown bags for lunch
Start to finish time - about an hour!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Oysters Bienville

We have some friends who throw a wonderful Mardi Gras party (well it is really more like Dimanche Gras), so we have an excuse to cook a little cajun. This year, we had a quick consultation with Jon Alexis of TJ's seafood in Dallas, and he made sure we had a couple of dozen gulf oysters shucked and ready for us. Antoine's restaurant in New Orleans provided the basic recipe (after all they invented the dish, I think). The whole prep really only took about 35 minutes, then a cooking time of 18. Easy and impressive - oh and tasted fantastic too.

Ingredients (sauce for 24 oysters on the 1/2 shell)

3T butter
1 Green pepper chopped into 1/4" cubes
10 green onions, diced
2 cloves garlic (mashed to a paste)
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup bechamel sauce
1/2 cup  breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
6 sprigs parsley, leaves only, minced
a few drops of hot sauce (to taste) - I used habanero vodka
24 oysters on the half shell
salt/pepper to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 400F. Prepare two foil pans (8x13 or so) by filling 1/2 way with rock salt (ice cream salt). Melt the butter and add the green pepper, onions, garlic and sweat until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the wine, bring to the boil and cook out some of the alcohol to reduce the boozy flavor. Stir in the bechamel, pimientos, breadcrumbs, cheese and bring to a low boil. Cook for about 20 minutes until thickened. Check seasoning adding hot sauce, salt, pepper to taste. When cooked stir in the parsley.
Meanwhile nestle the oysters into the rock salt in the pans. Place about 2 tsp of the sauce onto each oyster, taking care not to get the rock salt onto the oyster or into the sauce.

 

Bake the pans in the oven for around 13 minutes - until the sauce is hot, and the oysters are cooked. Better not to overcook, but do be safe.
Serve in the cooking pans.




Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vegetable casserole (again)

With my new dietary requirements, vegetables playe a much larger part than even before. So we have taken to making a lot of vegetarian dishes. This one is a very pretty casserole with sweet potatoes, leeks, mushrooms, cauliflower, and tomatoes. The trouble with these kinds of casseroles is that the vegetation all cooks at different rates and releases liquids unpredictably. Soggy, tasteless liquid in the bottom of a casserole full of improperly cooked piece parts. Yuk. So this was our attempt to fix that. It got the, "we can serve this to people" accolade, so it must have worked! The saucy flavoring was made from a bechamel - a bit thicker than normal, but plenty tasty. And of course there was cheese - after all cauliflower and cheese are a great combo.

Ingredients - Vegetables

4T vegetable oil
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed - 1/2" cubes
3 leeks (white and light green, rinsed and shopped fine)
6 large carrots, scrubbed and sliced into 1/2" pieces
1 head of cauliflower
12 cherry tomatoes
1oz unsalted butter
8 oz mushrooms, roughly chopped and microwaved to extract liquid
1 Recipe cheese sauce (below)
6 T breadcrumbs
salt/pepper - to taste

Method - Vegetables

Pre-heat the milk/onion/cove misxture as described in the cheese sauce.
Pre-heat oven to 350F. Oil a large casserole dish, stir in the sweet potatoes and carrots. Place in the casserole dish in the oven. After about 10 minutes add the leeks and toss together to coat. Leave to cook/dry in the oven for about 35 minutes. 
After 35 minutes, slice the cauliflower (florets only), and toss lightly in oil. Nest the tomatoes in among the vegetables, turn up the oven temperature to 425, sprinkle salt/pepper onto the vegetables. Replace the casserole into the oven. Chop the mushrooms roughly, and put in a microwave safe bow with the butter. Microwave on high for 4-5 minutes. Spoon out the mushrooms (leaving any liquid behind) into the casserole and return to the oven. Start making the cheese sauce (based on a bechamel sauce). As soon as the cheese sauce is made, pour over the vegetables, spread out the sauce, top with breadcrumbs and return to the hot oven for 25-30 minutes.
Remove from the oven when the breadcrumbs are brown and crunchy. Allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving - perhaps with crusty bread....




Ingredients - Cheese Sauce

1 Medium onion, peeled and left whole
24 cloves
1 US Quart whole milk
2oz unsalted butter
3oz All purpose flour
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
12 oz grated cheddar cheese

Method - Cheese sauce
Put milk, onion in a saucepan and heat slowly until bubbles form on the surface. Turn heat off, cover and leave to steep for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, melt the butter over medium heat, and when foaming has stopped, add the flour and cook, stirring vigorously for 3 minutes to cook out the floury taste and make a blonde roux. Do not let the butter flour mixture brown.
Strain the hot milk mixture into the roux while whisking constantly to ensure no lumps. Discard the onion from the strainer. Add the nutmeg.
Bring the roux/milk mixture slowly to the boil allowing it to thicken. Boil gently for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Off heat, add the grated cheese and stir in thoroughly.

A sort of screwdriver


Photo: This evening's cocktail. A kind of screwdriver. Blood orange, Meyer lemon, few drops of habanero vodka, a little ginger syrup and absolute citron....





I am allowed to drink alcohol again. We had a modest celebration yesterday with a cocktail. In the house we had some blood oranges, Meyer lemons and the usual array of pantry staples. So, to create an interesting cocktail. Madame is quite the cocktail lover (her favorite of course being, "The Last Word'), but I digress.

Ingredients

4 oz Absolut Citron
Juice of 2 blood oranges
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1t habanero vodka
1T Ginger syrup (see this recipe here)

Method

Put plenty of ice into a cocktail shaker. Add the remaining ingredients and shake well until chilled (30 or so shakes). Pour into martini glasses and enjoy. You can garnish with a lemon twist if so desired.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Superbowl Nachos

This is a recipe that is more assembly than cooking. We were invited to a super bowl party and needed something appetizer like and suitable for the occasion. I had made these before (or some variant of them), so was able to recreate fairly easily. The nice thing is that there are some parts you can simply buy, and then just cook the bits that make a difference.

Ingredients

8 oz skirt steak
2T vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion - diced
1 can refried beans
1/2 cup finely grated Mexican cheese mix
3 pickled jalapenos, sliced thinly (I used Goya brand).
35 Tostito "scoops"

Method

24 hours ahead of time, rub the steak with the spice rub, wrap tightly with cling wrap and refrigerate. An hour before cooking, bring the steak out of the refrigerator, unwrap it, and rewrap into paper towels to dry out.
Saute the onions over just until the edges begin to brown. Remove the onions to a small bowl. Turn the heat up a bit, and add the skirt steak - making certain that the surface was dry.

Cook the meat for about 4 minutes each side - testing doneness as you go. It wants to be cooked to medium.
Once the meat is cooked, take off the heat and allow to rest. Meanwhile start assembling the nachos.
Into each scoop, place 2 pieces of onion, 1/2 tsp of refried beans. 
When the meat has rested, cut it into 1/4" cubes. Place 2 cubes on top of the refried beans in each scoop. Ad a few strands of grated Mexican cheese. Top with a thinly sliced jalapeno round.



Bake in a 350F oven for 8 minutes - or until the cheese is properly melted.

Serve with drained salsa, sour cream and avocados on the side.