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.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Clams are so versatile

Saturday was a chapter of accidents - I missed a hair appointment, so had to go later. That messed up dinner plans. The French beat the English at Rugby, so I have to have a jeering barrage of French co-workers on Monday. So dinner went from being a nice leisurely affair to an, "How can I do something quick and delicious?" - and something warm because of the weather, fish/seafood based because Madame wanted it...
So the old standby of clams came to the rescue. A trip to my fantastic local fish monger (TJ's on Oak Lawn in Dallas), some minor arm twisting from Jon Alexis there (razor clams and littlenecks), some discussion about fennel and I was off to the races. Jon told me that the razor clams cook quicker than the littlenecks, and to put them in a bit after the littlenecks. I figured that 90 seconds would do the trick - and so it did. Fresh pasta (bought,  this time),  green beans, fennel, shallots tomatoes, white wine..... Oh my. And yes it did get the "We can serve this to people" accolade from Madame.

Ingredients - for the clams

1T vegetable oil
2 shallots, minced fine
1 fennel bulb halved and sliced very thinly (mandoline helps here)   
1 - 1 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a South African Chenin Blanc called Secateur, procured from Veritas)
1 star anise
1/2 dried cayenne pepper, chopped into flakes (more or less to taste)
6 red cherry tomatoes - halved
6 yellow cherry tomatoes - halved
12 littleneck clams
4 razor clams
salt/pepper to taste

Method 

Heat the oil until just shimmering in a large saute pan(choose a pan that has straight sides and a well fitting lid if possible.) Add the shallots and fennel, cook gently until translucent. Add the white wine, dried cayenne, and star anise and simmer uncovered until some of the alcohol has boiled off. There will always be some left. Add the halved tomatoes, cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes (until the fennel is tender). Remove the star anise.
Add the littleneck clams and cover. Cook for 90 seconds, then add the razor clams. Cook until all clams are open.
Serve with fresh linguine - cooked al dente, and green beans. Garnish with fennel fronds.

Ingredients - green beans

24 green beans cut into 2" pieces.
1T unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
salt/pepper to taste

Method

Heat the butter over medium heat until it stops foaming. Add the beans, toss to coat. Continue to cook until the butter just starts to turn brown. Stop the butter from burning by adding the water and immediately cover the pot and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Uncover and allow the steam to dissipate. Serve immediately.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Kombucha "Ginger Beer"

Ginger beer has been one of my favorite drinks for as long as I can remember. It requires this mysterious "plant" that you feed with ginger and sugar - somehow it magically transforms these simple ingredients into a delicious drink. Since I started making kombucha, I figured that the SCOBY looked a bit like I imagined a ginger beer plant to look. I say imagined because I never actually got one to work.
My thought was, make the kombucha, draw some off, mix with ginger syrup, bottle with 2 cloves per bottle and age for a week to get the secondary fermentation going.
I tried it and it was outstanding. Now the only flavor I make.

Ingredients

1 gallon of kombucha made as in linked recipe
2 pints ginger simple syrup
10 cloves

Method

Mix the kombucha with the ginger syrup. To each of 10 Grolsch style beer bottles add 2 cloves. Top up the bottles with the kombucha/ginger mixture. Seal the bottles, and leave to ferment for at least a week.
To serve, pour the mixture into a large glass. You may want to strain out the cloves. 





Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bitter orange marmalade

Marmalade is a staple of English breakfasts. We Brits prefer it to be made with  bitter (Seville) oranges. These are only in season in the Northern hemisphere for a few weeks in January. So you have to strike quickly and make a lot if you want to have enough for the year - and for the inevitable gifts when people discover what you are making.
There is a kind of master recipe for this - identifying basic technique, quantities of ingredients, cooking time, doneness, etc. But you can get some interesting variations by changing the kind of sugar you use and the kinds of lemons.
This year, I made 2 batches - totaling about 20lbs. The first batch I used all granulated white sugar. For the second batch I used jaggery (Indian raw can sugar)  for some of the granulated sugar. The photographs in this posting come from the jaggery-based version. The amounts are all metric.

Ingredients

1.2 Kg whole Seville oranges
300 gm whole lemon (I used 2 Meyer lemons)
3 Liters water
2.2 Kg sugar (When I used the jaggery, I used 1.9Kg granulated and 300 gm jaggery)

Method

Wash the Seville oranges and Meyer lemons. Cut each in half around the equator. Place some cheesecloth over a strainer and rest the strainer over a non-reactive bowl. You will be collecting the orange pips (seeds) in the cheesecloth. These pips contain a lot of pectin - necessary for getting the marmalade to set.
Using a reamer, juice the oranges and lemons into the cheesecloth, catching all the pips.

 Seville oranges have a lot of pips! Don't tie off the cheesecloth until after you have cut up the oranges into strips.
In another bowl, weigh out the sugar. In the picture below, you can see some larger pieces of jaggery
 Cut each orange (and lemon) half into quarters. Then slice the quarters into thin strips. As a reference, I get 12 - 16 strips out of each quarter. Don't worry too much about pith, bits of orangle flesh. However if you do discover some extra pips, add them to the cheesecloth
 When you have chopped up all of the oranges and lemons, tie up the cheesecloth containing the pips, so that none of the pips can escape.
 Add the sliced oranges and lemons, the water and the pips pouch to a large pan. Tie the pouch's string to the side handle if any to stop it from falling into the pot.


Gently the simmer the pot for about 90 minutes - until the orange peel is completely soft. Remove the pouch, and allow it to cool.
Meanwhile, add the sugars to the pot and stir until completely dissolved. This is very important. Your marmalade may prematurely crystallize if you do not do this.
After it has cooled sufficiently, queeze the pouch containing the pips into a bowl. There should be plenty of thick, pale orange liquid. This is the pectin and is necessary for the marmalade to set.
Add the pectin to the pot containing the oranges and dissolved sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring frequently. Once the mixture is at the boil, boil for at least 15 minutes. Ideally you want the liquid temperature to rise to 224 degrees (F). Once you are happy with the texture of the marmalade, you can place it into jam jars. However, wait a few minutes after turning the heat off, otherwise the peel will float to the top after the marmalade has been jarred.
Use whatever normal method you employ for sterilizing, heating and sealing jars. If using Ball jars, headroom should be between 1/4 and 1/2"
Allow to cool, and store in a dark place until ready to use. This marmalade will "keep" well for at least a year.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Home Made Beef Pho

I have been wanting to make that terrific Vietnamese noodle soup - pho for a long time. The key seems to be getting the broth right. So, I was pleasantly surprised when my issue of Cooks Illustrated (from Americas Test Kitchen) came in and it had a pho approach. As you can imagine, this wasn't a recipe to be followed slavishly, but a set of ideas that I could adopt. The big aha was to use a bunch of ground beef as a stock base. Something that the ATK folks have previously suggested and I have tried before. The simple idea is that you grind up some beef chuck, cover with water and bring to the boil. Throw away the water at this stage, rinse the ground beef, then add store-bought beef stock and other flavorings. The stock comes up well flavored and quite clear. An ideal base for pho.

Ingredients

8 cups beef stock
6 cups water
1 1/2 lb ground beef (I used chuck which I ground myself)
2 medium yellow onions peeled and quartered - divided use
5" ginger piece sliced thinly - no need to peel
6 star anise pods
10 whole cloves
4" stick of cinnamon
12 black peppercorns
1 Kaffir Lime leaf
1/2 cup fish sauce (divided use)
2t salt 
2T plain sugar
1 lb thin rice noodles, soaked in hot water and then quickly boiled
1 bunch cilantro
3 scallions, green parts only, cut on the bias
12 oz rib eye meat, very thinly sliced - easier done if frozen a bit before. 
1 jalapeno pepper sliced thinly, maintaining seeds and ribs
5 oz bean sprouts
a little more fish sauce
1 bunch Thai (or in a pinch regular) basil
2 or 3 T srirarcha 
Lime wedges from 2 limes

Method

Place the ground beef into a large dutch oven and barely cover with water. Bring to the boil over high heat, turn heat down and simmer for a further 2-3 minutes. Strain off and discard the water (and associated scum). Rinse the beef, clean the dutch oven and return the ground beef to the dutch oven. Add the onion, aromatics, fish sauce, salt and sugar to the pot, followed by the beef stock and water. Stir to combine as well as possible. Bring to the boil and then simmer for at least 45 minutes.
Strain the beef and other solids reserving the liquid. Discard the solids. Strain the broth again, this time through cheese cloth until clear.
Soften the noodles in warm water for about 10-15 minutes, then boil them for 1 minute.
Layer the noodles, some thinly sliced onion (from the remaining quarter), the scallion tops, cilantro and beef into preheated soup bowls. Fill the bowls with steaming hot broth
Serve accompanied by sliced jalapenos, basil, srirarcha, fish sauce and lime wedges.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Kombucha Files

David Gilbert introduced me to kombucha a while back. It took me a while to get comfortable with the idea - and importantly to introduce it to Madame. It is a somewhat bizarre drink made from fermented black or green tea. It uses a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) to do its thing.
Now SCOBYs look gross.


and they work on sweetened tea. How appetizing sounding - and they produce this slightly fizzy, somewhat sharp tasting drink that is the color of weak iced tea. So far not a single redeeming feature. I needed to work on my sales skills apparently.
So I bought some commercial kombucha, invited madame to try it. To my delight she liked it. Then I sprang the kicker - its price. In the store it is at least $2.50 and usually more for a 12oz bottle. So we clearly weren't going to be drinking a lot of it. That's more than I pay for a halfway decent beer.
 I set up a clandestine meeting with "Jennifer" and offered to buy a SCOBY from her in return for lunch. She acquiesced, and the deal went down in a North Dallas Thai restaurant. I was so excited by the deal that I forgot to pick up my credit card, so had to return the next day to retrieve it. But that is another story.
I   was now the proud owner of a beautiful SCOBY. I snuck it home under cover of darkness, plied Madame with Champagne and broke the news. "We have another pet...." Even the Champagne didn't calm the situation as much as it might have done. So, anyhow I got the process underway before leaving town the next day for a weekend in San Antonio.

The Basics

To make the basic kombucha itself, I used a 2 gallon glass drink container with a spigot at the bottom. This was to be fermented for 10 days or so - until all traces of actual tea taste were gone. I cleaned out the container and then rinsed with white vinegar. I made 2 gallons of black tea, sweetened with 1 1/2 cups plain white sugar. Cooled the mixture to about 75F and pured it into the drink vessel. Added the SCOBY and covered with a sheet of parchment paper that I had perforated with about a dozen holes using a wooden skewer.
The SCOBY sat there looking for all the world like a jellyfish. Although to my surprise it moved around a bit. It started all curled up, but then unfurled itself and floated.
I left town the next day, as planned. The pet just sat there all weekend - in the kitchen doing its thing.
After examining it daily for 10 days, I noticed a slight cloudiness and a definite lightning of color. I figured something was happening. I drew off a teaspoon of the liquid, and to my surprise it actually tasted like kombucha! Definitely onto something here. But that was just the beginning.
I was planning to use a continuous process - make a couple of gallons initially, then draw off a gallon or so and replenish the jar with some new sweet tea. Initially though, I just drew off 3 US pints to experiment with. After that I went to the continuous process and it is working very well. Every three or so days I am getting a gallon of kombucha. So the next question - how to flavor it?
Most of the kombuchas that I have had are flavored somehow. Some fruity, some just sharp and sour. So time to become an alchemist. Turning a thin, sharp, brown liquid to a delectable drink.

First Batch

Ingredients

3 US pints of kombucha (above) 
1/2 Cup frozen blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
2" piece of fresh ginger - grated
3T tamarind
6 pieces of candied ginger diced finely
1 cup water

Method

Into a small pan put all ingredients except the kombucha. Bring to a simmer - and allow to reduce. Strain the flavorings into 3 1 pint plastic bottles - divided evenly. Add the kombucha, seal the bottles. Leave to ferment for a second time - around 3 days. It tasted really good!

Second Batch

For the second batch, I figured that it was time to experiment. So I made some banana/lime, tamarind/kaffir lime/ginger, ginger beer, tangerine juice/clove and hot chili.

The basic method is the same for each. I used 2t sugar for each pint made. To get the tamarind to behave, you need to break off a chunk of the paste and boil in water. Strain out the solids. 
The banana/lime was simply 1 mashed banana and the juice of 1 key lime divided between 2 12 oz bottles.
The ginger beer was 4t powdered ginger into a 1 pint bottle.
The chili was a single cayenne (with required sugar) into a 12oz bottle
The tangerine/clove juice was the juice of 2 tangerines (with required sugar) and 1 clove into a 12oz bottle

These flavors are all good. Of course very different from each other. The banana was interesting - it was a litte sweeter than the others, but with a very pronounced banana flavor.

I will keep experimenting and playing with flavors - since it looks like we will have a galon or so every 3-4 days!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Seasoning meat

This is really just a technique post. It has always bothered me that we season (and occasionally spice) the meat that we are going to put in a braise. Most recipes read, "pat the meat dry, season with salt and pepper, rub with oil and brown on all sides..."
This can lead to bunt pepper and other burnt flavors (eg if using cayenne, paprika, garlic powder, etc.).
So I got to thinking - What would happen if I didn't season the meat before browning (heresy!) Instead, I prepared the seasining and spicing mix in a separate bowl (making sure there is enough kosher or sea salt). Dry the meat thoroughly, coat with oil as before and then brown thoroughly at a good high temperature to get maximal browning.
Once the meat is browned, toss it into the seasonings bowl and make sure the seasonings coat the meat. As the meat cools, the seasonings dissolve into the surface and then penetrate to a decent depth.
Of course if the spices you are planning to use need to be bloomed before use, I bloom them prior to putting the meat into the pan. Then when the spices are bloomed, I add them to the seasoning bowl.
Once the meat is removed from the pan, then I use the same pan to cook the aromatics. The liquid released, especially from onions effectively deglazes the pan. The aromatics are then combined with the seasoned/spiced meat before moving on to the stewing or braising step.
What about the results? The meat browned more thoroughly because there was no opportunity for the salt to draw out more liquid. The flavors were deep. So all in all a success.
This is now my go to method of seasoning meats for stews and braises.