Monday, December 28, 2009

Boxing Day

On those years when Madame and I are in the country over Christmas and December 26th is a weekend, we have a Boxing Day (day after Christmas, feast of Stephen) party. This year was no exception. Our typical approach is to ask the people who come to bring food items for our local Church's food pantry. Those who came (about 75 people in all) did the church proud. So a heartfelt thanks to everyone.
We made a few dishes to set the scene, nowing that in addition to the church pantry food, guests would bring all manner of wonderful things. And they did! It was a wonderful day.
We made a couple of different kinds of chili and almost 3 gallons of mulled wine - most of which got drunk. So in this posting I will do what I can to put a couple of recipes out...

First the mulled wine:
12 bottles of dryish red wine. We used a Cabernet/Merlot from Spain - the key is that it is fruity enough
1 bottle port
24 inches cinnamon stick broken into small pieces
60 cloves
2t coriander seeds
2T whole green cardomoms
4 oranges - greated zest and juice
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water

Place the wine, port, orange juice and zest into a large heavy pan and place on ,ow heat. Make up spice bags from most of the cinnamon, cloves and all the cardomom and coriander. Immerse the bags in the wine mixture. Put the sugar and remaining cinnamon/cloves in a small pan and heat to dissolve the sugar and make a flavored syrup. As the wine comes to temperature (not boiling, but very hot), add the syrup to taste. depending on the wine, you may find you do not need all the syrup. Steep the pices for at least an hour. Serve hot in small mugs.....

And now the chili. There is of course a lot of discussion and controversy about chili, so I can only tell you what I did, not what's right! For me the first rule is that it must neither be wimpy, nor blow your head off. I also prefer to use finely chopped meat, not ground beef. The chili has a mixture of dried and fresh peppers of various strengths and a fair amount of cumin. At least this chili did not make such a large amount as the mulled wine!

3 1/2 lbs beef chuck see method for details on preparation
2 ancho peppers ground finely
6 dried cayenne peppers
3 fresh cayenne peppers
3T cumin seed ground finely
1 medium yellow onion chopped finely
3 large carrots  grated
1 can tomato paste
2 cans crushed tomatoes - drained
2 bay leaves
1 Chipotle pepper (dried - not in adobe)
Salt/pepper as necessary.
2 Raw green jalapenos - thinly sliced
1 white onion thinly sliced
Remove the fat from the chuck and set to render over low heat in a large skillet. Letting the beef fat render adds greater depth to the dish than using oil for browning the meat. Slice the meat into 1/4 inch cubes. Do not salt the meat. Brown the meat in the hot beef fat in several batches. making sure you have plenty of browning.
While the beef is browning, grind the dry spices finely in a spice grinder (or old coffee grinder). Slice the onions, grate the carrots and slice the fresh cayennes thinly.
Once the beef is browned, pour off some of the fat. Add the dry spices to the remaining hot fat and heat until fragrant (1bout 15 seconds). Add the onions and carrots, scraping the bottom of the pan to get the fond mixed it and the spices well incorporated. Soften the carrots/onions for several minutes - do not allow to brown. Add the fresh cayenne peppers and stir.
Move the onion mixture to the side and add the can of tomato paste to the exposed pan. heat it until it browns and varamelizes a bit. This adds extra depth to the chili. Once it is suitable caramelized, mix it in with the onion mixture.
Drain the crushed tomatoes, add to the onion mixture and stir. Check for seasoning - I added about 1t salt at this stage.
Put the browned meat back in to the pan and add the chipotle and bay leaves. Transfer to the slow cooker and cook on low heat for 6 hours. When cooked, allow to cool overnight.
Heat the oven to 275F. Place 1/2 of the chili into an ovenproof casserole. Spread with the thinly sliced onions and jalapenos. Cover the onions/jalapeno layer with the rest of the chili. Place a layer of jalapenos on top. Cover the dish and heat for 2 hours - until the interior is hot enough.
Serve with raw onion, grated cheese and sour cream.

Friday, December 25, 2009

This takes the cake

To a Brit, having Christmas cake is an important part of the holiday season. It is a fruit cake - but doesn't (at least in my house) have any of the neon candied chemistry set that we sometimes see. This year my mum made us one and we brought it home to Dallas at the end of November. The poor thing was naked - it hadn't been iced yet when we brought it home, so it needed icing - but only after its twice weekly baths in brandy - to preserve it of course.

Earlier in the week I bought some marzipan and some apricot jam. All ready to roll out the marzipan and top the cake with it. Another somewhat strange tradition is that we put marzipan on the cake first, let that set up a bit (ideally a week, but in my case a couple of days), and then top with frosting of some kind. Sometimes it's royal icing, sometimes Italian meringue. This year it was Italian meringue.

It is further traditional to eat said cake with tea on Christmas Eve. After which we just scarf it down! So this post is about the fine art of icing a Christmas cake.

Ingredients - marzipan layer
3T Apricot jam
12 oz marzipan - especially made for toppings like this. We bought ours at Whole Foods.
1 Christmas cake. Ours was about 7" in diameter

Put the apricot jam in a small pan - to soften enough to make it spreadable. While the jam is melting, take 1/2 of the marzipan and roll it out to about 1/8" thickness. Maybe a little thicker if you like. The important thing is to get it into a circle about the same diameter as the cake.

Place the cake flatter side up on a paper plate. Poke some holes into it and give it its last brandy spa treatment.

Spread melted apricot jam on the top and sides.

Put the rounded rolled section of marzipan on the top. The jam will hold it in place and stop it from sliding

Now roll strips out  to lay around the cake. It is easier to do this in several pieces than trying to get a single strip to work. Remember this will be covered with white icing, so it doesn't have to be perfect.

Leave to set for at least 24 hours.
Ingredients - Italian meringue
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1" piece of vanilla pod
2 egg whites

Heat the sugar, water and vanilla bean gently in a heavy saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. You should stir fairly often at this stage to make sure the sugar does not catch and burn. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat slightly and boil until the syrup reaches 240 C.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks stage. Once the sugar syrup has come to temperature, pour it in a this stream over the egg whites while whisking at high speed. Continue to whisk at high speed until the mixture has cooled to room temp - about 7-10 minutes.

Ice the cake the usual way - spreading the icing in a circular pattern on top of the cake with an offset spatula.

When the cake is iced, let stand 24 or so hours for the icing to set up.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmassy salad

This is Christmassy because of the colors not the flavors. I had to stop to buy bread (too lazy to bake at the moment) on the way home from work. So, since Central market is on the way home I stopped in there. I also knew that I had better buy something for dinner as well. We haven't eaten in much - too many parties, so I wanted something special. The scallops looked nice and the store had blood oranges. Aha! a wilted spinach salad with blood oranges, kiwi fruit and seared scallops. Lots of red and green for Christmas.

I texted Dave Gilbert to let him know about the blood oranges. He, of course wanted to know what I was making. When I told him he suggested some pickled ginger too. We always have that in the house, so I tried it. Yumm. This dish gets the ultimate accolade from madame, "We can serve this to people." Also it takes about 12 -15 minutes beginning to end. Sadly I wasn't organized enough to take pictures, so I will just have to do it again!

4T olive oil (not extra virgin) + 1T for the scallops
1 small red onion sliced pole to pole and then into strips
3 blood oranges, peeled and then thinly sliced across the orange
2 kiwi fruits peeled and sliced
Some pickled ginger - maybe 1T + 1T of its vinegar
4 jumbo scallops
salt/pepper to season scallops
a couple of handfuls of young spinach washed and drained
Extra Virgin Olive oil to drizzle
A few sea salt crystals for extra crunch

Place the 4T of oil in a non stick skillet. Heat until shimmering and add the onion. This seems like a lot of oil for one onion, but this becomes the oil base for the salad dressing. Soften the onion for a few minutes, taking care not to get any color onto it.
Once the onion is soft add the blood orange, kiwi, pickled ginger and juice. Turn heat off, and let the pan heat finish the job.
Add the 1T of oil to another skillet. Salt and pepper the scallops and immediately sear one side. This will take about 2 minutes (depends on thickness).
While the scallops are searing plate the spinach in rough mounds.
Turn the scallops over and sear for another minute or so. They want to be just cooked through. Too much and they become tough.
While the second side is searing, stir the onion/blood orange/kiwi mixture, and pour it over the spinach - essentially dressing the salad.
When the scallops are cooked, place them on the dressed spinach. Hit them with a little coarse sea salt and s drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Because of the citrus in the dressing, you want a wine that can cut through it a bit, and also contribute some citrus flavors of its own. I suggest an NZ Saufignon Blanc - Brancott from Marlborough would be a good choice, I think

Chicken in a pot

It seems like most of the major culinary styles do some kind of one dish, chicken based thick stew or soup. Chicken in a pot is our generic term for these. It is usually subtitled with a flavor profile. So we have "Chicken in  a pot - Mexican", "Chicken in a pot - North African", etc. I use the same essential technique, basically the same ingredients and adjust the flavoring, spicing, legumes and garnishes to adapt the basic dish to the style. This is not a dish of any great subteltly - it's job is to provide a warming dish for cold winter evenings. Because it is so "in your face", minor regional variations are not present. So, for example in today's version I have made no attempt to distinguish among the various North African cuisines - have just lumped them together into this single dish.
So, here are some of the key philosophies.

  • Use chicken thighs - they stand the longish cooking better than white meat

  • Make sure that the legumes you are using will get to the desired consistency in about 30 minutes

  • Use a sausage that matches the region (Mergez if yoiu can find it for North Africa, Chorizo for Mexican, etc.). Although, in a pinch a nice kielbasa can be used for everything!

  • Drain the fat early, and skim at the end

  • Make sure you sanitize the equipment that has been in contact with the raw chicken.

Apart from the chicken stock which was still defrosting, here is the collection of ingredients for this North African variety. The board on which the chicken thighs are laying is only used for raw meat, and will be sanitized in a bleach solution after use.

2T Vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs smoky sausage (kielbasa in this version) cut into 1/2 " thick slices
4 Chicken thighs, salted and peppered on both sides
2 Dry chipotle peppers (I know, not North African, but do add a nice smoky heat)
8 Cardomom pods
1 t whole coriander
1 2" piece of cinnamon bark
8 Cloves
2 Star anise
1t Cumin
2T Paprika
2 Medium onions peeled and chopped pole to pole
1 Head of celery
6 Large carrots sliced into 1 inch knobs
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) chicken stock
3 14 oz cans garbanzo beans - rinsed and drained
Salt/pepper to taste

Heat the oil to shimmering point in a large dutch oven. Add the sliced kielbasa and fry gently until the sausage takes on some color. This will take about 5 minutes.
Remove the sausage from the pan, and turn up the heat until you get wispy smoking. Lay the chicken thighs skin side down the oil, and cook until well browned (about 7 minutes).

While the thighs are browning, chothe onion in slices pole to pole, skice the celery. I don't bother to pull the ribs apart - just slice through the whole head. This is a rustic presentation after all.

Turn the chicken thighs over and cook on the meat side until browned - about 4 minutes. While the chicken is cooking, clean up the meat board, tongs, etc. using  mild bleach solution.

Remove the chicken from the dutch oven and allow to rest - with the sausage. Pour off all but 2T of the chicken fat. I use a small bowl with a foil insert. The fat is caught in the foil, solidifies when cold and you can throw the whole thing away. Do not pour the fat down the drain!

Finely grind the cardomom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, star anise, and coriander seeds. Add these to the hot oil in the dutch oven, along with the chipotle and the paprika. Stirquickly. Immediately add the chopped onions, celery,nd carrots. Stir thoroughly and scrape up the browned bits. The cool vegetables will prevent the spices burning.

Stir frequently until the onions are soft and all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan are gathered up. There will be slight color on the onions/carots/celery. Add the sausage back to the pot and mix into the vegetables thoroughly. Now add the bay leaf, the rinsed beans, and the chicken stock. The stock should not cover the vegetables. Put the chicken thighs back in (with the skin still on), and nestle them into the vegetables.

Cover the pot tightly with a sheet of foil  and then the duch oven lid. This provides a tight seal and prevent the flavors from escaping too much.

Simmer on the stove top on low heat for about 30-45 minutes - until the chicken is cooked through. Skim any fat off, adjust the seasoning, remove the skin from the chighs, and serve piping hot.
You can, of course, allow it to cool (in the fridge overnight), by which time any fat will have risen to the top and solidified. Then you can simply remove it with a spoon.

Changing the spicing completely changes the dish. So for the Mexican version, use chorizo, don't use cinnamon or star anise at all. Amp up the cumin and coriander. Use a chipotle in adobo sauce instead of a dried one. Use more chicken stock - make it sltly soupier, and used red kidnns instead of garbanzos.Garnish with a lot of fresh cilantro - limes, slice of avocado, etc.

The variations really are up to you. This dish never comes out the same twice. That's one reason we like it so much. In the words of Jacques Pepin, "A recipe only exists at the time you make it."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Tale of 2 Trifles

We were invited to 2 parties on Saturday. Each one of course wanted us to bring something. We always bring something meatless to these affairs because the vegetarians get rather short shrift. This year, however, we decided on desserts and not to vegetarian meat courses. That was because a good friend said, "you are English, you must know how to make trifle. It is one of my favorite desserts." Since she was co-hosting a party, it seemed wise to go with the flow.
Trifle is deceptively simple. You can do it the easy way – or the Chris way. I, of course chose the Chris way. That involves making custard (the easy way would have you buy it – or horror of horrors, use vanilla pudding. Also I decided to use crème de cassis instead of sherry. Not traditional, but goes so well with raspberries. We always have crème de cassis on hand for kirs and kir royales, but that's a different posting.
This isn't really about 2 trifles – it is one giant recipe placed into 2 bowls. The recipe below is the recipe I started with before doubling (well kind of because it doesn't double exactly – the cornstarch for example is less than you might think).

32 fl oz whipping cream (1 US Quart) divided use
4 egg yolks
1 vanilla pod
1 ½ oz sugar
1t cornstarch
1 packet lady fingers (trifle sponges)
3T Raspberry jam, warmed so it is spreadable.
12 oz frozen raspberries
3 oz crème de cassis
2 large bananas, peeled and thinly sliced (30 slices per banana)
A few drops pure almond essence
A few slivered almonds toasted lightly for decoration

Place half of the cream into a saucepan. Preferably a pan with a rounded edge between the base and the sides. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and add to the cream. Also add the pod. When sieved the seeds will stay in the custard, but the pod will be extracted and thrown away. (I used one pod for the double sized recipe and it was fine. You don't really need to double that).
Turn the heat under the cream on to a medium temperature. Stir the cream occasionally until it is close to boiling point. You will see an occasional bubble rising and lots of steam coming off it.

While the cream is heating, break the egg yolks into a bowl. Whisk gently to break them up. Add the cornstarch and sugar and whisk until light and foamy.

Now add the hot cream a little at a time at first to the egg mixture. As you can see in the photograph below, I am using a small bowl to do the transfer. A ladle would work fine, of course. Whisk all the while you are doing this addition.

Once you have added all the hot cream to the egg mixture, return the combined mixture to the pan, and start to heat slowly. The custard will be quite foamy at first, and quite thin. You must stir it pretty constantly at this stage otherwise the eggs will set without the cream. You will have very expensive, vanilla flavored scrambled eggs. The picture below shows the foamy egg/cream mixture.

Keep heating and stirring and the mixture will start to thicken. For those that care about such things, the mixture needs to come to about 172F (77 or 78 C). At that point it should be nice and thick.

In fact so thick that it does this (see picture below). The custard coats the spoon, and when you draw your finger across it, it is rather like Moses parting the red sea.

There will be some egg bits, and of course the vanilla pod to get rid of, so strain the custard through a fine mesh strainer.

Immediately transfer the custard to an ice bath to chill it before refrigerating. Need to make sure it gets cold quickly to eliminate chances of food-borne bugs. Using a larger bowl filled with ice water does the trick nicely.

Before refrigerating the custard, cover with cling wrap. To make sure a skin doesn't form, press the cling wrap right on to the surface.

Cool the custard in the fridge as long as you want. In my case it was about 4 hours while I ran errands. When you are ready to assemble the trifle, melt the raspberry jam in a small pan. It just needs to soften enough to be spreadable on the rather delicate lady fingers

Spread the lady fingers out on a cutting board….

And spread the warmed jam on them. Much easier to this way than trying to do them individually.

Now, cut the lady fingers up into your serving bowl. Add the raspberries, mix well by hand. Pour the crème de cassis over them and let them sit for a few minutes. Layer the sliced bananas on top of the cake/raspberry/cassis mixture.

Layer the custard on top of the bananas. It will be a fairly thin layer. It is so rich that you don't want it to overpower the fruit. Whip the remainder of the cream with the almond essence. It needs to be slightly soft and floppy. Certainly you don't want to overwhip it (and end up with something resembling butter). The cream should not be sweetened. Then ad the whipped cream on top pf the custard, spread it out to the edges and make it flat. Dot with the toasted almonds.
The trifle should now be refrigerated for at least 3 hours before serving.

Friday, December 11, 2009

3 people, 2lbs clams, 1lb linguine

I needed a quick dinner for 3 of us last evening. Quick because I had didn't get out of a meeting until 7:15 and needed to drive home, cook and have dinner on the table by about 8:15. Also it had to be good since Dave Gilbert (an unbelievably creative local chef) was one of the three! The idea then was to create something tasty within the time it took for the longest thing to happen (essentially in less than 30 minutes).
No problem. Linguine alla vongole to the rescue. This is in some ways a perfect timed dish. If you get the amount of water right, you can start the water pot, then do the small amount of prep (chopping parsley, cleaning clams, peeling/slicing garlic, etc.) while the water is coming to the boil. Thne the clams themselves cook in the amount of time it takes to cook the pasta.

2 T olive oil (cooking oil not finishing oil)
4 cloves of garlic - sliced thinly. Not mashed/pureed/pressed
1 dried cayenne pepper (could use flakes) chopped finely. Include the seeds
2 lbs littleneck clams
1/2 cup dry white wine - I used a cheapish Pouilly Fume
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Handful of parsley chopped fine
Salt/pepper to taste

The clams purging themselves of their grit - in a cold water bath

Put a sufficient quantity of water on to boil. I used 2 gallons for the pound of linguine. I could have gotten away with less, but that's the size of my pasta pot. As soon as the water is boiling, place the pasta into the water and set the timer for 9 minutes (or 1 minute less than the directions on the packet call for.

In a large skillet heat the oil to the shimmering stage over medium heat. Add the garlic and hot peppers, turn down the heat to medium low and cook, stirring or shaking often, until the garlic is fragrant. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the clams and shake the pan to coat the clams with the hot garlicky oil.

Add the wine and lemon juice to the pot, and cover immediately.

Cook the clams until they all open (about 6 minutes). After all clams are open, add a little of the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. In the picture below, you can just see some salt crystals falling.

Toss the ingredients together and turn the dish out into a large, warmed bowl. Sprinkle some more of the chopped parsley over the top. I served this "family style" so each guest had the opportunity to help himself.

With this dish I served a bottle of Gravonia which was one of the best wines at the Texas Sommelier convention held at the Four Seasons in the early fall.

After we had pigged out on the clams, I served a cheese course with some cheeses we brought back from Neal's Yard in London. The cheeses are a Coolea - a Gouda like cows milk cheese made in Ireland. Very citrusy, rich, thick, dry. With a nuttiness that is indeed reminiscent of Gouda. Lovely firm, almost crystalline texture. A very well made cheese. The second cheese is a Duckett's Farm caerphilly. It has all the characteristic Caerphilly taste and texture. A good sharp bite, almost honey like sweetness at the finish. It is a pale cream colour in a thick gray dry rind. Finally we had some Harbourne goat blue cheese that is about as subtle as a kick... A very bold, assertive blue. Not much mould for a cheese as potent as this. It felt like a lot of the whey was retained - giving it a strong acid bite.

As a final treat we each allowed ourselves a small glass of the Angostura 1827 rum. This is a rum that has been barrel aged for a considerable amount of time. It has huge vanilla notes and a strong oaky presence. It is a very smooth rum indeed. I am indbted to my friend Thor for introducing me to it.

So, there was the evening a terrific time was had by all. many stories, much concentration and minimal clean up!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Seabirdskitchen joins the culinary underground

Dave Gilbert and I met a few months back and just plain hit it off. We had promised ourselves a day together doing our favorite things. Sunday was that day. We got together at Dave's house having raided the farmers' market, Rex's Seafood Market, and our herb/veg gardens for stuff that might come in handy.
I hied myself off to his house at around 11 on Sunday armed with Rex's smoked salmon, some marjoram, mint, rosemary, and various hot peppers from the garden. Oh and some delicious New Zealand honeycomb (thanks sis and nephews), some margarita/salt cookies, the vacuum sealer for the sous vide and, of course the guanciale (cured pork jowls).
The main point was the cooking, but we managed to press-gang some friends into coming to eat. Yes there were nine of us in total. The dinner stretched for about 3 1/2 hours as we ate, discussed, ate some more, tried the wines, got to know each other better and just had a terrific time. The clean up was rather excessive, but somehow that isn't the abiding memory. The memory is of working under pressure with a good friend, making innovative and exciting food, and serving it to friends and strangers - all becoming friends by evening's end.
Dave has done such a wonderful job of documenting this here that I don't have any need to elaborate.
Recipes? What recipes? I am sure we will document better next time, but the wine and rum took their toll.
My parting comment is simply, "let's do this again, soon"