Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Little Diversion... Cheez Whiz

I was getting on my high horse the other day about processed foods when I remembered Cheez Whiz.  Cheez Whiz has long been a stocked item in the Emerton household.  Two reasons... there's nothing quite like it and its shelf life is such that you can pretty much always have it on hand.  We have just one use in our house for Cheez Whiz and it's a good one.  It's the velvety blanket for the baked potato.  Sometimes you just have to go there.  And we do.  My recipe for cheese sauce?  Equal parts Cheez Whiz and sour cream.  Heat together in a sauce pan.  You will not be disappointed!

So what is Cheez Whiz?  It's magical.  Apparently no real cheese in it, but rather cheese flavoring.. like your favorite Cheeto.  When looking to buy Cheez Whiz, it's always a little disconcerting that no one knows where exactly to find it.  Is it with the cheeses?  Is it with the chips?  Is it with the condiments and sauces?  Will you find it next to the canister of cracker cheese that comes out in aerosol form?  Will it be next to refrigerated cheddar cheese pretending to be a real cheese?  Does it sit next to the con queso dip in the chip aisle?  The bottom line is it doesn't matter to us.  I will search high and low for it, across the many aisles of the super market, and it will always have a place next to our baked potato.  Cheez Whiz, a worthwhile guilty pleasure!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Let's Roast a Chicken

Are people still roasting chickens out there?  With the large variety of rotisserie chickens you can purchase these days, often for less money than you can buy an uncooked chicken, I was wondering if the home roasted chicken was coming close to extinction.  I hope not.  As much as those rotisserie chickens can be very delicious and ever so convenient, there is still nothing like a good home roasted chicken.  

One 3 1/2 lb organic chicken
1 small lemon, sliced
1/2 small onion, quartered
6-8 fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper

Rinse and clean the chicken well.  Remove excess fat from inside of the chicken and cut tail off.   Tuck the wing tips underneath the wing.  Salt and pepper the cavity of the chicken and stuff it with the lemon, onion and sage.  Truss the chicken.
Trussing the chicken makes for more even cooking.  Years ago, I thought trussing was merely tying the legs together.  Not so.  The legs should be pulled back so they are tucked close against the sides of the breast.  As the breast generally cooks faster than the leg and thigh area, this helps to protect the breast and slow its cooking time, thereby allowing everything to cook more evenly.  
You will need a long trussing needle and some kitchen string.  Start by piercing the wing on right side of the chicken and pushing the needle all the way through the cavity of the chicken, then out the other side and again through the left wing wing.  Then adjust the string making sure it is equal lengths on both sides of the chicken.  Bring the string from the left side underneath the drumstick and with the trussing needle, sew the skin around the opening of the cavity together.  Remove the needle and pull the string to the right side and hook it under the tip of the right drumstick.  Bring the string from the right side and slide it underneath the drumstick and cross it over to the left side hooking it underneath the tip of the left drumstick.  Can you tell this is hard to explain without pictures?  Basically, you are criss crossing the string underneath drumsticks and then tying them together.  You want the chicken to be a tight ball.
Sprinkle outside with salt and pepper.  Heat oven to 400f.
Roast the chicken on a rack, breast side down first for 15 minutes.  Then flip the chicken over and roast the remaining hour, or until the liquid from the thigh, when pierced with a fork, comes out clear.  Do not baste the chicken, unless you don't care about crispy skin.  Basting will result in soft skin.  The fat that renders from the skin as it cooks is self basting.
No roasted chicken in the Emerton house arrives at the table without a gravy.  So, remove the chicken from the rack onto a cutting board to rest before carving.  In the pan, add 2 tbsp flour and set over the stove on medium and cook the flour until golden.  Deglaze with 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock.  Transfer liquid to a small sauce pan and let boil while whisking the gravy to get any lumps out.  Roasted chicken... can't go wrong.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Braised Pork Belly

Any time the words "pork belly" are uttered in our family, a general wave of happiness rolls through the house.  I was thinking out loud last night about whether to make butternut squash ravioli or pork belly ravioli, and before I could finish my words, I got a resounding pork belly!  Then I was thinking... why not have both?

For the braised pork belly
Prepare the belly:
1 1.5 lb pork belly, rind removed
equal parts salt and sugar mixture (ala that used for Momofuku's pork buns)
Freshly ground black pepper
Rinse and dry the pork belly.  Rub liberally with salt/sugar mixture.  Place in a tight fitting pan and refrigerate overnight.  When ready to braise, rinse the pork belly well to remove the salt/sugar mixture.  Dry.  Cut belly into 3" x 4" pieces, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
Make a mirepoix of: 
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped (or 1/2 small onion)
a few sprigs of flat leaf parsley and thyme
1 12 oz bottle of lager beer
3 cups chicken broth
Heat a small braising pot over medium heat.  Brown the pork belly, fat side down first.  You don't need to add any oil to the pan as the fat will render from the pork.  Remove the pork and add the mirepoix and saute until softened.  Deglaze with the beer, then add in the parsley, thyme and chicken broth.  Return the pork belly and simmer, covered, over low heat for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until very tender.  
Remove the pork belly to a dish, and cover with saran wrap so it doesn't dry out.  
Strain the braising liquid and return to pan.  
Reduce over medium high heat for about 7 minutes.  
Return pork belly to the broth and cover until ready to serve

For the Butternut Squash Ravioli
10 sheets fresh pasta, about 2 lbs
1 small butternut squash
3 tbsp soft brie
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp milk
1/4 cup grated parmagiano reggiano 
4 thin slices prosciutto, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

I didn't have it in me today to bust out fresh pasta of my own to use for the ravioli.  Instead, I went to Pasta and Co. for their fresh egg pasta sheets.  This worked out great, but a fair warning, it is difficult to get them to stick together to make the ravioli.  I brushed all edges with egg and had to press very firmly to get it to stick.  Usually, the cutting of the ravioli alone will stick it together.

For the filling, slice the butternut squash lengthwise and scoop out all the seeds.  Roast in the oven at 425f, flesh side down for 25 minutes.  Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and mash. There should be about 3 1/2 cups.  Add in the remaining ingredients and incorporate well.  Scoop tablespoon sized rounds onto 5 sheets of pasta, leaving enough room around each scoop to seal the ravioli.  Lay the remaining 5 sheets on top and use a rolling cutter to cut into squares.  This made about 50 ravioli, plenty to freeze for future meals.
Boil the ravioli for 4 minutes.  Drain.  For the plate, I sauteed some spinach until just wilted.  Make a brown butter with sage by melting butter in a pan slowly until slightly browned, then add sage and turn the heat off.  Lay a few ravioli down with a bit of spinach and a piece of the pork belly.  Ladle a bit of the broth from the pork belly and then spoon a little of the browned butter on top.  

It was a back breaker of a meal for a Tuesday night.  But well worth it!  Pretty darn good combo and I'm glad I went for both!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rigatoni and Sausage Marinara

This has been a meal I made all the time for my kids and I was surprised to find I had not blogged about it yet.  My first and foremost reason for starting the blog was to catalog my dishes and recipes, if you can call them that, and it has served me well.  I find myself searching my own posts quite often to reference what I might have done for a particular dish.  It's been a great way to keep track of everything.  

My last semester in college, I waitressed at a restaurant downtown.  At the end of my shift, I'd often order their Rigatoni and Sausage Marinara.  It was delicious and I was always starving.  It was a very satisfying end to a hectic night of running around.  

The marinara is quite simple.  
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 small sweet onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup olive oil
3-4 tbsp heavy cream
2 tbsp fresh basil

In a large sauce pan, saute onions in olive oil until softened.  Then add in the garlic for a couple of minutes before adding the crushed tomatoes.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.  If you find your sauce is not sweet enough, add a little sugar.  I'm sure this is what restaurants do as you cannot always control the sweetness of the tomatoes you get.  Alternatively, you can use a jar of ready made sauce or make your own sauce from fresh tomatoes.  
In a separate pan, brown 1/2 lb Italian sausage.  Add marinara to the sausage along with the cream.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Boil rigatoni according to package instructions minus a minute or two so it is more al dente.  Add rigatoni to the sauce along with the basil and saute together for a few minutes.  Finish with grated parmesan.  The kids were so excited, I realized it had been too long since I last made this.  Their favorite was that the sauce got in the middle of the rigatoni and squeezed out when you bit into it.  And best yet, this sauce makes enough for the kids' lunches the next day.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday Lamb Shoulder Stew

I had originally planned a Szechuan stewed lamb for tonight's dinner, but I think the family was ready to move on from Chinese.  However, with lamb already in the fridge, a plan b had to be formulated.  First of all, let's talk about the lamb and my love for Uwajimaya.  I have been a loyal customer for years and years, but I am finding myself there a couple of times a week now.  I've never had anything but top quality seafood from them, and their meat selection is a great combination of cuts used for Asian cooking and that used for Western cooking.  They are carrying specialty meats like American Kobe beef, Berkshire Kurobuta pork, Thundering Hooves grass fed beef and Smart Chicken organic chicken.  For my lamb, I consulted with the butcher on what cut best to use, and shoulder was the way to go.  He de-boned and cut the lamb for me into stew sized pieces.  Wonderful customer service.  There are many top quality butchers in town, but the ones that become favorites are because of the relationships you develop.

This being my first lamb stew, (can that be right?), I am approaching it from a perspective of beef bourguignon and braised lamb shank which I've done many times in the past.

3 lbs boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2" x 2" pieces
salt and pepper
3 tbsp of vegetable or olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 shallots, sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups red wine
2 1/2 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves

Dry lamb on paper towels.  Salt and pepper and coat with flour shaking off any excess.  Heat 3 tbsp of oil in a large dutch oven or braising pot.  Brown lamb in batches, don't over crowd the pan.  Add more oil if necessary.  Remove and set aside browned lamb as you work.  
When all lamb has been browned, remove all but 1 tbsp of oil and add in the onions and shallots.  Saute until softened.  Add in the rosemary and tomato paste.  Stir to combine.  
Deglaze the pan with half the wine.  Make sure you scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add remaining wine, beef broth and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil.  Remove any foam that accumulates at the top, then add the lamb along with any accumulated juices.  
Cover and simmer over low heat for about 2 hours, stirring periodically.  To thicken the sauce, uncover and let boil rapidly for about 10-15 minutes.  
Lamb shoulder was definitely the right cut to use.  Even the girls loved it, and they are not big fans of lamb.  Serve with a crusty loaf of bread to soak up the fabulous sauce.  Mmmm... good!

Oh, and happy to report, no adverse side effects from last night's duck!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tea Smoked Duck

As part of Chinese week, it would seem a duck dish is essential.  Tea smoked duck has appeared on a few menus around town.  And having had it several times now, I've decided it was time to try one at home.  I called my mom for some advice, but unfortunately, she told me she has never made it before.  So, to the internet I went a searching and found this recipe which looked manageable and sounded right: Tea-Smoked Duck by Anita Lo.  

Here are my notes on the recipe:
The instructions were to dip the duck in boiling water holding it by its neck.  Most ducks you buy in our markets do not have the neck and head attached.  So, I used kitchen string and tied it around the body of the duck and looped it under the wings, and knotted the string into a loop.  Then I used the string to dip the duck in the boiling water and subsequently, to hang the duck to dry.  Dipping the duck in the boiling water tightens the skin of the duck and helps it to crisp when cooking as does the drying process.

I was torn on what to do with the hanging of the duck in a "cool dry place".  Was my basement cool enough to hang a raw duck overnight?  Should I put it in the refrigerator?  It would seem if that was ok, it would just say dry on a rack in the refrigerator overnight.  Cool dry place.  What exactly is that?  I decided to throw caution to the wind and hang the duck in the basement.  With Peking duck in mind, I decided to put a fan on the duck to help dry it.  Then, in the morning, I decided to put it in the refrigerator until ready to cook.  

For smoking, I did not have the particular Lapsang Souchong tea specified in the recipe, so just used a generic black tea.  I suspect my neighbors were wondering what in the world was going on at our house.  The smoking of the tea, rice and brown sugar created quite an odor.  I think I got a caffeine buzz from inhaling the smoke while tending to the duck.  

The flavor of the duck was right on.  The breast was perfectly tender and flavorful.  The rest of the duck could have been more tender, so I will have to think about that one.  Other recipes I found called for steaming the duck first and smoking it for a shorter amount of time.  I may have to try that next time.  Overall, a keeper.  Worth another go if for nothing else, a Chinese item cooked on the charcoal grill.  Two of my loves meet.  
Check back tomorrow to see if we encountered any adverse side effects of the overnight duck hanging in the basement.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Poached White Chicken and Sweet and Sour Fish

I went to my collection of Chinese cook books to come up with a new chicken dish for tonight.  As is my practice often, I am kind of combining two recipes to make one dish.  The simplicity of this chicken highlights the quality and flavor of the chicken.  So choose a good one!

Poached Chicken 
1 small organic chicken, preferably about 3 lbs
4 scallions
4 thick slices of ginger, smashed
1/4 cup rice wine
1 1/2 tbsp salt

Rinse and clean the chicken and trim off any excess fat from the cavity opening.  In a braising pot, bring enough water to cover the chicken to a boil, about 8 cups.  Carefully place chicken in the pot, breast side up.  Add the scallions, ginger, wine and salt and return to a boil.  Simmer the chicken, covered, for 20 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let the chicken cool in the pot for 3-4 hours, without lifting the lid.  This way of cooking the chicken results in very moist and tender meat.

About 30 minutes before you are ready to serve, remove and drain the chicken.  Remove scallions and ginger from the cooking liquid and use the liquid to make a side of rice. 
For the rice:
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp ginger, minced
Saute ginger and garlic in a little oil until fragrant.  If you are cooking your rice on the stove, add rice and water to the pot.  Use a ratio of 1 cup rice to 2 cups liquid.  If you have a rice cooker, add the ginger and garlic to the rice cooker, and stir together with the rice and cooking liquid from chicken. 

While rice is cooking, cut the chicken into bite sized pieces with a cleaver.  I like to cut the chicken into sections and then cut it into smaller pieces.
Serve the chicken with these two dipping sauces:
Ginger Scallion Sauce:
3 scallions, finely chopped
1.5 tbsp finely minced ginger
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp vegetable oil
Mix together scallion, ginger and salt.  Heat vegetable oil to smoking hot.  Let cool slightly, and pour over the ginger scallion mixture.  

Soy Chili Sauce:
1/4 cup light soy sauce
4 red thai chilies thinly sliced
1 tsp sugar

The chicken was indeed moist and very tender.  The sauces made the chicken complete.

Sweet and Sour Fish
Sweet and sour fish is often made using a whole fish.  For ease of eating for my kids, I chose to do fish fillets.  
1 1/4 lb firm white fish, skin removed ( I used black cod)
1/3 tsp salt
1.5 tbsp rice wine
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp flour
cold water
1 scallion, white part only, finely chopped
1 tsp finely minced ginger
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp light soy
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp rice wine
3 tbsp rice vinegar
corn starch and water mixture (1 tsp corn starch 2 tsp water)
1/4 tsp sesame oil
cilantro to garnish

Dry fish and cut into 1" x 2" pieces and marinate in the salt and rice wine for 15 minutes.  
Mix egg, flour  together to make a smooth batter.  Add enough cold water to make it the consistency of heavy cream.
Heat oil in a heavy pot or wok to 350f.  Add the fish piece by piece into the oil.  Stir gently to make sure they don't stick together.  You may have to do this in batches.  Fry for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.

In a clean wok, heat 1 tbsp oil and add ginger and scallion and stir until fragrant.  Add the stock, soy sauce, wine, sugar and 2 tbsp of the vinegar.  Mix well and let simmer for a couple minutes.  Add fish and remaining vinegar and toss quickly.  Stir in the cornstarch mixture to thicken the sauce and drizzle a little sesame oil on top.  Garnish with cilantro leaves.

We loved the sauce on the fish.  It was fabulous!  One thought on the batter... I will not use an egg the next time.  The batter was soft after frying.  I will stick with flour and water.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mandarin Fried Prawns

Mandarin Fried Chicken has been a favorite of mine ever since I was a kid in my parents' restaurant.  Back then, I think I might have asked for that dish every night.  And once I was old enough to work the deep fryer, my chances for having my wish granted was in my own hands.  Over the years, I've experimented with different variations of the sauce, adjusting the ratios of the ingredients.  But the key is getting the frying down just right in order the achieve a crispy outcome.  Since I've blogged about the chicken before, I will let you go back to that post to read about the frying challenge.  But the main difference between the chicken and the prawns is that I fried the prawns only once,  unlike the par fry and re-fry of the chicken.  Also, I fry the prawns at 375f instead of 350f.  The reason is that the prawns cook much more quickly, so my fear in double frying is over cooking.  And using the higher temp will help achieve the crispy outer shell with the short fry time.  You will still need to fry the prawns in batches.

For the sauce:
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp chopped scallions
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 tsp sugar
1/2 cup water
ground white pepper to taste
1 tsp corn starch combined with 2 tsp water

In your wok, heat 1 tbsp oil and add in garlic and ginger until fragrant.  Then add in the soy, vinegar, sugar, pepper and water and bring to a boil.  Let simmer for about a minute.  Thicken sauce with the corn starch mixture and bring back just to boil.  Turn off heat, toss in scallions and prawns.  Turn a couple of times to just coat the shrimp.  Serve immediately.  

The Won Ton, A Little Treasure

When I was living in Taiwan, there was this fabulous dumpling shop just down the street from my apartment.  The windows would always be wet with condensation from steaming or boiling the various dumplings they made.  Outside, on the sidewalk, there was an elderly woman with a gigantic washtub of pork filling, wrapping dumplings while sitting on a rickety stool.   She was always there as long as the shop was open.  It is a scene I've always remembered from Taiwan. 

The filling for my won tons are the same as that I use for kuo tien (or potstickers).  When in the mood for a savory breakfast, I will boil a few wontons for the girls and add a little chicken stock.  Or for lunch or an appetizer, I'll boil a few and make a Szechuan chili sauce to go with them.  They freeze well, so I always make a large batch and keep in the freezer for whenever there's a need or want.  

2 lbs ground pork (I used Berkshire Kurobuta)
1" piece of ginger, grated on a microplane
3 scallions, chopped finely
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup water

Mix everything together well.  Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, or even overnight.  When ready to wrap, mix the filling again and add a little more water if the mixture seems to have dried up a bit.  The water helps the filling to be tender, rather than becoming a hard ball when cooked.  
I used thin Rose Brand Won Ton Wrappers.  Apply a little water with your fingertip to the top half of the shell.  Place a small ball of filling, fold in half diagonally, and then overlap the two corners and press together with another dab of water. 
To cook, boil the won tons for 5-7 minutes.  I usually boil them until they float to the top and then for another minute more.  
For Szechuan chili sauce, I combine soy sauce, white vinegar, sugar and red chili oil.  Mix together in a small bowl, lay won tons on top, sprinkle with a little chopped scallion.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Kicking Off A Week of Chinese

How much of my day do I spend thinking about food exactly?  Probably more than I should.  I would say I have not yet reached 'obsessive' levels, but it is a fair amount, and more on some days than others.  Last night as I lay in bed, with my belly full of meatballs, I was thinking about a light broth soup for dinner tonight.  Earlier  yesterday, I had already thought out how I was going to make no-fry eggplant parmesan with the second half of my tomato sauce.  I'd gone as far as writing out my recipe.  But then, my Chinese food craving hit.  And as I shopped this morning, I decided I would commit myself to a full week of Chinese food.  

Black Cod and Cilantro Soup
1/2 lb Black Cod, cut into 1 1/2" x 3/4" pieces
1 egg white beaten
2 tsp rice wine
3 tsp corn starch
1 3" x 3" soft tofu cut into cubes
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
6 cups chicken and fish stock

For the stock, I took 4 cups of chicken stock, added 3 cups water and a couple of rock fish heads and made a combo stock.  Boil with a few slices of ginger and 1/4 onion for approx 30 minutes.  Strain through a fine sieve.  Return to pan and bring to a boil for 5-7 minutes, then add tofu and boil for 1 minute.  (Alternatively, you can use only chicken stock.)
Combine egg whites, wine, and corn starch with a pinch of salt.  Dip cod into the mixture and place in the boiling broth.  This method adds a silky texture to the fish.  Boil for 1 minute, turn heat off, add in soy sauce, sesame oil and cilantro leaves.  Salt and pepper to taste.
Oh, the soup... the soup... it was divine.  The fish stock made it so rich in flavor.  We were swooning over the soup!  

Vegetable Mu Shu
1/2 small green cabbage, sliced thinly
3 carrots, julienned finely
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 eggs, scrambled 
3 tbsp light soy
2 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 pkg mu shu pancakes, which can be purchased in the frozen section of an Asian market.
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp light soy
1 tsp water

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large wok over medium heat.  Add in ginger and garlic and fry until just fragrant.  Toss in onions and fry for another couple minutes.  Turn heat up to high and toss in remaining vegetables and eggs, frying until just softened.  Add in sauce mixture and cook for another minute or so.  Serve with mu shu pancakes and hoisin sauce mixture.
My kids have not found many vegetables they like.  This was a hit.  I have to say, this was the most vegetables I've ever seen my kids eat in one meal.  Stella said, "all vegetables should taste like this!"

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tomato Harvest Spaghetti and Meatballs

For the past few years, I have invested all of my efforts in tomatoes for the growing season.  This year, I took a leap and went for potatoes, which has greatly paid off.  But, never wanting to completely walk away from a successful outcome, I still planted a few tomato plants in containers.  I like to push the season a bit, by planting my tomatoes by mid April.  This takes into chance the plants dying should any really cold weather come around.  But it is a chance I am willing to take given the alternative... not having enough time for the tomatoes to ripen.  I guess I prefer to take the chance up front to shoot for the longer growing season, than wait for the tomatoes to develop and hope there is enough good weather for the tomatoes to ripen.  In years past, I've been able to harvest by early July and continue to do so through mid September.  This year, given our poor weather, it's was late August before any tomatoes have ripened.  And therefore, instead of the pleasure of truly vine ripened tomatoes throughout the summer, I am really getting one main harvest with a few stragglers early on and a few I am still hoping will turn before the plants die.

This week I have gathered all the ripening tomatoes, about 5 lbs, and decided to make a sauce with them.  This has been my tradition each year at the end of the season.  Over ripened, perfectly ripened, not fully ripened all join together to form a delicious sauce.

Blanche the tomatoes quickly in boiling water, drain and let cool.  Peel and seed the tomatoes.  In a large sauce pan, heat 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil.  Add one garlic clove cut in half and the tomatoes.  Cover and simmer until tomatoes are quite softened, about 30 minutes.  Let cool and crush in a blender leaving some small chunks in the sauce. 

I set aside half the sauce for another use.  With this half, it was spaghetti and meatball night.
3/4 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal 
1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup milk
1 cup parmagiano reggiano
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp finely chopped sweet onion
1.5 tsp kosher salt
ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, place bread crumbs in milk and let soak until softened.  Loosen the ground meats and add to the bread crumbs along with the parmesan, egg, parsley, garlic, onion, salt and pepper.  Using your hands or a spatula, mix to combine well.  Don't overwork the mixture.  My mom has always told me to make a soft and light meatball, don't overwork the meat and do not pack it when forming the ball.  I follow these tips whenever working with ground meat.  

Moisten your hands and scoop out enough mixture to make a golf ball sized ball.  Work gently, using just enough pressure to form the ball, but not pressing too hard.  Place each ball on a prepared baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Heat tomato sauce in a large flat sauce pan.  In a large skillet brown meatballs in a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  You do not need to cook through as this will be done in the tomato sauce.  Place meatballs as they are finished into the tomato sauce.  Bring sauce and meatballs to a simmer.  Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes until meatballs are cooked through.
Meanwhile, cook your spaghetti and drain well.  Remove meatballs from the sauce to a separate dish.  Add cooked spaghetti to the tomato sauce and toss with a little fresh basil.  Plate spaghetti then add several meatballs to each dish.
Best meatball we've ever eaten!  I froze one of the baking sheets, so will look forward to that in a future meal.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Prosciutto and Fig Chicken

Still waiting for my figs to ripen, I am starting to give up hope.  But luckily, they are still in abundance in the markets.  A classic pairing with figs is prosciutto, so tonight, I am taking these two and marrying them with a little chicken in the middle.  

1 Whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
4 Slices prosciutto, cut into 4 pieces each (total of 16 pieces)

Make a paste out of the following:
2 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp fresh thyme
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

8 Figs, halved or quartered, depending on size
1/4 Cup Madeira
1.5 cups chicken broth

Between the skin and the meat of each piece of chicken, spread a little bit of the paste with your fingers.  Then place 2 pieces of prosciutto underneath the skin.  Lightly salt the outside of the skin.
In a heavy skillet, over medium high heat, add just enough oil to coat the pan.  Fry the chicken, skin side down, until brown.  Flip over and brown the other side.  Set pieces aside on a baking pan after browning both sides.  Finish in the oven at 400f, another 15-20 minutes.  At the tail end of the oven time, add in the figs to the pan and roast for about 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, make a sauce with the browned bits from the skillet.  Add 2 tbsp flour and cook for a few minutes.  Add in madeira and deglaze the pan.  Then add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer whisking the sauce to get any lumps out.  At your discretion, add a few tablespoons of cream.  In our house, when in doubt, add cream.  
Chicken and sauce, a staple in our family.  I am in constant search of variations for chicken.  The consistent winner in the house is always one with sauce.  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chateaubriand with Marrow Sauce and Pureed Black Rice

Does anyone else feel like taking a nap?  If you are lucky enough to have bright weather, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about.  But if you are living in Seattle, you might share my pain.  I think I'm going to rename the blog "The Mary Buffet and Daily Weather Outlook".  Perhaps it's because as I type each day, looking out my office window, I cannot help but feel moved in some way by the weather and it inevitably makes an appearance in my writing.  I have lived here pretty much all my life and have always been a defender of Seattle weather, but I may have turned traitor and taken to side with those who say it's always grey here.  

When it's grey out, what could possibly make one feel better?  Red meat and red wine of course!

1.5 Pound Chateaubriand (in this case, cut from the top sirloin)
Using cotton string, tie the steak into a round.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sear and fry the steak in a heavy cast iron pan with lots o butter.  Ladle the butter over the meat as you fry it.  I cooked mine for about 5 minutes a side (all 4 sides) for medium rare.  Let rest 10 minutes before carving.

Marrow Sauce
Two 3" beef marrow bones
1 cup veal stock
3/4 cup red wine
1 large shallot, minced
leaves from 1 sprig of thyme
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp madeira

Soak marrow bones in ice cold salted water, preferably over night, but some is better than nothing.  Mine soaked for about 5 hours.  This draws the blood out of the marrow.  Salt and pepper the marrow bones and roast at 450f for 15 minutes.  Let cool and scoop out the marrow and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter over med heat and add shallots.  Saute until softened.  Deglaze with red wine.  Pour mixture into a blender and puree with the veal stock.  Return sauce to pan and bring to a simmer for about 6-8 minutes to reduce by 1/4.  Add madeira and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Whisk in bone marrow and any collected fat just before serving.

We all swooned over the sauce.  I caught the girls just dipping their fingers and licking them.  Saucy heaven!

Pureed Black Rice
1 cup black rice
2 cups chicken stock

This was part of a dish I saw on No Reservations the other night, which inspired tonight's meal.  Ingenious to puree the rice.  I had to try it.  Rinse rice a couple of times with water.  Then combine rice with chicken stock, cook covered, until water has evaporated.  The rice should be pretty soft.  Let rice cool before your puree.

I made 2 versions to test: 
1 1/2 cups cooked rice with approx 1 cup water and 2 tbsp butter
Puree in a blender or food processor.  Since I haven't done this before, I kind of lost measure of exactly how much water I added.  But add enough to the consistency you like.  We tasted many stages, one of which Maggie advised me it tasted like playdough.  Hmmm, not exactly the outcome I was trying to achieve.  But then she added, Daddy will like it though.  I still couldn't decide if I should be insulted or if Chris should.
It was gummy to start, but as more water was added, it became more creamy.  

1 1/2 cups cooked rice with approx 1 cup whole milk, 2 tbsp red wine
Puree.  Return to a shallow pan to reheat when ready to serve.  This is the one I served with dinner.  You need to heat the puree through to cook off the alcohol of the wine a bit.  

In the end, I have to confess, the rice got scraped to the side.  The flavor was great...nutty.  But, there was no need for it.  More research and testing required.

And don't forget sauteed button mushrooms in butter.  Champignons, a perfect companion to steak.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Seared Dover Sole on Roasted Vegetables

Last night we watched Anthony Bourdain's 100th episode of No Reservations, which was filmed in Paris.  We sat there oohing and ahhing over the food and the scenery.  Food amazingly paired and presented, white wine so crisp and fruitful, I felt myself dreaming and drooling a bit.  It is a magical place, one which I cannot wait to get back to.   A segment at Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier  left me craving sole and butter.  One of his chefs cooked a whole bone in sole with simply butter, and removed the filets from the bone in front of his diners.  It was an artist at work. 

So, today I was off to find my sole.  I came home with Dover sole, boneless.  I realize this will make it more difficult to keep the fish together as I cook it because it is such a delicate fish.  A challenge, I shall try to rise to. 

Besides the food we drooled over on the show, one statement rang out to me.  When asked what his last bite of food would be, Robuchon answered, a bite of potato and butter.  His recipe for mashed potatoes?  Two pounds of potatoes, 1/2 pound of butter.  My kind of guy!
1 lb Dover Sole
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Make sure the sole is dry in order to get a good sear on it.  Heat a large heavy well seasoned cast iron pan to smoking hot.  If you are uncertain if the fish will stick to the pan, use a non-stick pan.  Place in 2-3 tablespoons of butter in the pan and as soon as it starts to melt, swirl it around, and sear sole, rounded side down.  Do this in batches not over crowding the pan.  The butter will melt and brown quickly due to the heat of the pan.  Tilt your pan, and ladle the butter over the sole repeatedly.  This whole process will only take a few minutes as the fish will cook very quickly.  Gently remove the fish and flip over showing the seared brown side of the fish to serve.  Repeat this process in a fresh clean pan each time.

Serve with, what else.... mashed potatoes and roasted veggies.  My mashed potatoes recipe is simple.  Peel and cut potatoes into large pieces, approximately 2"x2".  Use right away after peeling.  Boil until you can easily pierce a fork into it, anywhere from 15-25 minutes.  Do not pierce too many times as I find the water penetrates and absorbs away the flavor of the potato. If you have small potatoes, it is better not to peel them until after you boil them.  But I think a larger potato is best.  Once you boil them, the skin should come off easily.  I use a red variety which I grew, pontiac red, I believe they are.  Use a potato ricer to mash the potatoes.  My gals love to do this, so enlist some help.  Depending on how much you are making, the ratio changes of potato to butter and heavy cream.  If you follow Robuchon's method, it could be 1 part potato to 1/4 butter ratio.  I guestimate on what is enough to make the potatoes creamy, and it is usually more than what the average person is comfortable with seeing go into the potato mixture!  But whatever your preference, melt your butter and heat your cream before adding to the potatoes.

For the vegetables, I purchased some Thumbelina carrots, frozen peas, and cauliflower.  No fresh peas to be found, so frozen will have to do.  To that I added some fresh corn we just picked from the garden.  My corn did not fully fertilize.  I knew this going in as in order for the kernels to develop, every piece of silk needs to be pollenated.  And we were only here for part of that period of time to ensure that happened.  As a result, we wound up with corn shorties.  
Scrub carrots and cut into bite sized pieces and do the same with the cauliflower.  Cut corn off the cob.  Heat oven to 425f and melt about 2 tbsp of bacon fat in baking sheet.  What?  No jar of bacon fat in your fridge?  Olive oil is fine as well.  Toss carrots and cauliflower with the oil, salt and pepper and return to oven.  Roast until slightly tender, about 15 minutes.  Add in the corn and roast for another 5 minutes.  Then add in the peas and roast for another 5 minutes.  

The vegetables were excellent.  Mashed potatoes buttery sweet.  Dover sole, tender, fresh and well, buttery!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monday Noodle and Tofu Night

Still trying to adhere to my meatless Mondays, I find how much of a challenge it can be to do a good variety of dinners without meat.  As you might have noticed, we are a family of meat lovers.  And tasked with the challenge of finding something the kids will eat other than pasta every Monday is a bit of a hurdle.  I need to consult outside sources for vegetarian ideas.  But tonight, I went to an old standby.  One which always gets a little hooray from the gals.  One that gets the "oh, are we having those really good noodles we like?"  So, why not dip in that well as often as possible?

Wok Fried Noodles 
2 Cups mixed mushrooms (I used fresh Shiitake, Crimini, and King Oyster)
1 Cup sliced sweet onions
1 Cup bean sprouts
4 Baby bok choy, cut in half cross wise
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp minced ginger
3 Eggs, lightly beaten
16 oz dried noodles.  I used a wheat flour, udon noodle

Make a sauce containing:
3/4 cup chicken stock
1.5 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1.5 tbsp cooking wine
1 tsp sesame oil
a few twists of freshly ground black pepper

Boil a large pot of water and cook noodles according to the instructions on the package, minus a minute or so to al dente.  Drain and run under cold water to keep them from sticking together.  

Scramble eggs first in your wok.  Remove and set aside.  Heat your wok over high heat and add in 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Fry the onion, garlic, and ginger until fragrant.  Add in the mushrooms and baby bok choy and fry for another minute.  Then add in the sauce and bring to a boil.  Toss in the noodles, eggs and bean sprouts and fry for a few more minutes, tossing only a couple of times to incorporate everything.
This made enough for lunch for the girls the next day.  Bonus!

OK, so I'm guessing though I may not have a whole fan club for tofu, I must have a few people standing by my side on this.  I actually love tofu.  One, it's good for you.  Two, it takes on whatever flavor you want.  So for me, a szechuan loving, bold flavor craving, love to eat person, tofu seems to be a good route to go.  I mean, can you eat enough tofu to make you worry about gaining weight, or clogging your arteries.  I suppose if I fried it... which actually was one thought for tonight, but then I got too lazy.  This tofu is a tasty little treat.  Great flavor, low fat (one of the few times you'll see such a thing on the blog), and easy to make.

Braised Tofu with Shiitake Mushrooms
6-8 Dried Shiitake mushrooms, rinsed and then soaked in hot water until soft, keep the liquid
1 pkg tofu, sliced into 1/3" thick squares
4 slices ginger
4 Scallions cut into 2" sections
3 Tbsp dark soy
2 Tbsp cooking wine
1 cup liquid from the shiitake mushrooms
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp corn starch mixed with 2 tbsp water

Heat wok with 1 tbsp vegetable oil.  Add in ginger and fry until fragrant.  Then add in soy, wine, sugar, pepper and liquid from shiitake mushrooms.  Bring to a boil.  Add in shiitake mushrooms and scallions and simmer for about 7 minutes.  Add in tofu, stir to incorporate, cover and let simmer for another 5 minutes.  Add enough corn starch water mixture to thicken sauce slightly to the consistency of a thin gravy.