Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Soy Braised Beef Short Ribs

It's not really the season for braising, but a long grilling session in the back yard is a bit off limits right now as we undergo another project.  And since I was drawn to some meaty beef short ribs at the market, braising it will be.  I decided to try the same method as that I used for some oxtail back in December.  The recipe I used is in the link, but briefly, it is browning the short rib, braising them in a soy and apple juice sauce, and then frying them.  Instead of a deep fry, I opted for a quick pan fry just to crisp the outside a bit.  

For a side dish, I pan fried some brussels sprouts in the duck fat from last night's dinner.  Yum!
The most joyous part of this was that both my kids expressed excitement when they thought I was making oxtail.  For some reason, it brings a bit of self satisfaction that they are excited about something off the mainstream.  

A second place short rib did not disappoint.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Saffron and Blueberries

The never ending cycle of trying to clear out the freezer produced a package of duck breasts for dinner tonight.  Who keeps putting stuff in my freezer?  

To prepare the duck, I trimmed the excess fat and then cut a crosshatch into the fat left on the breasts.  
Heat your oven to 400.  
Salt and pepper both sides of the breasts and fry them fat side down first in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat until skin is deep brown and crispy. 
Turn the breasts over and sear the other side until browned.  
Place the pan in the oven until the breasts are cooked to about medium, another 10-15 minutes.
Remove breasts to a heated plate and let rest.  
Remove all but 1 tbsp or so of fat from the pan and add flour to make a roux.  Let cook for a few minutes
Deglaze pan with white wine.  To the pan, add some chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Add a few threads of saffron and a handful of fresh blueberries.
Finish with a bit of balsamic vinegar.
Adjust seasonings.

As I tasted the sauce, I said, "there's something missing", to which Chris replied, "cream?"
Hmmm... that or copious amounts of butter.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Sunny Weekend at Whidbey Island and the Norbonara

The long awaited sunny weekend at Whidbey Island arrived this past weekend.  We had boating, we had tubing and we ate and drank and shared some good times with good friends.  A big treat for me was no cooking all weekend!  An even bigger treat were the fabulous meals we had, one being this carbonara which we lovingly named the Norbonara, after it's chef.  

It was three kinds of pork product, two kinds of cheese, a poached egg on top and it was love at first sight.  While prepping the meal, my friend sent me a text with this photo 
and the words "Hello Piggy".  You know how we Emertons love a good pork fest.
The three kinds of pork product were smoky bacon, pancetta, and prosciutto, chopped and pan fried until crispy.   The sauce for the pasta contained chicken stock mixed with the crisped pork, then tossed with cooked pasta, chopped parsley, and asiago and parmesan cheeses, and then topped with a poached egg and another sprinkling of cheese.  The warm egg yolk ran into the pasta giving it an even richer flavor.  A new favorite carbonara!  

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Little Something to Make Your Taste Buds Jump

While having lunch with my mom last week, she told me about a little dish which I would call a perfect tidbit to snack on or a large bit to feast on.  It's the kind of dish you would have with a large bottle of beer or a big bowl or two of white rice or congee.  It's salty and spicy and perfect to satisfy a flavor blast craving.  My mom plays mah jong weekly with a group of ladies.  They each pack their own lunchbox, but my mom's friend always brings her something my mom can enjoy later.  My mom's friend and her brother own Chiang's Gourmet, in Lake City, here in Seattle.  It is one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in town.  They do a traditional Chinese style breakfast/brunch on the weekends and have a large selection of "Szechuan Heaven" dishes.  This is one of the items she brought to my mom at their last mah jong game.

I'm not sure there's a proper name for the dish, but here are the components.  
Finely chopped salted and sour long beans (basically pickled long beans)
Ground pork
Dried tiny fish (I used anchovies) about 1 oz
Fermented black beans, rinsed and drained
Small chili peppers, thinly sliced
Chili with Garlic sauce
Minced garlic
Dark soy
Rice wine
Chopped scallions
Fry ground pork in a hot wok.  Add chili garlic sauce, then the rest of the ingredients.  Spicy, salty goodness.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ice Cream Pie

Chris' birthday is not until Sunday, and lucky for me, Chris' birthday dessert request was ice cream pie.  How wonderful is this ice cream pie?  Let me list the ways.  
You can make it days ahead of time, and it will taste as fresh as the day you made it.
It's foolproof.  
It's easy.
Minimal baking.
Kids and adults love it alike.
It has endless possibilities.
It looks homemade, but you can purchase all ingredients and put it together.
You can make a whole variety of them all at the same time with nearly no extra work.
Leftovers keep for a long time, if you have any.

The only consideration is that because of the freezing time, it will take a bit between steps.

For one 9" pie dish, I bought 2 pints of Haagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche ice cream, as was Chris' flavor of choice.  While preparing the crust, place the ice cream in the refrigerator to soften.  
I crushed about 8 oz Walkers shortbread cookies in a food processor and mixed it with 3 tbsp melted butter and a sprinkle of sugar.  Press into the bottom of the pie dish and slightly up the sides.  Bake at 375 for about 9-10 minutes.  Let cool completely.
Our usual favorite is a chocolate cookie crust using Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers.  But I thought I'd go crazy and try shortbread this time.
When the crust is completely cooked and the ice cream has softened, spread the ice cream into the pie dish.  Set into the freezer until hardened. 

Chris requested a white chocolate sauce, and I was way ahead of him having purchased a large chunk of Callebaut white chocolate already.  To make a white chocolate sauce,  melt about 5 oz of white chocolate with 1/2 cup heavy cream.  Chop the chocolate into small pieces.  Warm the cream in a small sauce pan.  When it is just about to boil, remove from heat and stir in the chocolate.  This makes about 1 1/2 cups.  Let cool and then spread over the top of the pie.  Return pie to the freezer.  Alternatively, use a store bought chocolate or caramel sauce.  I would have used my favorite, Fran's, but I don't believe they make a white chocolate sauce.  We've had their caramel and dark chocolate and both are fabulous.  
For the decoration and writing, I did use Fran's dark chocolate sauce.  An expert decorator I am not.

This version of the ice cream pie is quite simple, but you can go to town and add caramel, nuts, peanut butter, chocolate chips, or whatever your heart desires.  It's a perfect summertime treat.

Grilled Lamb and Lobster with Green Pea, Mint and Jalapeno Sauce

I saw this dish on an episode of Iron Chef America and had to try it.  It's a pairing I would not have thought to do, so while the idea is still fresh in my mind, I thought I should give it a go.  Unfortunately, I only saw the finished product on the show, not really paying attention while it was being made.  One of my habits is having the tv on in the kitchen while I work as background noise.  I'm sure I missed some integral parts to the cooking of it, but I shall experiment with it anyway.

I took one whole rack of lamb, deboned it, and trimmed it of excess fat.  I placed that into a marinade of balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil and shallots for several hours.
To make life easier, I purchased two raw lobster tails.  In the show, the lobster and lamb were skewered together.  Since I wasn't paying attention, I'm not sure if they were cooked together on the skewer, or cooked then skewered.  I would think cooking together on the skewer would result in uneven cooking.  So, I opted for no skewer at all and instead, grilling them separately in their whole, which my master griller Chris did for me.  The lobster went on the grill with simply salt, pepper and melted butter. 

For the sauce:
1.5 to 2 Cups frozen petit peas
1 Jalapeno pepper
3-4 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp champagne vinegar
2 tbsp grape seed oil
salt and pepper to taste

Fire roast the Jalapeno over an open flame.  I just used my stove burner and charred the skin, then placed it in a paper bag to steam, and then removed the blackened skin.  Depending on how spicy you like you sauce, use no seeds, some seeds or all of the seeds in your sauce.  I used no seeds.  Put the peas, jalapeno, mint, water and vinegar into a blender and puree to liquify.  Then add the grape seed oil and blend until just incorporated.  Salt and pepper to your taste. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Homemade Fettuccine with Morel and Shiitake Mushroom Cream Sauce

Up until now, I had only made pasta with regular unbleached all-purpose flour.  On my list to try is still the 00, doppio zero talcum-soft white flour, which I have not yet gotten my hands on.  According to my Marcella Hazan, whose recipe I've been following, this is the flour to use for making fresh egg pasta.  What not to use at home, she says, is semolina flour.  It is milled from durum wheat and is grainy, making it difficult to roll out with a rolling pin.  Best to be left to commercial pasta makers.  But alas I have a machine roller and it is in my nature to experiment, so I did.  I combined 3 eggs with about 2 cups of Bob's Red Mill Semolina Flour and Stella rolled the pasta to the #5 setting and cut it using the fettuccine cutter.  Pasta is becoming Stella's specialty.  Depending on the size of your eggs, you could need more or less flour.  
Cook the pasta in boiling water with some salt and oil for about 2 minutes.  It took just a little longer than other pasta I'd made with regular flour.  Wait until your sauce is ready to cook the pasta or else the pasta will stick together, especially as it is fresh.

My kids love a good cream sauce... but then again who doesn't?  Maybe my parents... I don't think there's anything about a cream sauce my mom likes, so how did I get to be such a fan of it?  Hmmm, could it be that it makes almost everything taste better?  It mellows, sweetens and enriches.  That's some power to wield.  But too much of this good thing, could be a bad thing.  So, use with careful abandon, as we all have different tolerance levels for decadence.  

For this simple pasta, I quick fried some sage leaves in grape seed oil, then set aside.  Then with the oil from that, I sauteed some thinly sliced garlic then added fresh shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced, and fresh morel mushrooms, cut in half or quartered depending on size.  Deglaze with a little dry vermouth, then finish with a heavy cream.  Toss with the cooked pasta and a large handful of arugula.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with a few fried sage leaves and shaved parmigiano reggiano.   Oh happy day!  We all agreed we liked this pasta the best out of the many times I've made fresh pasta.  It had more elasticity and body.  The sauce was clean and not too rich.  The arugula gave it a nice nutty flavor, the mushrooms an earthy woodsy balance, and the cream, a warm blanket over it all.  The sage added a taste of green earth and the parmigiano a bit of salt and well, cheesy goodness.  Have to give it an A.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Homemade Tortillas and Grilled Pork Belly Tacos

Does it seem like we eat a lot of pork?  I'm starting to get a complex because a couple of people have commented on my pork consumption.  Is it time for me to start selectively omitting pork from my blog?  A little reflection on our weekly menu really reveals we don't have pork more than maybe once a week, but maybe it's just that I talk a lot about pork.  Having said that, the confession here is last night we had some folks for dinner and I had purchased a large pork belly to make pork buns.  Yes, there's been a few pork bun postings, hence none made last night.  I wound up using only half the amount I purchased, so tonight, we are having the other half cooked on the charcoal Weber.  I had marinated it in equal parts salt and sugar overnight.  Yesterday, I brushed off the excess, and rinsed it, dried it, then wrapped it in plastic wrap to keep for tonight. 
The Weber grill was set up using half charcoal briquets, and half  hardwood charcoal.  The coals were set to one side for indirect heat and a water pan was placed under the pork.  We kept the grill at 350 for about 2 hours of cooking.  It was smoky and delicious!  

For the tacos, I made a little sauce of sour cream, ssam sauce, soy and fish sauce.  Other fixin's were fresh cilantro, shredded cabbage, pickled cucumber, pickled fennel and scallions. There is no beating the pickled veggies, and really, it's all of the fresh and flavorful accompaniments that make the pork shine.

No sooner had I resolved to hang up my recipe writing hat for a while, do I decide to make some flour tortillas, which I have not made in so long, that it required a recipe look up.  I dug out this simple recipe which I remembered made some light and not too doughy tortillas.  The fine texture of these is the big pay off for making them from scratch.
2 cups flour, plus more for rolling out the tortillas
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
5 tbsp shortening
3/4 cup water water

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl.  Using your fingers, cut in the shortening until it's the texture of coarse cornmeal.
Stir about 1/2 cup of the water into the mixture until it begins to form a ball.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead adding a little bit of the remaining water with your fingers until the texture is soft and wet, but not sticky.  This will take several minutes of good kneading.  
Divide the dough into 20 or so 1-ounce balls.  I stretch out the dough by rolling it until it is a long thick tube making it easier to cut into equal parts.  Fold the sides of the dough inward and form a round ball.  Cover them with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes or up to an hour.  
Roll each ball out using a small rolling pin or if you have one of those tortilla makers, that may work well too.
Cook tortillas over medium high heat using a non-stick skillet or griddle.  Once the griddle was hot and smoking, each tortilla took maybe only a minute to cook.  Just as I remembered, light and airy, and the perfect vehicle for the pork.  I should have done this a long time ago.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Whole Baked Rougheye Rockfish in Sea Salt

I was reflecting on the blog lately and have come to the conclusion I don't really enjoy all the recipe writing.  It's not how I started the blog, but somehow, along the way, I began to feel compelled to try and detail how I am making my food.  This goes against the natural order, or rather, disorder, of my cooking life.  Blogging has become a little addictive for me, but at the same time, it often feels like a chore to get through.  I've decided to depart a bit from my recipe writing days and allow my free wheeling, carefree and wingin' it self be released from that burden for a while.  Hallelujah!  But first, someone else's recipe to follow...

On a walk this morning, my friend asked me what I was going to make for dinner.  I said, fish, I think.  Then I remembered this lovely sea bass baked in salt we had at her house and It seemed only fitting I should try to make that.  I'm not sure what her recipe was, but I found this one on the Epicurious site.  Sea bass would have been the way to go for sure, but I was only able to get a whole rougheye rockfish.  It was a beauty of a fish, 3 pounds on the dot, and hopefully it will taste beautiful as well.
I used half of the spices called for in the recipe and I didn't have leeks, so I used scallions.  I think next time I would skip the spices all together and just go with lemon and leeks.  Perhaps because of the way I took the fish off, some parts were very salty, and others were perfect.  I will circle back around and get my friend's recipe for next time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Chilled English Pea Soup

On a hot day like today, a nice refreshing chilled pea soup shot seemed like just the right way to go.  
4 cups freshly shelled English peas, keeping 6 of the shells for garnish
2 cups cooking liquid reserved from boiling the peas
salt and white pepper to taste
6 large wild white shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 tbsp butter

Bring to boil in a large saucepan a mixture of equal parts chicken stock and water, about 6 cups total.  Cook peas for 2-3 minutes, or until tender.  Drain reserving approximately 2 cups of the liquid.  Rinse peas under cold water.  Let cooking liquid cool a bit.  Working in 2 batches, puree half the peas with 1 cup of the liquid and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Adjust the salt to your preference.  Strain through a fine sieve and repeat.  Place the soup into a container and chill.  Remove from the refrigerator about half an hour before serving so it is not ice cold, but just chilled.

Melt butter and toss with shrimp.  Place shrimp in a small baking sheet and broil for about 1 minute per side or until cooked.  Place each shrimp in one of the pea shells and carefully lay on top of each small glass of soup.

The New Weber Smoker - Ribs on a Sunny Saturday

A little web search will quickly reveal how passionate some folks are about their smokers.  We have always used our Weber kettle grill for smoking, but I woke up on Monday and said, I'm buying a smoker for Chris today.  Like anything I decide to buy for Chris, I ask him about it first.  After two decades, yes that's two, of knowing him, I know my success rate in purchases for him is still maybe 5% at best.  I did my requisite research on the internet and with friends.  In the end, Chris said go Weber for sure.  
Weber offers a 18.5" and 22.5" smoker.  After a little rather logical discussion, he decided the 18.5" would be just fine.  It arrived on Thursday, I diligently assembled it and set it outside and thought to myself with a little cringe, he is going to want the bigger one.  In anticipation of receiving his new toy, he did a little researching himself and discovered the customizations some folks have done to their smokers.  The one that changed our course was taking the body of the smoker and setting it on top of the kettle grill.  We have an old Performer Grill which is set into a cart that provides storage and a work top on the side on the grill.  Being able to roll the smoker around and have a work surface drove the decision to go out and get the 22.5" smoker.  It is only 4" wider, but it seems massive.  I mean how many times will we ever need a smoker that big?  The coal consumption is 1.5 times more than the smaller model.  It's another huge item to store in our back yard.  Throw all logic aside, and welcome home the purchase made with emotion.  A new baby has arrived.

So, it's a stellar Saturday in Seattle.  I made it through the dreary week based on the promise of a beautiful sunny weekend and it's been delivered.  9:00 am, watched the womens French Open finals, showered, coffeed, and then it was time to lay out the timeline for taking the new Weber for a test drive.

For the first smoke, it is ribs of course.  I bought a 3 pack of pork back ribs from Costco and a slab of beef ribs from Uwajimaya who always seems to come through for me.  A few chicken drumsticks and a whole chicken will also make their way onto the smoker.  But, for today's posting, let's focus on the ribs.

For the rub:
3/4 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup kosher salt
3/8 Cup brown sugar
4 Tbsp chili powder
1.5 Tbsp garlic powder
3 tsp onion powder
3 tsp black pepper
1 tsp msg (I struggled with this one, but after researching several rub recipes, I had to try it)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (I would have put more but fearful of too much spice for the kids)
Spread the brown sugar out on a baking sheet to dry out a bit.  Mix all ingredients together.  The rub recipe makes more than enough to save for future uses.  
Two hours before you are ready to cook, take the ribs out and using a sharp filet knife, remove the membrane on the back of the ribs and any excess fat.
Apply a light dusting of the rub on the ribs, both sides.  Do not over apply the rub or they will be too salty.  Let the ribs sit at room temperature for two hours.
Meanwhile prepare the grill.  The whole smoking process will take 10-15 lbs of coal and 6 large chunks of hardwood, we used applewood, with the bark removed.  Fill a charcoal chimney to the top.  Light the charcoal and once the coals are lit, dump them into the charcoal chamber of the smoker or in our case the kettle.  Then refill the chimney and light another round of charcoal.  When those are lit add them to the pile, spread out the charcoal a little and add the applewood chunks to it.  

Once the applewood starts to burn, assemble the smoker on top.  Fill the water pan with cool water.  According to Weber, this helps to keep the temperature of the smoker down.  Check the water level via the side door of the smoker every 90 minutes or so and add water as needed. Adjust the vents to maintain a temp of 225f for the first 3 hours.  We closed all the vents for the first couple of hours.  
Wait until the wood stops flaming before putting the ribs in the smoker.  Place the ribs on the grates and cover with the lid.  Do not remove the lid for these first few hours.  After 3 hours, adjust the vents so that temperature rises to between 250-275f.  At this point, we brushed the ribs with a simple mop sauce:
2 cups cider vinegar
3 tbsp brown sugar
Continue smoking for another hour and begin to check for doneness.  We wound up smoking the ribs for a total 5 hours.  After the initial 3 hours, we added coals to help maintain the higher temperature.

For the Sauce:
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup ketchup
6 oz chili sauce (I used a brand call Homade Chili Sauce)
2 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp worcestershire 
1/2 tsp black pepper

Saute the onions and garlic in a little oil until softened.  Put in a blender with remaining ingredients and puree.  Return to a large sauce pan and bring to a simmer for 15 minutes.  Let cool to room temp.

Cut ribs into sections and serve with the barbecue sauce on the side along with your favorite barbecue accompaniments.  I did baked beans, cornbread, roasted potatoes and a caprese salad.  
A complete failure on my part to not get any photos of the ribs in their complete beautiful form after smoking.  Chatting with friends trumped blogging.... as it should any good day.  Add in a couple of good cocktails and a proper photo shoot never even crossed my mind... until it was too late.
The ribs were delicious.  The beef may have out-shined the pork.  More flavor.  The larger weber is a beast of a smoker.  Time will tell if its size winds up being a deterrent to smoking at will.  But it sure was fun.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rack of Lamb Persillade

Last night I asked Chris to go dinner shopping in the freezer.  Out came a rack of lamb.  No interest from the kids on the rack of lamb... Maggie because of taste and Stella because of principles.  More for us.  A whole discussion ensued about lamb and I remembered that they seemed to like the braised lamb shank I made.  I guess the excellent shallots, onions, wine and beef stock took care of any strong lamb flavor there might have been.  Stella claimed to have just pretended to like it.  Nice.

I found this recipe in Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris and cut the recipe in half.

1 Rack of lamb
olive oil
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley
1/2 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 450.  Place lamb in a roasting pan, fat side up.  Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast lamb for 10 minutes.

While lamb is roasting, place parsley, garlic and butter in a food processor and process until finely minced.  Add bread crumbs and lemon zest and process for a few seconds until combined.

Take the lamb out and quickly press the parsley mixture on top.  Return lamb to the oven for another 15 minutes.  Remove lamb from oven and cover with foil and let rest for 15 minutes.  

I served the lamb with roasted cauliflower with bacon bits and a butter lettuce salad.  
The lamb was cooked more than my liking, but flavor was good.  I really liked the parsley crust, but perhaps I did something wrong.  It did not get crispy but for the very top layer.  I will definitely try this again because the lamb was very tasty.  Just need to tweek it a little.  Cauliflower bacon was fabulous.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Grilled Basil and Cilantro Citrus Chicken

More grilled chicken?  Yes, can't get enough.  It is the go-to meal.  When out of ideas, a whole chicken and a blender never fails me.  This is not the prettiest looking marinade, but it sure is tasty.  

Handful of cilantro
20 or so large basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
2 shallots
1 Thai chili
1/2 cup orange juice
juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp sweet soy sauce
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
1 tbsp palm sugar
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Put everything in a blender and liquify. 
Cut 1 whole chicken into 8 pieces.  Marinade chicken, preferably overnight, or at least for sever hours.  We used the gas grill tonight, cooking the chicken over medium flames for about 25-30 minutes.  I served with wok fried bok choy and a little Thai style fried rice made with shredded pork, minced onions, green onions, eggs, fish sauce, and cooked long grain rice.