Monday, September 29, 2008

Pork and tomatillo stew

Most foodies, looking at that subject, will expect a recipe for chile verde. This certainly isn't a traditional version. It seems to have mutated through a chili-cooking competition, possibly in Brazil. Any chili recipe you find with "award-winning" in the description is bound to have a half dozen random ingredients added to the standard meat, chiles, onions and tomatoes. I've seen weirder additions than what's in here. I found this recipe in my files while looking for a more standard one that I was sure I had. From what's on the front of the sheet of paper it's written on the back of, it looks like I found it on-line around 1994. I've found it again on the Web but that doesn't really help. This site says it comes from a restaurant where Ruth Reichl, editor in chief of Gourmet, used to waitress. This one says its from the L.A. Times. I suppose both could be true and I'm making some changes so it probably doesn't matter much. Here's my version:

1 bottle dark beer
12 ounces orange juice
1 pound tomatillos, quartered
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 head garlic, peeled, crushed and roughly chopped
2 pounds pork butt, cut in 1/2 inch cubes

3 medium onions, sliced
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon cumin

4 10 oz cans Ro-tel tomatoes with peppers
1 14-ounce can black beans or same amount of soaked dried beans
1/4 cup corn meal (masa if you've got it)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

sour cream
flour tortillas and/or rice

1. In a dutch oven, bring beer and orange juice to a boil. Add tomatillos, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat but keep near the stove. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

2. Heat oil in a 12-inch cast iron pan on medium high heat. Add garlic and cook two minutes. Turn heat up to high and begin browning pork in batches. Remember to season the pork now or it'll be bland at the end. Remove each batch to the dutch oven. I had four batches and, as the pot warmed up I got progressively better browning, but the garlic got progressively closer to burning. I removed some garlic with each batch so I got a range of flavors and textures of both. Probably a better idea to just remove the garlic, turn the heat up, wait a minute or two and then start browning the pork.

3. Drain oil from pan if you want, but that's garlic-infused pork fat so I certainly didn't. Turn heat down to medium and add onions, peppers and seasonings. Cook until softened. Try to get some browning, but if you're using chili powder you won't be able to tell by looking. When ready, remove to dutch oven.

4. Drain two of the cans of tomatoes, but keep the liquid from the other two. Add tomatoes (and the juice from two cans) and half the cilantro to dutch oven. Stir and put in oven. Cook for two hours.

5. Add beans and corn meal. Because the heat is low the sauce won't have cooked down at all. Judge if you want to add any of the bean liquid. Cook for another half hour.
6. Theoretically that should finish the dish, but you'll notice that the sauce is quite thin and the vegetables haven't really broken down. So enough of this newfangled stew cooking methods and onto the stove for a half hour of uncovered high simmering (with occasional stirring).

That certainly helped the texture a good deal, thickening the sauce into more of a gravy. And generous extra helpings of spice and salt helped the flavor along. But despite all that, I still can't call this dish a winner. It's fine, but the tomat(ill)o to everything else ratio is just too high for a really good flavor balance. Maybe fresh tomatoes would have helped, but Ro-tel canned are a standard ingredient in many fine chilis so it wasn't an unheard of change to the recipe. Some reviews of other versions of this dish complained about the orange juice, but I thought it added some interesting notes. It could have asserted itself a bit more, really, as could have the beer. I may have just chosen poorly in that regard, though. But my previous chilis and southwestern stews have improved while sitting in the freezer so there's every chance this stew will too. And also on the plus side, it turns out that the low slow cooking in the oven immunizes meat from toughening up during boiling. That's good to know.

Next time, though, I've really got to get back to basics and make a proper chile verde with just pork, chiles, onions and tomatillos.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Teriyaki tuna and tofu

Here's a dish I threw together tonight that I think turned out well enough to share. I now compulsively photograph everything I cook so even though I didn't know I'd be posting about it until it's done, it's fully documented.


1 tuna steak, about 1/3 pound - cut in 2 inch cubes
1/3 pound extra firm tofu - cut in 2 inch cubes

a few glugs of soy sauce
half as much sake
a generous pinch of brown sugar
finely grated ginger
white pepper
red pepper
(obviously, I didn't measure so I'm not going to make quantities up now)

2 scallions, sliced thin - white and green separated
4 leaves bok choy - sliced thin - stem and leaves separated
1 carrot, in very thin strips

2 eggs

squeeze of lemon
drizzle of sesame oil

white rice, cooked however you cook your white rice

1. Mix the marinade ingredients. Add tuna and tofu. Marinate one hour, turning half way through.

2. Drain marinade into a small bowl and set aside. Pat tuna dry.

3. Heat a Tablespoon of oil to nearly smoking in a medium non-stick pan. Sear tuna for no more than 30 seconds, flip and sear again. Remove.

4. Repeat with tofu for about the same time. Remove to bowl with tuna. Keep someplace warm.

5. Add a bit more oil to the pan as the previous Tablespoon is now all over your stovetop, shirt and glasses. Actually, you might want to go wash your face at this point.

6. Give the oil a moment to heat up then add the bok choy stems and the white part of the scallion. Stir fry until wilted. Add the rest of the vegetables. Stir fry briefly. I let the cabbage get a bit browned for some extra flavor, but it's up to you.

7. Remove pan from heat. Crack in the two eggs and stir to lightly scramble. When eggs are not quite dry, remove to bowl.

8. Pack a bowl with white rice. Top with four cubes of tuna and four of tofu. Add a third of the vegetable mixture. Pour a third of the marinade on and finish with lemon and sesame oil.

If you want a proper restaurant-style teriyaki sauce, you'll want to make a bit more of the marinade, bring it to a boil in a small pot, add no more than a Tablespoon of cornstarch (dissolved in cold water) and let thicken. Personally, I didn't want to let everything else get cold while I did that. But if you're keeping everything someplace warm as I suggested above, it would probably be an improvement.

The tuna and tofu absorbed plenty of flavor from the marinade but still maintained their own character and texture. You could use meat or shrimp instead but then you'd definitely want to boil the sauce for a while. Or you could use all tofu. You could mix and match the vegetables, too. Mushrooms or peppers would work well. Maybe even broccoli, but I think that would throw off the quick cooking and you wouldn't the bright fresh flavors I got.

So, quick, easy and tasty. Fresh and fairly healthy. I'm rather pleased with it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Savory Bread Pudding

The A Good Appetite has been playing with this idea recently--see here, here and the original source at the Jam and Clotted Cream blog here. The idea seemed naggingly familiar so I did a bit of research and, yep, they've managed to independently reinvent the traditional breakfast dish cheese strata. Of course they've gussied it up a bit. I like their high tone versions with blue cheese, figs, caramelized leeks and whatnot, but I've got my rapidly staling polenta bread to work with and I don't think high tone is a real option. So, classic Americana it's going to be.

I changed all the flavors around, but I went, more or less, by the ingredient ratios in the recipe from Jam and Clotted Cream cut down by a third as I was throwing this together with what was in the house and that's all of the melty cheese I had on hand.

7 half-inch slices polenta bread
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
2 jalapenos, sliced thin one seeded
1/2 cup shredded good quality ham
10 ounces shredded cheese (I used mostly Jack and Swiss with a bit of Cheddar and a little fresh mozzarella)
2 eggs
1 scant cup milk
1 6 oz can of evaporated milk (My preferred mac & cheese recipe uses evaporated milk to add body. I figured it would work well here too)
3 small tomatoes, sliced
seasoning to match your cheese (I used a pinch of a French herb mix to match the Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard I used)

1. Sweat onions, peppers and ham with a pinch of salt in a bit of butter and olive oil until soft.

2. Cut crusts off bread if you wish (I did) and cut into pieces a few inches on a side. Coat one side of each piece lightly with butter and mustard.

3. Mix eggs, milk and evaporated milk with a bit more salt, pepper and maybe a few dashes of hot sauce.

4. Lay out a third of the bread (coated side up) in an 8"x8" baking dish. Add a third of the onion mixture, then a third of the cheese then a third of the egg mixture. Repeat two more times. (I found that I didn't have quite enough to really fill an 8x8 dish, but it all expands in the oven so that's OK.) Let soak for 20 minutes. You'll notice that the egg mixture drained to the bottom so you might want to baste a little but don't sweat it. At some point during the 20 minutes layer the sliced tomatoes on top.

5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake 30 minutes in the bottom half of the oven and then 8 minutes on the top rack to get some good browning.

The results are nothing spectacular, but I knew that going in. The custard binds everything together physically, but the flavors are still discrete. There are tastes of the crispy browned cheese, the custard-soak rejuvenated bread, the brightly flavorful roasted tomato, the buttery sweet onions and hot peppers and hints of vinegary mustard are all plenty tasty unto themselves (Oddly, no trace of the ham. Huh.) but it doesn't add up to anything more. Still, good basic hearty fare drowning in starch, salt and fat so I can't complain too much. And there's certainly plenty of room for experimenting with different flavor combinations if I want to get fancy next time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Grand Slam Ice Cream

so-called because it contains a cup of coffee, a glass of milk, a waffle with maple syrup and banana, two eggs and three slices of bacon--all the components (more or less) of a Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast.

You knew as well as I that I was going to make a bacon ice cream sooner or later. Straight bacon ice cream is pretty passe these days; it was over a year ago that Michael Symon got dinged for making it during the Next Iron Chef competition. If you look around on-line you see variations like maple-bacon, coffee-bacon, peanut butter-bacon and the like so that next step beyond is well trodden. I needed not just a more complex flavor but some grander idea to make it worth while and so a complete breakfast ice cream was born.

The first thing was to infuse the coffee. I coarsely ground three Tablespoons of coffee beans and added them to 1 cup heavy cream and 1 1/2 cup milk. I slowly heated that to the edge of simmering and then turned off the heat, put on the lid and let it sit for 15 minutes. Not quite boiling means that I don't release the more bitter flavor components in the coffee and get a smoother flavor.

After it was done steeping I strained out the coffee grounds, pressing them to get out all the liquid, and split the dairy into two batches. I wanted to thicken it both with (two) egg yolks and (one) banana but I don't know what it is in the banana that mimics a custard I don't know if it would survive heating and I'm sure that the protein chains that egg yolks thicken with won't survive a spin in the blender. That means two separate operations to be mixed later.

First one's easy, 1 cup dairy plus one frozen-and-defrosted banana blended together.

For the second one I whisked the two egg yolks with 5 fluid ounces of grade A dark amber maple syrup. That amount was determined by what I had on hand but it worked out so I'll leave it as is. Grade A dark is actually an average as I have a bunch of sample bottles of different grades and I mixed some grade B, some grade A dark and the dregs of my big bottle of grade A medium. Once that was smooth I mixed it with 1 1/2 cups of dairy and slowly heated it to 170 degrees whisking frequently to create a custard. I immediately removed it from the pan and cooled for a half hour and mixed it with the banana blend. I noticed that it tasted really good warm which meant it wasn't sweet enough for freezing. So I added a quarter cup of white sugar before chilling it overnight to 40 degrees.

Meanwhile, it was time to cook the bacon. That's three strips for the ice cream and one for me. I preferred method is baking in my toaster oven. Ten minutes at 350 degrees, give the strips a flip, another ten minutes and maybe a bit longer depending on how they're doing. This particularly bacon is thick cut--the extra-nice, extra-fancy, extra-expensive sort from Whole Foods. It's great and I'm never going back to the supermarket stuff--so it took an extra five minutes and maybe could have cooked a bit longer to get really crisp, but I didn't figure it would stay crisp in the ice cream so I didn't want to take the risk of burning it. If it wasn't going into something sweet I would have sprinkled it with brown sugar which candies the bacon up nicely and very tastily.

I also chopped up a frozen waffle. Even if I had a waffle maker I probably would have gone with store bought as I expect they're well-designed for freezing. I used Van's whole-grain Belgian waffles which have a good bit of flavor and a firm texture that Eggo doesn't deliver.

In the morning the mix wasn't noticeably thick, but it did heavily coat a dipped spatula which is what you're looking for in an ice cream mix.

It churned up nicely with a good gradual freezing and a slowly thickening texture. That allows plenty of time for churned in air which helps keep the results from freezing too solidly. I mixed in the bacon and waffle as I spooned out the churned ice cream. No point in pouring the solid bits into the churn where they can get ground up and jam the works. And then into the freezer for ripening.

And here's the final product. Bacon entirely aside, the coffee/maple/banana combination is fabulous. Even my co-workers who picked out the bacon raved about the ice cream. There was a nice synergy of the three flavors straight out of the churn, but after ripening coffee has come to the forefront with the others rounding it out. If you make it, I'd suggest using only two scoops of coffee beans or just mashing up the beans in a mortar instead of grinding them.

There's enough bacon and waffle to get one or the other in most bites. If you get the bacon there are hints of salt and smoke poking through the intense but mellow flavor of the ice cream--which actually works quite well. The ice cream melts away rapidly without much lingering aftertaste so you're left just chewing a piece of really good bacon and/or a not-bad-at-all chunk of whole-grain waffle. The few seconds of overlap as the flavors build and fade in intensity are the best part.

The texture is about as good as I've ever managed: soft, smooth and creamy. I think that's from the fructose in the maple syrup. I could see the mix getting gooey as it froze in the churn instead of just hardening up. The texture of the waffles isn't great--a bit stiff and crumbly--but it's a good contrast and the flavor blooms as you chew it so not too bad. I was afraid it would get soggy, but I think the hearty multigraininess helped avoid that Eggo-esque possibility. Surprisingly, the bacon retains a bit of crunch around the edges with a nice chewy center. There was some concern expressed that an unnamed "some people" might not like the chewiness. Maybe I could have cooked the bacon crisper, but with thick-cut bacon there's a fine line between crisp and burnt and you start to lose flavor as you approach it. Now that I know that bacon retains its texture when mixed in ice cream, I'll probably go with thinner, crisper bacon next time it's an appropriate addition.

Overall, a great success but not a terribly surprising one. Of course all these flavors go together; I'm just presenting them unusually. I think that's a bit less impressive than novel flavor combinations that work out. That's what I'll have to work on next.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Polenta bread

At the end of my last baking post I promised that my next loaf would be French butter loaves, but since, on closer inspection of the recipe, those loaves are actually rolls I thought I go one step at a time. I've left the no-knead long rise behind, but I'm not quite ready to give up the enclosed baking method. On the other hand, I am curious to see how it works with breads containing milk and fat which normally call for lower baking temperatures. So I thought I'd try polenta bread. This is another recipe from Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine, but it's actually a full-fledged bread machine recipe (there are a few in the book) so while the ingredients were from the recipe, the methodology was all up to me.

Those aforementioned ingredients are:
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1/3 cup polenta
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons lard (I save bacon drippings so I used that)
2/3 cup milk
2 Tablespoons water
1 large egg

You may recall in my earlier baking posts complaints about the copious extra flour I end up adding to bread recipes to make them work out. My theory was that modern flour is somehow formulated to not need sifting and this change happened so long ago that it's no longer sufficiently notable to mention on the packaging. So, no sifting this time. I didn't even fluff the flour up before measuring. I even packed it down a little bit. The result was a seriously dense and stiff dough. I'm used to seeing my mixer's dough hook whipping up a wet dough; this time it was beating the heck out of a solid lump. The dough would sit up against the side of the bowl and the dough hook would come along and whack a dent into it, sometimes so hard the bowl would come loose from the mixer. The dough hook was actually kneading the dough; I think that's what it's supposed to look like. I did decide to add one extra Tablespoon of water to loosen it up a little and I think that worked out right. Some instructions I saw for using a dough hook said to stop when the dough climbed up the hook and I didn't really understand what that meant as my doughs started out doing that, but this time I could really see a transition going from the aforementioned lump to this:

It wasn't sticky at all so it was easy to peel off the hook and roll into a ball.

I was concerned that the dough would be too stiff to rise right, but I did just fine. After an hour I punched it down and let it rise again.

Then into the pre-heated clay cooker. This would have been a good time to have either a rectangular rising container or a round 500 degree-oven safe cooker. As it is, the dough ended up slightly deflated as it stuck to the sides and folded up in the center.

Thirty minutes cover on and another thirty cover off and it looks like this:

The lighting's not great. It doesn't really look burnt.

And inside like this:

That a fine-grained tender crumb, lightly scented of pork fat and corn and slightly sweet. It is better scented than it is flavored; I should have added more salt. The crust is rather thicker than I'd like and not really crunchy the way my previous loaves turned out. I think the former is due to the high baking temperature and the latter due to the milk in the recipe. The polenta gives the loaf a slightly gritty texture that I'm not sure I like. Next time I might use a more finely ground cornmeal to keep the corn flavor without that texture.

It's not great bread for snacking, which means I may end the day without having eaten half a loaf for once, but I can see this as a good bread to accompany stews and any dish with sauce to sop up. Barbeque definitely. It's fairly cuisine-neutral as is, but I could see adding some ham, peppers, cheese and/or whole corn kernels to make it Southwestern.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kiangsu Egg Dish

a.k.a. Moo Shu Pork

I've cooked a lot of Chinese food over the years. Some more authentic, some less. Some good, some not so much. But I don't remember cooking anything before that was such a dead-on match to a good quality restaurant version.

I looked through a lot of different Moo Shu Pork recipes and most of them have some obvious problems. First off, you can't use tortillas; that's just wrong. A proper moo shoo wrapper is about halfway between a fat-free (i.e. lousy) tortilla and a crepe. Second, a lot of recipes use bean sprouts as if this was Peking Duck. It's not. Less obviously, a lot leave out the two central ingredients: cloud ear mushrooms and lily buds. Those are also the central ingredients of authentic hot and sour soup; both are traditional Mandarin dishes. (There's a Szechuan version of hot and sour soup too. Mixing them up is what screwed up my attempt to make it last time I tried.) One of these days I need to spend some time cooking each of the various regional Chinese cuisines to get the distinctions clear in my head so my thrown-together stir fries aren't such messes.

So, starting with the version in The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook and modifying based on the less screwy recipes I found various places on-line, I came up with this:


1/2 pound lean pork
enough cloud ear mushrooms to make about 4 Tablespoons worth after soaking and shredding
1/4 cup lily buds
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 large scallion
2 leaves napa cabbage or bok choy
2 slices fresh ginger
2 eggs

For Mandarin sauce:
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 Tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 Tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Shred pork or just in strips if your knifework is as clumsy as mine. It helps if the pork is semi-frozen.

2. Separately soak lily buds and cloud ear mushrooms in warm water for thirty minutes.

3. Combine soy sauce and sugar. Toss with pork. Let marinate for thirty minutes.

4. Mix the Mandarin sauce ingredients.

5. Shred scallion, the leafy parts of the cabbage and, when they're ready, the cloud ear mushrooms. Mince the ginger and beat the eggs.

6. Check through the lilly buds and remove the stems.

7. Heat a Tablespoon of oil in a wok on high heat. When the oil starts to smoke, turn the heat down to medium and add a pinch of salt to the eggs. When the wok as cooled slightly add the eggs swirling to create a very thin omelet. Remove before the egg is quite dry, folding up the omelet as necessary but trying not to tear it too much. Put it on a cutting board to cool.

8. Heat another Tablespoon of oil in the wok on high heat. Add the ginger. After a few seconds when it starts to get fragrant add the pork without draining. Cook until it just loses its pinkness.

9. Add a large pinch of salt, the cloud ear mushrooms and cabbage (and some shredded bamboo shoots and/or carrots if you want). Stir fry briefly. Add lily buds and scallions. Stir fry for 1 minute. Turn the heat down to medium and cover. Cook 2 minutes.

10. Slice the egg into strips about the same size as all your shredded items. You did shred everything into a uniform size, right? Toss the egg strips around a little so they don't stick and put them in a bowl for transport to the wok. Hurry! You only have 2 minutes!

11. Remove the lid from the wok, turn off the heat, add egg (and blanched bean sprouts if you want), and toss to combine.

12. Remove to a bowl.

13. Heat a moo shu wrapper. I've got a difficult-looking recipe for making them from scratch but I'd be shocked if anyone bothers. You had to go to an Asian grocery for the lily buds. Pick up frozen moo shoo wrappers while you're there. These cool off seconds after you heat them up (10 seconds in the microwave) unless you've got a chafing dish or some such for them. So just heat what you're going to use immediately.

14. Smear some of the Mandarin sauce on the wrapper, add some of the filling, wrap it up and enjoy. I found that I needed only a half teaspoon of the sauce and maybe a third cup of the filling. That's less and more than I thought respectively. Learn from my mistakes.

It took an effort of will to leave this a recipe without garlic or any sort of pepper, but I was rewarded with a brightly flavorful dish where the spices complemented the meat and vegetables instead of overwhelming them. Making the Mandarin sauce is definitely worth the small extra effort, too. The brown sugar and sesame oil add important elements to balance the overall flavor. It's a shame almost everyone leaves them out. The texture could be better--my shreds were rather too large. On the other hand, mine turned out far less wet than the standard restaurant version so it actually worked as a wrap without dripping all over the place. Overall, a tasty, easy weeknight dish.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Some questions for my readers

First a general cooking one: This weekend I roasted a chicken. It turned out really well, but it's the same recipe I've used before so I didn't bother to post about it. I've got a whole lot left and I'm considering what to do with it. The problem is that it's heavily seasoned so I can't just toss it into a casserole or stir fry unless I want the whole thing to taste like Gullah Baked Chicken Seasoning (garlic, paprika and thyme mostly. It tastes like the turkey rub my mom used to use). Any suggestions?

Next, a blogging one: I've gotten a bit ahead and have some draft posts waiting for their day to shine. Updating the Post date and time manually when I'm ready to publish is a minor but real nuisance. Is there any automatic way to update it?

And a Floridian one: I've stockpiled some of those 2.5 gallon Zephyrhills water jugs for my hurricane supplies and I've been having trouble with them. When my air conditioner's off, my pantry gets rather hot and the plastic softens, crumples, cracks and leaks. I know most people are neither buying expensive refillable water containers nor running their air conditioners all day while they're at work so there must be a solution. Or is it just me?

I'd be obliged for your thoughts. Thanks.

Bresaola salad

I've been making a habit recently of picking up something I haven't tried or have no particular recipe in mind for during my grocery shopping. Bar hurricane alerts, that's about as exciting as my life gets. On my last visit to Fresh Market I got some bresaola, a salted air-dried aged meat that's essentially the beef equivalent of proscuitto. I was rather hoping that it would match proscuitto's double life: equally good raw in antipasti or fried up as a component in a main dish. But from everything I can find, it's just used in simple salads. This one I made is on the complicated side. A bed of baby greens, a layer of bresaola, capers, peppers, some shreds of Parmesano and a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. Or you could just wrap it around a piece of cheese and stick it on a crostini. The flavor is a slightly funky version of lunchmeat roast beef which isn't bad I suppose if you're a big fan of lunchmeat roast beef. Now, I understand that the twenty-some dollars per pound I spent is rather a bargain so this is unlikely to be the good stuff (And since my visit to Salumi in Seattle I have entirely new perspective on just what "good stuff" means when it comes to cured meats.) and I would not be at all surprised if the good stuff is sublime. But this isn't. And even if it was, sublime stuff you can't make a complicated recipe with does not a blog post make unless you're touring the factory.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Korean veal ox tail

A couple days ago I saw a recipe for Korean Short Ribs on the A Good Appetite blog. The author, Kat, wrote: "Isn't it amazing how a recipe gets around the internet? I found this recipe for Korean Short Ribs on Dinners for a Year & Beyond, she found it on A Year of Crockpotting, who had gotten it from City Mama. It's also interesting to watch how it changes. City Mama made it as a stew with beef chuck then on Crockpotting it became beef or pork ribs. The other thing I noticed is everyone uses a different amount of jalapenos. Maybe its just me, but I love seeing how a recipe like this develops from person to person."

Since mutating recipes is kind of my mission statement here, and because her pictures make the dish look fabulous, I had to make my own version. From the Subject line of this post you can see that my first change was to switch out the short ribs for veal ox tail. That's one more point on my Omnivore's Hundred as I haven't cooked with ox tail before. And this counts; nobody uses tails from actual oxen anymore. It's all cows. I only used veal because I figured the smaller rounds would fit better in my crock pot.

Something you don't see in the subject line is that I noticed the recipe is pretty close to a Chinese dish called red simmered pork, although that generally uses less sugar. I pushed the seasonings in that direction so the "Korean" above is probably inappropriate. But I left it there for continuity's sake.

One other point, I'm pretty sure the box my crock pot came in says it's a slow cooker, but it's only got one setting and that's pretty hot so I'm going to call that a crock. I suspect every such device, or at least every model, is different and you just need to get to know yours to figure out your cooking times. Exactly what cut of meat you use makes a difference too, of course. In this case, Kat's ribs were holding together at six hours. My ox tail pieces were falling apart after three and a half.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The first step was to give the meat a good sear, two minutes per side: top, bottom, left and right.

Meanwhile, on the bottom of the crock I put:
1/4 large onion sliced very thin
5 serano peppers quartered (which is rather a lot)
2 inch knob of ginger, smashed

I covered that with:
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup light soy sauce
1 drizzle sesame oil

A quick stir to dissolve the sugar and in goes the ox tail.

After three hours I added a chopped fresh bamboo shoot that I had picked up at an Asian grocery that morning. I had remembered seeing chunks of bamboo shoot colored a deep red from soaking up a sauce like this so I figured they'd work well. Checking The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook confirms the idea. The author also suggests adding scallions, garlic, star anise, dried cabbage, salt fish, lily buds, cloud ears, carrots, turnips, celery, hard boiled eggs, squid, peastarch noodles, tofu, mushrooms, and/or abalone. That just counts as one of the thousand, by the way; good cookbook. Star anise and salt fish jump out at me as particularly good ideas. But that's next time.

This time, after a total of four hours, here's the result:
Sorry I can't get a better close-up. Go to Kat's page to see more detail.

As I mentioned above, the meat is falling off the bone tender and the fat is almost all melted away. I had hoped the marrow in the center of the bones would have melted too, I didn't think that happened, but after a night in the refrigerator the sauce solidified so a good bit of gelatin did seep out. While warm, the gelatin gives the sauce enough body to cling to the meat. I think there's a bit of a glaze there too; I might consider a quick turn under a broiler to bring that out if I thought the meat would survive the experience.

You can see from the ingredients that the flavor is nothing exotic, just salty, sweet, meaty and hot, but there's nothing wrong with that. Even after four hours of simmering the flavors haven't completely melded; the meat is seasoned by the sauce, not overwhelmed by it, and the bits of pepper floating around still have a bit of bite to them. It's familiar and homey in that crock-pot sort of way and plenty tasty. I do have the urge to complicate matters, but that's just me not the dish calling out for it. Some things are best simple and this may well be one of them.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Escabeche redeemed

This is my follow-up report on my attempt to make a palatable escabeche. You may recall (or you may have clicked on that link, or possibly scrolled down to my previous post) that my attempt at this dish earlier this week didn't work out because I used the wrong fish. Nothing wrong with the brine, though, so I tossed the mahi I used and fried up a smelt and set it to soaking. That's the before picture to the right and the after picture below. The difference in color isn't from the lighting, the brine seems to have bleached the browned flour coating.

It's had three days to pickle so it's time to pull it out and see what's what. The far less mild flavor of the smelt, compared to the mahi, lets it stand up against the pickling brine, and the oily texture means it absorbs less as well. The flavor balance is now much better. The experience is fish enhanced by the spicy vinegary sauce rather than the sauce with some chewy chunks of vaguely fish-flavored stuff. The flour coating, of course, can't retain its crispness after absorbing moisture from the brine. But the smelt's bones stay crisp which adds a lot of texture to the dish. It's, overall, pretty darn good. So that was a classic Spanish-style preparation. Now I want to try the Cuban version I also found with the olives, capers and cider vinegar.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mahi escabeche

A while back, when I made shrimp escabeche, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the results. Oh, it was tasty enough, but my experiences with nanban zuke, the Japanese dish that evolved from escabeche, indicated that one important part of the dish was the interaction of the pickling vinaigrette and the yummy browned bits on fried fish. And since the shrimp was poached, it was lacking.

So, on a sudden whim I decided that today was the day to scratch that culinary itch and give fish escabeche a try. I chose this recipe, although if I hadn't already polished off my latest purchase of olives I would have made this one instead.

The procedure is pretty simple. First, skip the brining and just salt the pickling sauce. If you're going to let the fish soak for a while, it'll all work out the same.

Flavor the oil with the garlic, pepper and bay leaf.

Brown slices of fish.

Sweat the onion.

Cook down the sauce.

Combine and let sit in the refrigerator for a day or two.

It comes out looking nice (partially because I changed some settings on my phone-camera at my first attempt at deliberately making it look better than real life. Yes, my first food porn picture and it's still blurry. I think I need a proper camera if I'm going to keep this up.)

Mahi, it turns out, is definitely the wrong fish for the job. Something oily--swordfish or orange roughy, maybe sardines--would have both stood up better to the frying and had enough flavor to stand up to the vinegar and spices. The mahi turned into dry chewy bland fish-sticks. The pickling sauce I've got no complaints about. It's tart and rich and subtly spiced, but it needs something to bounce off of to work right.

I've got some spare smelt in the freezer. I'm going to fish out the mahi (I waited a day to do this and the mahi was much improved by the extra soaking time. The texture was a bit moister and flavors had become bright and citrusy. I'll have to give the smelt at least three days of pickling time to be fair.) and fry up a test smelt for some compare-and-contrast. Check back in with my in a few days for the results.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

CSA - Mexican pizza

I'm in a rare pizza mood today, but I've never tried any of the local take-out places and I don't feel like taking the gamble. I haven't got the makings of a proper Italian pie in the house, but I think I can pull off Mexican pizza. I have a residual fondness for such things, as most people do I suppose, from some truly awful pies I had at the local pizza parlor that had the best selection of video games. A dumb reason to pick a restaurant I'll admit. These days they'd have to have a good selection of pinball to get me in the door.

So to start off I have to make some dough. I used to do this fairly frequently, but any recipes I've kept are lost in the pile. Instead I'll use a recipe from another blog that I've been reading for a bit, A Good Appetite. The recipe's for a garlic bread that's actually more like a skimpy calzone so I left out the garlic and parsley filling and added some chili powder and Mexican oregano to the mix to make it suitably Mexican.

As is typical of my baking experiences, following the recipe left me with a unworkably wet sticky dough that inexplicably swallowed up at least another half cup of flour while barely changing in texture. Eventually it got close to the proper texture and I figured it got kneaded enough while I was folding in all that the flour. All that extra flour gave me rather more dough than I wanted, so I put half in the freezer and set the other aside to rise for an hour and a half.

An hour in, I started the oven preheating to 450 degrees. I keep a pizza stone in my oven all the time to act as a heat capacitor to smooth out any unevenness in my oven's heating cycle. For actually cooking pizza I took it off the bottom rack and moved it up one space.

When the dough had risen to around double its volume I dumped it out onto a silpat and spread it outwards with my fingertips. It's a bit too soft to properly work and it's a little underkneaded, but that means it won't spring back so it doesn't need a ten minute rest after deflation. Also, it sticks to the silpat which keeps it spread out into a good pizza shape.

I prefer a thickness that isn't quite that paper thin thin crust you can get. That's lucky for me because the under-kneading means the dough won't stretch out properly to get that. If you like it that way look up "windowing" to get the details. It will make more sense with the sort of pictures I don't have. When I got it to the right thickness I took a sideless cookie sheet I use for a peel, dusted it with corn meal and then held the silpat upside down over it so the crust could peel itself off and drop down. That wouldn't work with properly prepared pizza dough, but then with proper pizza dough it wouldn't be necessary.

I gave the crust a drizzle of olive oil and then spread a layer of herbs and spices--cilantro, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, oregano. A layer of shredded jalapeno cheddar on top of that and then slices of tomato and avocado along with chopped pickled peppers and crumbled fried up Mexican chorizo.

Into the oven for 10 minutes and I got this:

I've got to say I'm surprised but the crust is actually really good: crisp on the bottom and chewy on top. My camera's not great at close ups but you can sort of see the two layers in the cross-section. The toppings worked well, but to really get the right effect I should have used enchilada sauce under the cheese. The flavors are the standard Mexican set so you know they work well together. I did go a bit overboard with the peppers, though. Texturally, the cheese has melted into the crust to make the chewy layer, the avocado adds creaminess and the tomato melts during each bite with a little burst of flavor. The chorizo in particular has a lot more character than the traditional ground beef, both with its crispy texture and its rougher flavor. The big minus though is that the pizza's a bit dry. I tried adding some green salsa after the fact, but it overwhelmed the over flavors. Well, lesson learned; keep some enchilada sauce around just in case.