Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pork adobo

Unlike like difficulties with African recipes, I've been pretty happy with my excursions into Filipino cuisine. It generally doesn't require a lot of hard-to-find ingredients and its vinegar-intensive sauces make it unlike anything else out there. I wish I had some good story about why I've been trying them, but I just found a stash of Filipino recipes on-line and they looked interesting.

This particular recipe is a Philippine staple--one of the dishes that has a million variations. The only universals seem to be soy sauce, vinegar, plenty of garlic and an odd cooking technique. I tried to stick close to the Platonic ideal I grokked from the range of recipes I looked at.

1 pound pork butt or similar cut, cut in 1-2 inch cubes (or chicken)
1/2 head of garlic, minced
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon paprika (most recipes call for black peppercorns, but I liked the paprika idea)
2-3 bay leaves
1-2 Tablespoons sugar (optional. Only a substantial minority of the recipes include it.)
2 Tablespoons cooking oil

1. Heat a medium saucepan on medium, add 1 Tablespoon oil and sweat the garlic and onion for a few minutes until softened.

2. Add soy sauce, vinegar, water, paprika, bay leaves and pork. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes. If using, add sugar at 15 minutes.

3. When the pork is tender heat the other Tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. Remove the pork from the sauce, drain it well, and add it to the pan. Turn the heat up under the sauce and boil until it is reduced in volume by half. Meanwhile, brown the pork over medium high heat.

4. When both are done, serve with rice.

The traditional way to serve pork adobo is to leave the meat dry and pour the sauce over a scoop of rice. Garnishes are unusual, but I'm big on garnishes so I looked for exceptions and found that tomato wedges and/or hard boiled eggs are not entirely unheard of.

The meat has caramelized well, which I attribute to the sugar I added, and has absorbed some flavor from the sauce (plus it's lying in a shallow pool seeping from the scoop of rice) so the pork flavor is prominent, but nicely accentuated by tart and salty notes. The pieces are crisp and chewy--rather more dried out than most Western palates are used to, but I gather that that's how they're supposed to be. I know a lot of Indonesian recipes call for meat cooked to this texture so it's not too surprising to find it called for in the Philippines. The sauced rice--deeply savory, slightly sweet and brightly tart--is the real star here. The meat is almost dispensable. The tomatoes are a great match with the sauce--salt and vinegar bring out tomatoes' best. The eggs, on the other hand, I could take or leave. I do like the richness a bit of yolk dissolved in the sauce brings. Maybe whisking in a raw yolk to thicken and enrich the sauce just before serving would work.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Not quite Thomas Keller's salmon rillettes

[Edit: For all you googlers looking for Keller's actual recipe, it's here. It's worth coming back to read my variation too unless you're dead set on making an exact replica of his dish.]

So, I was watching The Best Thing I Ever Ate, a Food Network show where TV chefs you don't recognize rhapsodize about food you'll never eat from restaurants you'll never go to. That part's annoying, but they do go into the kitchens to show a bit about how the dishes are made and you can pick up some good ideas that way. Usually there's some obscure ingredient or restaurant technique that keeps you from reproducing the dish exactly, but the rillettes aux deux saumons from Bouchon Bistro were surprisingly straightforward, particularly for a Thomas Keller dish. Probably because it's from Bouchon, not the French Laundry (he says as if he's eaten at either).

It's just fresh salmon gently steamed in pernod, diced smoked salmon, shallot, crème fresh, olive oil, egg yolks and lemon juice. I've got most of that in the house. There is a Bouchon cookbook, so I could have looked the recipe up and tried to reproduce it exactly, but salmon rillettes isn't something Keller invented. There are plenty of variations and I wanted to come up with my own.

First, I decided to use gravlax instead of the smoked salmon; It was about time to make another batch. I also wanted to substitute in some other flavoring for the pernod. I'm not going to go out and buy a bottle of a liquor I don't really like for a single recipe. And anyway, it's a liquor I don't really like so I'm probably not going to like how it tastes in the dish.

First step, the gravlax. I kept the dill flavoring, using dill stems I had stored in the freezer, but made some changes from previous batches that I've been meaning to try. I went with the more traditional 2:1 sugar to salt ratio instead of the 1:1 lox-simulating ratio I've used previously. I used demerara sugar which still has a lot of molasses in it for some added interest. And I didn't add weights so I could see what sort of texture I'd get without the compression.

As it turns out, that texture is dense and meaty, but a little mushy on top where the salt was. The flavor is sweeter than previous batches, of course, and has a bit more depth from the molasses. Interesting. I still like lox better, but I grew up with that.

Next step, I steamed another salmon fillet over plain water until barely cooked through, flaked it into a bowl along with the chopped gravlax and mixed with finely chopped shallot, a dollop of crème fresh, a little olive oil, one egg yolk and a squeeze of lemon juice.

That goes into a container and is topped off with a layer of butter to seal it off. I was supposed to use clarified butter but I neglected to check my notes. That goes into the refrigerator to let the flavors blend for a day or two. When ready to serve, crack open the top and spoon onto crostini.

The flavor is in the neighborhood of bagels with cream cheese and lox, but with a richer more complex salmon flavor with shifting undertones of sweet, tart and savory. It's pretty complicated and I'm having trouble pinning it down with words. Sorry. It does seem to be lacking a little something. Maybe it could use some herbs or capers to round it out. (Or maybe not. Adding scallion makes it taste too much like just salmon salad, suitable for a sandwich. No more than a little chives would be best, then.)

After the fact, I've looked up Keller's recipe to see what he did differently. The big difference is that the ingredients are supposed to be mixed into generous amounts of whipped butter. That's what makes it rillettes--preservation in fat. Mine really is more of a salmon salad. Serving with a chunk of the butter layer goes some way to reconciling the differences, though. He also does use chives so that was a good impulse on my part. From the picture, his looks much less chunky, but I can't see in the directions how that came about. Odd.

I've still got half a batch left. Maybe I'll chop it up fine and mix it with some butter just to try it out. ... OK, I did that. Actually, I tossed it into the food processor with a couple Tablespoons of butter. The result was really good. The flavors stayed complex and intense but with a lot of added richness and a smooth spreadable texture. Compulsive eating with a loaf of good bread and a little bit of chives, parsley or herbs of some sort to add a little freshness in counterpoint.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Southwestern ham and shrimp potstickers

I can't really explain how this dish came to exist. I started with a recipe for corn and prawn fritters, tweaked it a bit, tweaked it some more and ended up making something else entirely. I haven't really got a recipe; I just threw things together that seemed to make sense.

The potsticker filling has two components: solid bits and a creamy medium for them to float in.

For the solid bits I used finely chopped ham (actually Canadian bacon browned to get the best flavor), scallions, cilantro, hot pepper and corn. About a half cup of each.

For the medium I used half a small Florida avocado, five extra large shrimp, one egg, salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin blended until smooth.

After I mixed them together I got concerned about how the texture would react to heat so I decided I needed to add some cheese as an extra binder. Monterey Jack would have been the proper choice, but havarti was the only melty cheese I had on hand so it sufficed.

Dollops went into potsticker wrappers (store bought even though I could probably make them without much trouble now that I've got a well-functioning pasta machine). Because the texture was a little loose I had trouble using a full Tablespoon as I could with a traditional meat-paste filling. I ended using about half that most of the time and still having trouble keeping it all in.

Practice makes passable, so I managed. They aren't the prettiest potstickers around, but they'll do. And they cooked up fine in the traditional reverse-braise method.

Here's a look inside:

You can see how the filling's solidified nicely. Better than I had hoped. And now to try one...not bad at all. A little eggier in flavor than you'd expect and a bit noodly where the dough's separated from the filling, neither of which are really bad things. Otherwise, the Southwestern flavors come through with the corn and ham up front, some herb and spice, and maybe just a hint of the shrimp. Tasty and not nearly as fusion-cuisine weird as I feared. Could use a dip, though. A fresh tomato salsa or a remoulade would be just the thing. I'll have to remember that for when I cook up the rest.

I just did a little research and found that Southwestern potstickers are not an unheard of bar food, but, from what I can see, they're just tradional meaty potstickers with different spices. My conconction is a different thing entirely. Well, good. Maybe I should give them a different name, though.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I've been wanting to cook some more African dishes while we're still experiencing serious tropical heat here in Miami. I don't often match action to thought on this, but I think cuisines are best experienced in the climate that spawned them. This particular dish is from Cameroon. I found it while looking for alternative sources for African recipes since my latest not-entirely-satisfactory experience working from the Congo Cookbook. I found one version at the Fair Trade Cookbook and another in Celtnet's collection of world recipes. Both call for spinach, but that's probably substituting in for the local green, bitterleaf, so I'm going to use callaloo instead. Unfortunately, I got a small bunch from the CSA this week so I'm using under one pound to replace two pounds of spinach, but callaloo won't wilt away nearly as much, so I think I'm still in fair shape.

2 pounds beef suitable for stew, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
4 Tablespoons cooking oil
1 large onion, thickly sliced
1-2 pounds medium weight greens, coarsely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 Tablespoons natural peanut butter
chili pepper flakes to taste
salt and black pepper to taste
a squeeze of lemon for each serving

1. Season the beef with salt and, using as much of the cooking oil as necessary, brown in batches in a large pan. Remove the beef to a pot (I used my slow cooker), salt a little more and cover with just enough water to cover, approximately four cups. Bring to a boil and simmer for around 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is just starting to get tender. Drain the beef broth you just made. Reserve two cups for this dish and keep the rest to use later (bonus!).

2. Add the remaining oil to the pan you browned the beef in, heat to medium and add the onion. Fry, browning slightly and scraping up the stuck on beefy bits. When the onion is soft, add to the pot (deglazing the pan with the reserved beef broth if necessary), along everything but the lemon. Stir a bit to get the tomato paste and peanut butter dissolving. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until the beef is tender and the tomatoes are falling apart. Adjust seasonings and serve over rice or millet.

And here it is:

I dunno. It's not actively bad but it's not great either. Maybe it's me; I keep getting exciting about trying regional African cuisines but peanut butter and tomatoes are just peanut butter and tomatoes, not some revelatory experience. The flavors just don't blend into anything excitingly synergistic. I can say that the callaloo works well with that combination and stands up to a half hour in the stew pot better than spinach can. That's the best I can say for the dish, though.

I've done a bit more research, and I think, instead of Cameroonian zom, I should have made Tanzanian mchicha. According to a few different sources, amaranth is common in East Africa. A few even say mchicha is the Swahili word for it. The recipes I've found call for spinach, but I'm comfortable saying that they're substituting for callaloo. They also add coconut milk and curry powder to the mix, which I think will help the peanut butter and tomatoes get along better. That certainly sounds much better than how the zom turned out, but then the zom recipe sounded better than how the zom turned out too. Next time I've got some callaloo, I'll just have to try it and see.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Roasted avocados

I know I promised more serious cooking, and I do have a half dozen post-worthy recipes lined up, but I was delayed by having to go into work on a day off and then unexpectedly finding a pork shoulder at Whole Foods. I was tempted to do something new with it, but decided to make rillettes the same as last time as I appreciated the flexibility the minimalist seasoning gave me for altering flavors after the fact.

I got home from work today too late to start the lengthy stew I had planned, but I did have time to try the kitchen science experiment I mentioned last time. I kept things pretty simple. I used one of the Tonnage avocados I got at the CSA yesterday. This cultivar is smaller than your usual Florida avocado, but no improvement in flavor or texture. I cut it in half, removed the pit, placed in cut-side-up in a baking dish, sprinkled with salt and chili powder, spritzed with olive oil and baked at 350 degrees. I checked at 15 minute intervals for changes, ending at 45 minutes. There wasn't much change visually, but there were notable changes in both flavor and texture.

Compared to a control avocado, the flavor has lost the bright high notes and is now warmer and more complex--roastier, I suppose. It's no more intense, but because the meat has softened to a silky panna cotta consistency, it coats the mouth. You get more flavor per bite and rich lingering aftertaste. The traditional accompaniments--the spices, lime juice, cilantro--are all high notes so I found the roasted avocado a much more synergistic pairing. The one webpage I found with information on cooking Florida avocados warned that they might turn bitter, but I didn't experience that at all. Overall, I found it to be a substantial improvement at least for Mexican flavors; I don't think it would work in sushi so well. But maybe it's just me. Someone else ought to try it and see what they think.

OK, a real interesting recipe next time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Messing about with crêpes

The first time I made crêpes, after I got the hang of it, I found them to be remarkably easy to make and store and versatile enough to go with most any ingredients you'd want to pair them with. And so, of course, I went nearly a year without making them again. Don't read that sarcastically; I'm serious. The blog demands kitchen drama and crêpes just don't deliver.

It was only this weekend, when I said screw the blog and cooked a bunch of basics to stock up the freezer, that I came back to them. I'm talking about them now so, obviously, I found something of interest, but you've seen the last few posts--it's not much.

That first time I made crêpes I used the Good Eats recipe: mix 2 large eggs, 3/4 cup milk, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup flour and 3 tablespoons melted butter, blend for 10 seconds, add salt and herbs or sugar and liqueur, let hydrate for an hour and then cook.

The blending at least is clearly non-traditional so I did a little research to see if there were other versions distinct enough for a post of their own. I didn't find much--a crêpe's a crêpe all across Europe.
Vietnamese crêpes are interesting, and pretty tasty too, but it's too soon to go shopping again and I haven't got the necessary bean sprouts on hand. They're on the to-do list, though, so you'll be seeing a banh xeo post at some point.

I did find something interesting in a guest post on the Bitten blog, though. Edward Schneider suggested mixing the flour and eggs together and then adding milk until getting to the right texture. He says that this magically eliminates lumps from the batter, which is a nice plus, and I like the idea of being able to judge the amount of milk to compensate for how packed and/or humid your flour is. There was something else of interest in the comments. It seems that the necessity of letting the batter sit for an hour was a point of contention between Julia Child and Jacque Pépin. She said to do it; he said it was unnecessary. When experts disagree, it's best to see for yourself.

So I gave it a shot. Here's the mixed eggs and flour: 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 cup all purpose.

Once the flour was fully incorporated, I added a cup of milk, whipping away to break up that doughball, and then switched to another quarter cup or so of water. (I don't use a lot of milk so I buy those 1 cup shelf-stabilized boxes and didn't want to open another one.) Lump-free it wasn't, but they were doughy lumps, not floury lumps. I could imagine them falling apart if I had let the batter hydrate. But I didn't so they didn't.

Oh, one other suggestion from that post, melt the butter for the batter in the frying pan to save cleaning one more bowl and to get the pan nicely coated for the first crêpe. If nothing else, that's a trick worth keeping.

Here's the first, lumpy crêpe.

No good obviously (although it tasted fine), so I blended the batter and the crêpes turned out nicely thin, light and tender after that. They're a little on the eggy side, though, since I'm using extra-large eggs instead of the called for large. I should add a little extra of the other ingredients to compensate next time. I'm not getting the crisped browned edges I want, but with a non-stick pan, that's difficult to achieve. It's a trade-off.

For the filling, I fried up some cabbage, scallions, ham and added a little chicken stock to moisten and melted in some Havarti cheese for a binder.

Notice how the crêpes are paper thin, but rolled up easily without any tearing. I filled some more with apricot preserves for dessert. It looked about the same except a little lumpier. Both were pretty good. The crêpes themselves were pretty neutral, but that was my choice. I wanted to leave them open to possibilities so I didn't mix any of the accoutrements I mentioned up top into the batter. If I were making them for some specific dish, I would certainly do so.

As for the hour's rest issue, I let the second half of the batch sit while I ate dinner before making the extra crêpes for storage. I can't say I noticed any difference before and after so I'm going to say the rest isn't necessary. Myth busted!

I'm getting a bit tired of all this basic cooking. I should have something more substantive to post about soon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A meatloaf experiment

I did a good bit of cooking this weekend, but nothing much worth posting about. I made a pot of chicken stock, a mess of beans, a batch of scallion buns (I took out the bacon and chives that messed up the last batch and instead just added a little cabbage. That worked very nicely.) and, as you can see from the post title, a meatloaf.

I hadn't planned on the meatloaf being particularly interesting either, but I had a thought that brings it just barely into range. If you read my last post you know that's a pretty low bar, but the results promise possibilities to come.

So, meatloaf. In my last post about meatloaf included a schema that I stole from somewhere for a generic meatloaf. Here's a bit more detailed version:
2 pounds ground meat
1 1/2 cups finely chopped starch (but not too finely. Breadcrumbs, not flour)
1 cup somewhat more coarsely chopped vegetables
2-3 eggs
1/4 - 1/2 cup dairy of some sort
copious seasonings

mix everything, pack it into a loaf pan and decant it into a baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for around an hour until the inside reaches between 140 and 160 degrees depending on who you ask. If you're going to glaze, wait until the last 10 minutes.

Now you could fuss about making sure your choice of vegetable matches nicely with your choice of meat and starch, or you can throw together whatever you've got and count on the seasoning to smooth things out. I went the latter route this time around.

The actual experiment was how far I pushed the definition of "starch". Usually, that means bread crumbs or sometimes oatmeal or crushed croutons. Instead I, while looking at the remnants of the chicken stock cooking process, wondered if mashed carrots and turnips might do. (I also had a good bit of well-boiled chicken. I put that in the beans.) I thought I'd have the full cup and half, but after sqeezing the soup out of the vegetables, they had compressed down to only half a cup, and that's including the bits of onion I left in the there. On the plus side, it had the texture of squished white bread which a lot of meatloaf recipes use. I filled out the rest of the volume with half panko bread crumbs and half oatmeal. (My homemade breadcrumbs went grotty with all the humidity recently so I had to toss them out and make due with what I had left in the house.) I ground those together with the carrot/turnip mush and ended up with this promisingly mealy-looking stuff:

For the meat, I used a pound of ground beef, half a pound of pork and a few Argentinean-style chorizos. I usually buy the Venezuelan-style ones, but I thought I'd try Argentinean this week. I dunno, though. They smell like cheap hot dogs and they're full of fat and gristle.

For the vegetables, I used cabbage, red and yellow sweet peppers, some past-their-prime cremini mushrooms and carrot tops. I fried them up to add a bit of flavor from browning and to drive out some moisture so they can absorb meat juices later.

For the dairy, I used about a third of a cup of well-crumbled goat cheese and the whey it came packed in.

And for the seasoning, adobo con sazon, Pickapeppa sauce and Crystal hot sauce.

Here it is all mixed and molded.

And here it is afterward. I did a simple glaze of ketchup, brown sugar, hot sauce and white vinegar.

It holds together nicely without being tough or crumbly. I should have chopped the vegetables more finely and there's some sinewy bits from the sausage, but otherwise, the texture's very nice.

The flavor is a bit more carroty than perhaps one might wish and I went light on the salt, but otherwise, the random assortment of ingredients I threw together work well enough. It's not great, but random assortments rarely are. [It's tomorrow now and I can report that the flavors work rather better cold and I've decided that I quite like the textural interest of the vegetable chunks. So I'm happier with the results than I was yesterday.] The interesting bit is that the soup vegetables have vanished entirely into the meat mix and I do think they had a beneficial effect on both texture and, subtly, on the flavor.

I wonder how other vegetables with a similar texture might work. Mashed potato or yam should be comparable. I'd be surprised if there aren't recipes out there that already use them, but it's tough to search for them as they're often mentioned as side dishes where they're not ingredients. Going further afield, might an avocado, with much of the moisture squeezed out, work? Or a roasted canistel? Canistels firm up to a yam-like texture when roasted. Now I'm thinking about roasted avocados. There are a bunch of recipes out there, but they're really just warming the avocados through and melting cheese on top. What does happen to avocados when you roast them long enough to affect the texture? Have any of you tried?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Avocado deviled eggs

I just searched on Google and found that I was about the billionth person to come up with this idea, but I swear it just occurred to me on its own. Most of the recipes I found kind of miss the point by just adding the avocado to a standard deviled egg formula when it can easily replace the mayonnaise entirely. Maybe this is the one case where watery Florida avocados are actually superior and Hasses can't sub in so well? It might be interesting to compare and contrast.

I should probably back up here and defend the idea of deviled eggs in general. I've got to admit that I'd be skeptical too if I, at the prompting at a post on TheKitchn and, yes, a desire to try the steamer function on my new rice cooker, had my first homemade deviled egg last week. I was amazed at how different it was from the buffet table atrocities I've encountered before.

The key, I think, is in properly cooking the egg. I used my steamer this time, but I usually coddle them--poaching in the shell, really--by carefully adjusting the temperature so water stays just under a boil. That keeps the whites tender. The second important aspect is pulling the eggs from the heat a few minutes early to get them at the mollet stage with the whites just firm and the yolks moist and maybe a little wet in the center. Eggs done this way are great as is, but work really well in deviled eggs too.

Beyond the properly prepared egg, there's the choice of what to mix into the yolk. There are as many variations here as there are in egg salad recipes. Mostly the same variations, actually, now that I think of it. The basic version is to mix with each yolk: a Tablespoon of mayonnaise, a teaspoon of mustard, a little salt, a little pepper and a touch of something acid. Add a sprinkle of paprika on top to justify calling it deviled. This is obviously rich, but it's also just bursting with flavor if it's well seasoned and not too thinned out with mayo.

As you've probably figured out by now, my questionably innovative innovation here is to leave out the mayo and instead use a Tablespoon of avocado. How well this works depends on the moisture content of your yolks and your avocado so some adjustments may be necessary. Unless it's a particularly old avocado, it probably won't want to completely mix in with the other ingredients, but, for me, the little bits of recalcitrant avocado add some textural interest. But I like my mashed potatoes lumpy, so take that for what it's worth. Beyond that, the texture is indistinguishable from using mayonnaise, just beautifully luscious and creamy. As for the flavor, mild Florida avocado is hard to spot, but I think there's a little something there, and, of course, the greenish tinge is obvious.

I suppose there's a mild health benefit to using, but a Tablespoon of mayonnaise more or less is hardly a big deal. I suppose I'm just enthusiastic about deviled eggs right now and happy to have found another avocado recipe that Florida avocados don't screw up.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

tropical fruit salad ice cream

The centerpiece of this ice cream was supposed to fruit salad fruit a.k.a. ceriman, a.k.a. Monstera deliciosa fruit. This is yet another tropical fruit grown locally and unknown in more temperate climes. I neglected to take an establishing shot of the one I got from Sawmill Farm in the summer CSA offering so here's a copyright free image I ganked from Wikipedia.

You can't really tell because of the lighting, but it's covered with hexagonal scales. That's an unripe fruit where they're all securely covering the fruit inside. As it ripens, starting at the stem end, rows of scales loosen and fall off revealing arrays of kernels of fruit looking very much like a corncob.

The kernels themselves also come loose from a central hub as they ripen. You can see the black nasty crud that comes with them in this photo. You can also probably see some variation in the fruit kernels there. There's a wave of ripeness that progresses down the fruit. The rows that came off easily were ripe, the ones in the top row you can see are nearly there and the one below isn't quite yet.

That's all pretty cool, I think. The difficulty comes in the fact that underripe ceriman, like a fair number of other non-commerialized tropical fruits we can get locally, is toxic. Even slightly underripe bits cause an hour of burning and swelling in the mouth and throat and a rather upset stomach. (A word of warning in the CSA information would have been appreciated, Margie.) And the ripe fruit, since it's exposed, goes to rot and drawing ants pretty darn quick.

No doubt that's a pretty efficient way for this fruit to propogate the species, but it's dicey for personal consumption and nothing I'm willing to risk serving anyone else. And that's a shame since it tastes really good. The flavor somewhere between pineapple and banana and, when ripe, quite sweet. (I actually liked it better slightly underripe. For the first few seconds, anyway.) You can see how it got the name 'fruit salad fruit'. How it got the name 'Swiss cheese fruit' is less obvious until you see the holes in the plant's leaves.

So that went into the trash. But I still had some leftover mamey sapote, a pile of passion fruit and some fingerling bananas so I could cobble something together. I ended up with:

1/4 mamey sapote (maybe half a cup)
2 fingerling bananas, frozen and defrosted (about as much as one medium Cavendish)
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup cream
pulp and seeds of seven passion fruits (no more than a third of a cup)
2 teaspoons vanilla paste
pinch salt
1/2 cup or so Dole piña colada juice cocktail to thin the mix out

I was torn over using the condensed milk or coconut milk. My instincts said coconut milk would work better, but you see condensed milk paired with mameys and passion fruit in a lot of recipes so I thought I'd give it a try. I know that pairing comes more from lack of refrigeration than from deep culinary thoughtfulness, but I've got a good idea how it would taste with coconut milk and I didn't have a sense how it would work with condensed milk and I wanted to find out.

Not much procedure in making the ice cream mix. The mamey and bananas went into a blender with the dairy and I mixed in the rest by hand.

I found the easiest way to harvest the passion fruit pulp was to slice a disc (not the correct geometric term but I'm having trouble finding the right one) out of the side of a fruit and then dig out the pulp with a teaspoon. Slice the fruit entirely in half and you can just scrape it out, but you may well make a mess if the pulp isn't firmly attached to the rind.

And I might mention that this is my first time using vanilla paste which is vanilla extract mixed with sugar, water and a little bit of vanilla bean pulp and seeds. The flavor seems somewhat richer and I do like the visual effect of the little specks of vanilla distributed through the ice cream. But the added sugar has to be compensated for in recipes and I wouldn't want to use it in savory dishes (for which vanilla seems to be an in thing right now). I guess I ought to keep both paste and extract on hand. And some whole beans too if I can find some at a reasonable price.

Anyway, here's the ice cream coming out of the churn. I got a late start on it due to the problems with the ceriman so, since I wanted to make this a Wednesday post, I wasn't able to fully chill either the bucket or the mix and I did the churning in a kitchen hotter than ideal. So still a bit soft when I ran out of cold.

But the end result's not bad looking:

Taking it out of the churn slightly soft means a dense, but still scoopable, creamy final product that melts slowly in the bowl, but quickly on the tongue. Sometimes that's what you're going for; I'm not sure it helps in this particular case. The flavor is a base of condensed milk with the melded flavor of the fruits lightening it up and the vanilla tying them together. That's only if you think hard about it; It's all pretty well blended. It's impossible to pick out the flavors of the individual fruits unless you hit a passionfruit seed which comes coated with a thin layer of brightly flavored passion fruit pulp. That jelly-like texture and the crisp crunch of the seeds are a pleasant contrast once the rich creaminess has faded. If you don't get a seed, the condensed milk flavor outlasts the fruit for a caramelly finish.

I think coconut milk would have given me cleaner flavors, but I do like how the condensed milk's flavor complimented the fruit. Either way is worth trying.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Clay pot rice

OK, one last rice cooker post before I get bored with the thing and go back whatever it is I usually do around here.

This, like the clay pot pork I made a while back, is an adaption to the western kitchen, although, since I'm doing it in a rice cooker, perhaps it's better to say that it's an adaption to modern kitchen. One without a clay pot and a charcoal burner at any rate.

The version I made is something of a bastardization. It's got a pretty strict ingredient list traditionally--garlic, ginger and shiitake mushrooms mixed with the rice, Chinese sausage and chicken marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine layered on top, maybe an egg or salted preserved fish, and a scallion garnish to finish.

I substituted some Chinese bacon for the chicken as the bacon was pre-marinated and I was feeling lazy. I used a different brand than last time and what I got was far leaner and more cured, almost jerky. Not quite what I wanted, but it turned out OK. The chicken would have been better, though.

I also layered on a bunch of different vegetables: water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and baby corn, diced carrot and shredded cabbage, plus sliced tofu. And I added a bit of soy sauce and chili oil to the pot too instead of using them as condiments afterward. And I mixed in some thinly sliced sweet pepper with the scallion and, since I was concerned about overcooking the egg, I added a sliced hard-boiled egg to the garnish instead of steaming one along with everything else.

The only thing left is a cup and three quarters of chicken stock mixed with a cup of rice and the garlic, ginger and reconstituted dried shiitake. That goes in the bottom of the rice cooker. Everything else, bar the garnishes, goes on top. Turn on the cooker and come back at dinner time.

There are a few things to note here. First is the extra liquid added to the rice creates extra steam to properly cook the ingredients on top. Second, the fact that they're on top is not just so they can steam, but so the fat and juices can drip down to flavor the rice. The sauces I added really weren't necessary.

Third is a matter of technique that I'll admit I didn't fully appreciate until after I cooked this. There's some tension between wanting to cook the rice slowly to ensure full and flavorful doneness and cooking it at a high temperature to form the crust that's an important aspect of this dish. In a clay pot, it seems, you can do both. In a rice cooker you can't, at least one not in one like mine that is smart enough to think it knows the right thing to do and insists on doing it even when you're trying to do something else. If you've used Microsoft Word, you know what I mean.

That crust is what makes this a respectable sibling of fried rice and sticky rice dishes. Without its added flavor and texture, the dish is fine but dull. And, as you can, see, my version has no crust.

So, how to fix this? Looking around after the fact I see some recipes calling for the rice to have an hour pre-soak. Other add the toppings ten minutes into the rice cooking. You might not have this problem if you try it. My old rice cooker, with its hot "keep warm" setting would have formed a crust on the rice by just waiting ten minutes before dishing it out. Possibly, the fast cycle on my cooker would have done the same thing. I'll have to try it later. I've been talking about rice crust a fair bit this last week and I'm starting to crave it pretty badly at this point. Plus, it'll make a fine blog post.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Maldivian amaranth and lentils

This is going to be an odd one, folks. Unless you live in the Maldives, I suppose, but with the substitutions I made maybe it's odd to them too. The Maldives, for those who don't know and haven't Googled it up yet, are a small island chain in the Indian ocean and, like most islands on trade routes, has a cuisine that takes in influences from all around. This particular dish has a lot of South Indian and Thai elements. I found this recipe on where it was miscatalogued under Chinese recipes. The inclusion of Maldive fish in the ingredients was a giveaway as to its origin, but I checked to make sure and it looks pretty traditional. I had never made Maldivian cooking before so I was pretty excited to find such an accessible recipe.

4 1/2 ounces green amaranth leaves a.k.a. callaloo
(but lots of other plants are a.k.a. callaloo so check what you've got. If you do happen to have amaranth, and that's what my CSA supplies most commonly under the name, there's plenty you can do with it outside of Caribbean cuisines.)
10 1/2 ounces (can you tell I'm translating from metric?) lentils
(the original recipe calls for red lentils but I have plain brown so I used that)
2 cups thin coconut milk
3 Tablespoons thick coconut milk

(A good trick here is to carefully open a can of good quality coconut milk without disturbing it too much. There's frequently a thick layer of coconut cream on top separated from the coconut water below. Skim off the cream for the thick and then add water to the rest to make the thin.)
1 dried red chili, stemmed and seeded and broken into pieces
(I used an ancho. I figured if the recipe calls for seeding then heat isn't the goal.)
1 teaspoon turmeric 2 teaspoons pounded Maldive fish
(Maldive fish is smoked or sun dried spiced tuna. The good bits are left in chunks. The not-so-good bits pounded to a powder. No idea what it tastes like, but my money is on funky. I substituted in 1 Tablespoon of Chinese shrimp paste and 1 Tablespoon of Thai fish sauce to get in the right neighborhood.)
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 onion, thinly sliced

1 small stick cinnamon

1 sprig curry leaves

(I could have sworn I had dried some from the last fresh batch I bought, but I must have used them up. I substituted in salam leaves which have a similar flavor.)
1 strip pandan leaf
(This is a fragrant leaf used mainly in sweet Thai dishes. I wasn't confident enough to substitute so I just left it out.)
1 stalk lemon grass, trimmed and bruised
salt to taste along the way

1. Wash and roughly chop the amaranth. Put into a dutch oven

2. Pick over, wash the lentils. Add to the dutch oven.

3. Add thin coconut milk, chili, turmeric and Maldive fish (or substitutes).

4. Turn heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring well once the amaranth has wilted a bit. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until lentils are soft, around 30 minutes. Add a half cup of water if it seems like it needs it. I think salting might slow down the cooking here so refrain at this point.

5. Meanwhile, in a medium pan, heat the oil over medium heat and fry the curry and pandan leaves (or substitutes), onion, cinnamon and lemon grass until everything is fragrant and the onions are soft and just turned a light golden brown. Do salt here.

6. When lentils are ready, add the pan contents to the dutch oven along with the thick coconut milk. Optionally, toss in some shrimp at this point too if you want some protein beyond what's in the lentils. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with rice.

Yet another dish that tastes better than it looks. Maybe it's my photography?

It's earthy, but not muddy as the flavors are clear. The amaranth and lentils go together quite well. Yeah, lentils go well with greens in general, but you can tell this is amaranth and that particular flavor works surprisingly well. Who knew? The coconut milk and funky fishy ingredients tie the two together the way bacon and chicken stock might in a more European version of the dish and give a really interesting undertone to the dish. The spices linger around the edges, rounding out the flavors without asserting themselves. Maybe the cinnamon is identifiable; the rest are just light fragrant notes freshening the flavor of the greens. A squeeze of lemon helps there too. The shrimp are a nice addition. They picked up the seasonings of the dish and matched with the other main ingredients well.

I don't think any of my explanations here are going to evoke this combination of flavors for you, but take my word that it was pretty darn good and worth trying yourself.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Slow cooker short rib beef stew

Now that I've got a proper slow cooker, first on the agenda was a pork shoulder. But Millam's was all out. On the plus side, short ribs, the other classic slow-cooker meat, was half price. And it's remarkable just how quick thoughts of local, organic and such evaporate in the face of half price.

The standard recipe would be to do something sweet with a soy sauce and brown sugar glaze, but I've done that so I looked around for alternatives. I found three that looked interesting: a deviled short ribs recipe with a half cup of chili sauce, short ribs with onion gravy with 3 full cups of onions and savory braised short ribs that leaves out the sugar entirely. I'll probably go back and try the other two, but this time I settled on the third as a base.

The first modification I made was to add some vegetables. It seems kind of pointless to cook in a slow cooker and not get a whole meal out of it. I also changed the stock, boosted the flavorings and did a lot of modification after it came out of the cooker. It turned out not to be the big effort saver I was hoping for, but there were other good points to the method.

3 1/2 pounds beef short ribs, cut into serving-sized pieces and trimmed of excess fat
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 medium-large turnip, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
several small or 2 large carrots cut into 2-inch lengths
1 cup full-bodied red wine
3/4 cup mushroom broth
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 small handful peppercorns
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tablespoon herbs de Provance
1 Tablespoon salt
1/4 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
3 Tablespoons flour
1 large handful of parsley leaves, chopped
1/4 cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 Tablespoons prepared horseradish
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Season ribs with a little salt. Heat oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown ribs in batches, 3-minutes per side, until well browned. Remove to slow-cooker pot.

2. Add vegetables to dutch oven and cooking, stirring frequently, until lightly caramelized and most of the yummy bits stuck to the bottom on the pan have been picked up. Remove to slow-cooker pot. Deglaze dutch oven with some of the wine. Pour into the slow-cooker pot.

3. Add everything else up to the salt to the pot, stir as best you can, set slow-cooker to low and cook all day.

4. When you're good and ready, open the slow cooker and fish out the vegetables to one bowl, the beef to another and strain the broth into a third. Place the first two into the refrigerator and the third into the freezer. Slice the mushrooms and mix the sour cream, mustard, horseradish and salt to make a horseradish sauce. Put that in the refrigerator too.

5. Take the meat out of the refrigerator when it's good and chilled. You'll find that the meat that was falling apart early is now fairly solid. Remove the bones from the ribs without breaking them up too much. Leave the bowl on the counter to warm up. Take out the vegetables too.

6. Take the broth out of the freezer. The fat should have solidified into a disk on top and a lot of the herbs should be trapped in it. Break up the fat and move it to a large cast iron pan. Measure out a half cup of the broth into a small container with a lid.

7. Heat the cast iron pan over medium heat until the fat is melted and sizzling. Add the mushrooms and a pinch more salt. The mushrooms should have lots of room. Cook without browning too much, stirring frequently and probably turning down the heat. Add the flour to the half cup of broth, put on the lid and shake until the flour is fully incorporated and then shake a little more. Let the flour hydrate as the mushrooms cook.

8. When you're happy with the mushrooms, add the broth, heat until warm but not hot then shake the flour mixture one more time and add to the pan. Stir well to incorporate and bring to a boil. Cook three more minutes until thickened. Add the meat, vegetables and parsley. Stir until everything is covered with the sauce and warmed through. Remove from heat.

Served topped with a small dollop of the horseradish sauce and a bit more parsley. Some sort of starch to soak up the sauce is a good idea too.

Like I said, a bit more trouble than I anticipated when I started, but definitely worth it. It's really good. The beef and vegetables retain a suprising amount of individual flavor and structural integrity despite the long cooking time. Chilling the beef before reheating it in the final preparation helped with that. I remember a Good Eats episode that explained just how that worked, but I don't recall any details.

The gravy is full of beef flavor developed during the long cooking time and a surprisingly strong mushroom flavor too considering how little is actually in there; it fragrant with herbs and has a tannin/pepper sting at the end. I was skeptical if the horseradish sauce would work with all the added flavors (although that part of the recipe is what caught my eye in the first place), but it's a great added touch with just enough bite to cut through the creaminess and heartiness of the stew, complimenting, but not drowning the main flavors (if used judiciously) and lightening up and giving a sophisticated touch to the whole.

I suppose this isn't really a very seasonable recipe. Somehow the sweet short rib recipes seem more summery. Why do you suppose that is?