Sunday, June 27, 2010

Closing up shop...

at least for the Summer.

During my last week's silence I was suffering through a bout of stomach flu. I wasn't cooking; I was barely eating; and even thinking about food wasn't such a good idea. At this point, I'm starting to recover and while I'm certainly pleased to end the not-eating part, the not-cooking and not-thinking-about-food parts, I'm kind of digging.

I know I'm not entirely thinking straight right now. I still feel oogy considering anything other than small portions of bland ingredients, but I think there's some lasting appeal in not working in a 100 degree kitchen, not wrestling with an electric stove top, not using a mystery box of vegetables on a deadline, not researching novel recipes for the blog, and just not thinking about food all the time.

I'm curious what else I might do with my time. I've been doing the serious foodie thing for about three years now; writing the blog, reading others including the big national ones, looking up recipes, getting involved in the local food community, all that stuff. I'd like to dial it back a bit and try another hobby. And I think it's right here when the marketers have started noticing me that I need to make the decision of whether I'm going Pro-Am or backing away. I don't think I'm that committed. I have got a variety of other interests, you know.

I'm still signed up for the CSA this fall and I could easily see coming back to both cooking with it and blogging about it with some renewed enthusiasm, but I'd be surprised if I do the intensive week by week run-down again. I made so many dishes that I enjoyed but never made again because I was always chasing some new idea, not just for something to post, but because "the new" became an end in itself. Part of it was putting out ideas for other CSA members--and I did help a few stumped folks here and there--but now there's my archive and several other folks who have blogged about their CSAs so I don't think there's any real need to keep it up.

My original idea for this blog was just a place to show off some cool things I cooked and on-going ideas. I did a bit of that with ice cream, learning to bake and finding new ways to work with black sapotes and canistels, but it's taken a back seat to the on-going grind of the posting schedule. Once I've had a break, I'd like to come back to that.

I'd like to thank you all for reading. It has been gratifying to watch my audience grow even if it's been from zero to minuscule. I hope the blog's been interesting and useful for you. I may well be completely back to normal and posting again next week, but if I stick with this then there may be nothing here until October. If/when things gear up again here I'll let some other Miami food bloggers know and, if they care, they'll pass the news along.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Saag aloo

Back in February I made aloo palak which is pretty much the same dish, at least in concept. That recipe and this one use the same ingredients, but combine them in interestingly different ways, particularly creating the sauce out of onion instead of spinach. Seemed worth a try.

1/2 pound potatoes, cut into 1 1/2-inch diameter pieces
1 pound spinach, cleaned well
1 large onion (or one small onion plus some garlic and some shallot)
1 1/2 Tablespoons cooking oil
1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon cayanne powder
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fenugreek
4 ounces canned tomatoes

1. Heat a medium pot of lightly salted water to boiling. Add potatoes and cook until just tender, 10 to 15 minutes

2. Heat a large pan over medium heat. Add the spinach with a little water from the cleaning. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from pan, let cool to handling temperature and squeeze out most of the moisture.

3. Slice the onion. Clean any spinach juice out of the large pan, add the oil and heat over medium heat. Add half the onion and sauté until golden brown. Add the whole coriander and cumin and cook for 1 minute more. Remove to a food processor.

4. Add the rest of the onion, shallots and garlic and blend until smooth.

5. Return to the pan and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, spinach and spices. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes (the original recipe called for half as much tomatoes, but 2 ounces is barely any at all so I doubled it.), stir well, cover and simmer 10 minutes more.

Serve with rice or roti and a dollop of chutney.

The spinach is well overcooked, of course: on the verge of falling apart and a little mushy but the stems still have some texture. There's a bit of spinach flavor left plus mild spiciness, but the flavor is dominated by the onions and potatoes (which add welcome textural interest). It's all rather sedate so the spicy tangy bite of the chutney is a welcome addition. The amount of chutney in the picture is rather too much, but once I added another scoop of the saag aloo, it evened out nicely. It doesn't much resemble any restaurant saag aloo, I don't think, but it's been a while since I've had it. I wonder if this is a typical recipe or some weird aberation.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cobaya PODzilla dinner

Sunday night Chefs Jeremiah Bullfrog, Chad Galiano and Kurtis Jantz catered another Cobaya dinner. There was some mention of the event being thrown together at the last moment, but you'll have to head over to Food for Thought for Frodnesor's inside scoop of how it came about. (He hasn't posted about it yet, but he always has plenty of insight and a more interesting comment thread than I get so it's worth waiting for.)

All of these chefs have done previous Cobaya dinners: Galiano and Jantz did Cobaya Gras back in February (I didn't do a full write-up, but here's Frodnesor's ) and Bullfrog did the P.I.G. event last November. That was before he had his GastroPOD ready to go. This time, he was able to roll it right up and have his customary kitchen with him. Galiano and Jantz set up in the location's backyard bar. By the way, notice the photographers in the picture of the POD. Including me, three out of thirteen people taking pictures at that random moment. That's a quarter of the crowd and that ridiculous ratio held true through the evening. I'm not sure what that means, but certainly nothing good.

The theme of the evening was elevated American(-ish) street food, but it had an unofficial theme of sous vide (although there was a little deep frying going on as well). Or is sous vide so standard in modern kitchens that it isn't worth commenting upon? Either way, enough ado. Here's the menu:

And here's what I thought of it.

First up was Chef Bullfrog's Octo Salpicon along with the Summer Spritzer. If pairing octopus with tomato, red onion and feta isn't a classic Greek recipe, somebody needs to tell the classic Greeks about it. It was a naturally harmonious combination with acid and spice up front fading to a very nicely flavored octopus. This was, without doubt, the tenderest octopus I've ever had.

I wanted to ask the chef to expand on his explanation of the preparation: "cooked the piss out of it," but he started the conversation by asking how everything was and I, with my reflexive honesty, told him that I didn't care for his Miami-renowned burgers (about which more later). It seemed a good idea to cut the conversation short not long after that.

Anyway, the spritzer went well with the salpicon. It was mainly salty and fruity with just a whiff of tequilla at the end. Could have used a little more kick for my tastes.

Next up, French Quarter Chicken Livers from Chefs Galiano and/or Jantz. (I wasn't sure who was responsible for what beyond if it came from the POD or the bar. No doubt one of the other blogs reporting on the event or an ego-surfing chef will be able to clear things up.) The livers were meltingly soft and straitforwardly livery in flavor (perhaps with some onion? They tasted a whole lot like my mom's chopped liver which does involve onion.) The hot pepper fluid gel was a very nice accompaniment and the salty crackers made the flavors pop. I've never had a sweet and tangy relish with liver before and was a bit surprised at how well it worked. I'll have to experiment at the next Passover sedar.

Next, brine fried chicken with Big Mike's potato salad and buttermilk-chicharrone biscuits. Steve, of the Blind Tastes blog, in a comment on chef Galiano's Chadzilla blog, said Mike's chicken was "not his real deal stuff" (although he still considered it "killer".) If what we got at Cobaya Gras was the real deal, I liked this better. That chicken has a very crisp very salty crackery crust that I thought overwhelmed the mild chicken. This time, for my piece at least, the crust was soft and soaked with chicken fat. That kept it from breaking away and brought its flavor together with the chicken. It was still quite salty and spicy, but if you had it with the meat in the proper ratios, it worked out right. Just a matter of personal taste, probably, as I've never cared for extra-crispy chicken.

The side dishes I was less thrilled with. The potato salad flavor seemed run of the mill to me and included the dreaded raw celery. The biscuits were dense and a little rubbery with flavors of raw flour and burnt oil. I did really like the chicken, though.

Next was the Crispy White Corn Cake (a.k.a. an arepa) with a poached egg, oxtail gravy, queso cotija and crema. Kind of an off-putting presentation. Certainly, the woman sitting next to me was put off. I know that's how sous vide eggs get so I dug in despite the undercooked appearance. The arepa was, as advertised, crispy, with a strong corn flavor that worked with the egg white. The flavor lightly spiced meat blended with the egg yolk while it was hard to distinguish between the textures of the soft fat and the egg white. So it came together as a tasty whole.

Next, the Banh Mi Taco (from the gastroPOD). This is a rather different dish from the banh mi taco chef Bullfrog prepared at the P.I.G. cobaya event last year, not least because it contains ox tail instead of pork according to one of his assistants. (I'm a bit embarrassed that I can neither confirm nor deny. It tasted kind of mystery-meaty to me, which is what I like in a taco, honestly.) The pickled radishes are new too she said. The Vietnamese flavors are mild, but was a pretty good taco. Could have used a little more acid and spice for me, personally.

Next, 'Baha' Fish Taco Salad. (Sorry about that vertiginous view of it. It's complicated and it was hard to get all the elements in from a better angle.) I lived in San Diego for five years so I'm particular about my Baja cuisine. 'Baha' generally doesn't cut it for me. But here I think they got most of the right flavor components in there. You need all three sauces: pico de gallo, a white sauce and a chipotle salsa, plus beer batter. The flour tortilla is a bit off and I don't hold with the deconstruction into a salad, but otherwise, pretty good. The avocado vanilla sorbet needs singling out as it was fabulously tasty and impeccably creamy. (Chef Jantz told me he used a Pacojet which, I'm sure you'll agree, is cheating.) I, and I think many of the guests, could easily have sat down to a few scoops of it on its own, but the sweetness in the salad was an off note for me.

Next, Chef Bullfrog's aforementioned Double Decker Slider Burgers. I just don't get these. First off, look at that pale flabby sous vide meat. The chef said he finished the patties off on the grill, but given the scant color here, it must have been momentary. OK, yes I know White Castle burgers are effectively steamed so a lack of color is traditional for a slider, but those aren't double decker which makes a difference. The sous vide process heats the double-thick burger through, but leaves the center with an undercooked texture that I really don't like at all. Also in the center are the bacon and cheese where their flavors are buried in all that unpleasant unbrowned meat. On the other hand, I liked the pickles and the bun was OK. If someone wants to defend the burgers in the comments please do so. Is this a typical example? What am I missing here?

The final savory course was Mississippi Delta Tamales. A Mississippi tamale is a rather different thing than a Mexican tamal. Chef Chad recommended for details and I concur; it's a very interesting site. These particular tamales were made with nicely spiced chicken confit with a little duck thrown in. The outside is cornmeal rather than masa. Both tasty, but it was really all about the sauces. The sweet tart tomatillo and the tangier ketchup brought out the flavors beautifully. Very nice indeed.

There was a bit of a gap at this point for the guests to catch their breaths and the chefs to have some dinner. Some folks started straggling off as it was getting late and they were getting full, but there's no such thing as too full or too late for dessert so they missed out.

First dessert was the Root Beer & Bourbon Floats. I spoke to Chef Jantz about this too. The "Zatarain's" on the menu is the brand of the root beer mix; the "Elijah Craig" the brand of the bourbon. The first is a New Orleans tradition, the latter carefully chosen to match. And match it did. Despite the serious boozy hit, the flavors of the bourbon and root beer blended seamlessly. The ice cream pulled out the vanilla notes in both and ties them together. Or possibly I'm full of crap and making stuff up.

Finally, we've got the White Chocolate Cupcakes. This is my exemplar of what a cupcake ought to be like. A modest amount of fluffy creamy buttercream frosting on top of springy cake with a pronounced flavor of its own. A pleasant little bite, not a monster with a half pound of frosting molded into a flower on top. My only complaint would be that there's no hint of the foie gras advertised in the frosting. Perhaps my taste buds had lost some precision at this point. My brain sure had.

Overall, a very pleasant evening. For other takes and more pictures, check out Frod's quick post from that evening on the official Cobaya blog and Chef Galiano's take here. I expect at least two more blog posts up-coming. Check back for links in the comments.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Broccoli almond soup

Broccoli almond soup is interestingly ambiguous. A little push in one direction and it's Chinese, in another and it's Mediterranean. The basic recipe I worked from, from the Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread cookbook, had it both ways. It used both sesame oil and sour cream for a fusiony effect. For me, the Chinese association was too strong. I could bring myself to finish it off with the sour cream and instead piled on garnishes with Chinese flavor elements. Maybe I missed out; I'll try sour cream with some of the leftovers.

1 large head of broccoli, chopped into florets, thick stems peeled
6 cups chicken stock [I only had two cups of fairly condensed stock left so I just used water for the rest. I figured I'd get a purer broccoli flavor that way so maybe an improvement.]
2 Tablespoons butter
1 large onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 cup toasted almonds
3 Tablespoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons sesame oil
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream, maybe

1. Bring stock to a boil in a dutch oven. Add the broccoli, turn down the heat to medium low and simmer for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté 5 minutes to soften and lightly brown. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

3. Move broccoli and onion mixture to a food processor. Add the almonds and sesame seeds. Process until smooth, adding broth to help the process along as necessary. [Sliced almonds will process better than the whole ones I had, but I liked the little chunks of almond that were left.] Return to the broth.

4. Bring back to a boil and simmer 1 minute to blend the flavors. Adjust texture with extra broth and seasoning with salt and pepper. [My low sodium, low chicken broth meant that I needed a whole lot of salt.] Mix in sesame oil.

As I mentioned up top, the original recipe just topped it with sour cream and called it a day, but I wanted to bring out more of the Asian flavors. You can't see it under there but there's a heap of brown rice in the bowl. On top are slices of Guilin-chili-sauce-and-soy-marinated pork chop and some cilantro.

Sans garnishes, the soup is intensely flavorful, with a bright freshness from the broccoli (despite the long cooking time) and a toasty nuttiness. It's fairly creamy considering the lack of dairy, and the imperfectly blended almonds add a bit of crunch. It's tasty but, personally, I find it hard to eat a whole bowl of soup where every spoonful tastes exactly the same.

The nuttiness of the brown rice blends right in with the other nutty elements in the soup. The combination of broccoli and rice is a cheap Chinese take-out for good reason so no complaints there.

The pork is a little problematic, though. I did an unexpectedly good job of marinating and cooking it to the right level of doneness so I really wanted to eat it on its own. It's still pairs well with the flavors in the soup, but it's a shame not to let it go solo when it's so good. What I should have done was marinate some beef in oyster sauce. That's the classic pairing with broccoli. While I'm making substitutions, some scallions instead of the cilantro would have been a better choice.

Well, I've got two containers of leftovers packed away and two plans of what to do with them. Good.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Southwestern corn and squash bake

Looking at the vegetables I have on hand this week, I knew I wanted to pair the squash and corn. I had a fair amount of Southwestern flavorings left over to work with and a chunk of mild white cheddar that was close enough to monterey jack. No real plan here; I just threw it all together in some vaguely sensible manner.

1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
2 smallish yellow peppers, chopped
1/2 summer squash, thinly sliced
3 ears corn, stripped from their cobs
2 chipotles in adobo, chopped
equal amount of pickled jalapeños, chopped
6 ounces pulled brisket in faux barbecue sauce
1 handful cilantro, chopped
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup double-cream white cheddar cheese, shredded
parmesan and bread crumbs to cover
salt and pepper and chili powder and cumin and oregano and hot sauce and such to taste

I heated the butter and olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat until the the butter melted, sizzled and settled down. Then I threw in the onion and peppers with a pinch of salt and sweated them until they softened the the onion turned translucent. Then I added the squash with some spices and let it cook down while I harvested the corn from the cobs. After a few minutes I added the corn, turned the heat up a little and cooked for five minutes until the corn was just turning tender.

Then I took the pot off the heat and added the chipotle and pickled jalapeño, brisket (with its sauce) and cilantro, mixed well and poured out into an 8"x8" baking dish. After it had cooled a bit, I mixed in the cheddar and the eggs whisked into the milk and cream, adjusted the spices, topped with the mixed breadcrumbs and parmesan, covered with foil and baked at 350 degrees for a half hour, removed the foil and baked for 15 minutes more and then gave it five more minutes under the broiler.

Here's the result:
The structural integrity isn't quite where I'd like it; Next time, I'm mixing the bread crumbs in. But even if it falls apart into a bowlful of creamed corn, it's nicely rich and full of flavor. The corn is tender but still has a bit of crunch to it. It's sweetness, surprisingly pronounced, contrasts with the several different sorts of spiciness and the savory brisket. The acid from the pickled jalapeno (and the hot sauce) cuts through the richness. Kind of trashy I admit, but really pretty tasty. Could use more squash, though. And, I just now realized that I've got a can of black beans that I should have thrown it. That would have been pretty good too.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fried banana sesame ice cream

If you look at the full list of ice cream flavors I've made, you'll find a whole lot of variations on banana. Mainly that's because bananas are a low-fat alternative to eggs to the recipes, but also because of how versatile their flavor is. I ran out of ideas in this area a while ago, but with the bunch of bananas in the buying club share, I'm back working that vein. Here's one I'm surprised I didn't think of earlier; This flavor is a play on Malaysian banana fritters. Those are bananas dipped in a rice flour batter, deep fried, sometimes candied, but always garnished with lots of sesame seeds. The key elements I wanted to include were the cooked bananas, a bit of the caramel flavor of the candying and the sesame. Here's what I came up with:
1 generous pound bananas, frozen
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons agave nectar
1 large pinch salt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (more or less. Adjust to get a thick, but not soft-serve texture)
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

The first step was to sear the bananas. Since they've been frozen, they're going to dissolve to mush pretty quickly. That means I'm only going to be able to get color on one side. To help that out, I sliced the bananas lengthwise to get a flat side and sprinkled a little sugar on it. It only took maybe 30 seconds in a very hot cast iron pan. There is some burnt sugar bitterness, but a generous pinch of salt works to cut that down.

I found the pan roasted bananas mixed with that pinch of salt, 1/3 cup sugar, a squeeze of agave nectar and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil gave me the flavor I'm aiming at in the final dish. The sweetness is at a natural ripe-banana level and the sesame and banana flavors are beautifully blended with the toastiness adding dimension to the cooked banana's caramelly tropical sweetness.

But flavors shift when you thin a mixture out with heavy cream and chill it down and I need to figure out how to shift them back. I think the sesame flavor won't vary with temperature so I only need to double that amount. But I need to lay on more sugar to compensate for the dampened sweetness at low temperatures. I also need to add the lemon juice to keep the bananas from browning. I'm not thrilled with the extra acidity unbalancing my flavors, but I think it'll be less prominent frozen.

After ten hours in the refrigerator it was ready for churning, but could use a little more sweetness and a little sesame so I added another squirt of agave nectar and another teaspoon of sesame oil along with the toasted sesame seeds.

The mix didn't harden up on the sides of the bucket during churning so the process went slowly and allowed a lot of air to be churned in. That meant that the churning process was limited by overflow instead of thickening up as far as I would have liked. On the other hand, the churned up matrix was pretty stable, showing little signs of melting as I packed it into a container for freezing.

After ripening here's the final result:

It's got that typical banana ice cream texture where it's a bit fluffy and melts suspiciously slowly, but otherwise it's pleasantly creamy and scoopable even if it hasn't got that ultra-premium richness. The crunchy sesame seeds add a little interest. I think I got the flavors back to where I wanted them. It doesn't have the intensity, of course, what with it being half cream, but the balance is right and the banana flavor flows smoothly into the sesame. I thought maybe I'd top it with a drizzle of sesame oil, but that would have been too much. It's good right where it is. What I might do, if I were going to make this again, is fry up some bits of rice-flour-batter to mix in to complete the set of banana fritter flavors. They'd probably get soggy quick, though. They might be nice to serve on top hot from the fryer, though. Yeah, that would work.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Buying club fortnight one wrap-up, fortnight two start-up

You wouldn't know it because I'm a bit behind in writing up my posts, but I did a fair job of using my my first half-share despite going out of town for a few days. I've mentioned how I used the corn, potatoes and spinach. The bananas and broccoli are going to be in upcoming posts. The mango turned out to be rather fibrous so I decided to cook it down along with the blueberries. The original idea was to make a syrup, but, on a whim, I decided to throw in a banana which stayed kind of solid. It seemed a better idea to blend it all together and make more of a goop out of it. I can think of a few uses for that sort of thing, but it turns out that blueberries, mangoes and bananas aren't the best possible combination of flavors so I haven't done much with it. The rest I've used in bits and pieces, but I've got most of the garlic, one under-ripe tomato, and half each of the cucumber, squash and lettuce head left.

Since I've got more cucumber and lettuce in the new share, I'll probably consolidate. The new cucumbers--there are two hidden in that picture--seem the pickling sort so I'm leaning in that direction. [Which reminds me, the pickled beets from a few weeks back have been a bit disappointing, mainly texturally. I really should have boiled them instead of roasting. Also, since I added the onions to the pickling liquid when I boiled it, the onion flavor overpowered the beets a bit. On the other hand, the eggs I pickled with them were really great. The extra onion flavor really worked there.] I'm also thinking about a lettuce soup. I'm all out of chicken stock and don't have the accumulated bones and scraps to make more yet, but I do have the makings of shrimp stock which would make an interesting base for the soup. I just have to figure out what other elements work with those flavors.

The onions this week are plain old yellow onions so no need for any plans there. The potatoes, on the other hand, are a new variety called Klamath Pearl. The packaging says they're well suited to salads, roasting and grilling. I've had my share of potato salad recently and don't grill so I guess it's roasting. Or maybe, along with the squash and corn and maybe the spinach, some sort of Southwestern gratin.

The broccoli-esque item on the left is labeled "broccolette" which I think is the same thing as broccolini and a different thing than broccoli raab. I think that's destined for a simple side dish sauté.

The snap peas (in shadow in the center bottom of the picture), I think I'd like to stir fry. I wonder if there are any proper snap pea stir fry recipes where they aren't just substituting for snow peas. I"ll have to do a little research.

That leaves the fruit. There are a couple lemons which is good as I'm out of lemons. Another big box of strawberries which are still too pretty to cut up. The first grapes I've had in years. (I haven't had an apple since moving to Miami either.) Maybe it's from not having them in so long, but the grapes are really tasty. And finally, way too many bananas. I've got another idea for a banana ice cream (beyond the one I made yesterday and will post about in a day or two), but that will only use half. Maybe I'll do a banana bread, too.

To tell the truth, I don't know how much of these plans I'm actually going to follow through on. My kitchen is just so very hot and I have so little desire to get in there and cook. I'm also finding a lack of desire to cook bringing a lack of desire to eat a full dinner and the idea of cutting back and maybe losing a few pounds is tempting. My buying club experiment may be short-lived this summer.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sausage-stuffed sweet onions

I've still got the three Vidalia onions from my first Annie's share and I wanted to do something with them that would be inadvisable to do with the normal sort. There are a few recipe collections on-line mostly filled with the sort of questionable recipes marketing boards put together to use excessive amounts of whatever product they're hawking. This particularly recipe was on the official Vidalia onion website, but it's from an actual restaurant--Elizabeth on 27th in Savannah, Georgia--and has been enjoyed by people not on the payroll.

I did some modification. The original recipe calls for "spicy sausage". Since it's from Georgia, and because the recipe also calls for sage, I figure that's southern-style sausage although I don't think I've ever seen a spicy version. I think you can get bulk southern sausage at my local Fresh Market, but the day I went shopping saw a heavy downpour just as I was getting off work, so the covered parking at Whole Foods beaconed instead. Their sausage-of-the-week was a Hawaiian sausage with pineapple in it which seemed like an interesting choice to stuff onions with. I considered switching out the white cheddar cheese to match, but I couldn't figure out what would work better so I just chose a mild melty variety of white cheddar and used that.

3 large sweet onions
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
salt and pepper
1/2 pound bulk sausage
1 small yellow pepper, finely diced
a similar amount of yellow squash, finely diced
1 handful Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup grated or crumbled white cheddar cheese

0. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 cups water to boiling.

1. Peel the sweet onions and slice both ends flat. Scoop out the centers [I found the sharp edge and shallow bowl of my teaspoon measure made it a suitable tool for this task.] trying not to break through the root end. [I succeeded two times out of three, but my third onion was quite flat which made it difficult to deal with.] Reserve the scooped out onion for the stuffing. Place the onions in a baking dish, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the melted butter. [Pouring the butter into the hollowed out onions and then brushing it up over the sides worked well for me.] Pour the boiling water into the dish until it reaches about halfway up the onions. Cover the dish and bake for 30 minutes until onions are tender.

2. Meanwhile, fairly finely chopped the reserved onion scraps. Heat a medium pan over medium-high heat. Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook until just barely cooked through and, preferably, nicely browned. Remove to a medium bowl. Add a little olive oil to the pan if there isn't much sausage grease. Add half the onion, pepper, squash, and salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat down to medium low and sweat until everything is softened and the onions are translucent. [Save the rest of the onion scraps for another use. I found that they caramelize quite nicely.] Once it's cooled, crumble the sausage further if there are any large chunks. When the vegetables are ready add to the sausage along with the parsley and most of the cheese. Mix well.

3. Prep your ingredients for the lemon butter sauce:
1/2 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
a similar amount of shallot, minced
2 Tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cubed
[You can put everything but the cream and butter right into the small pan you'll be cooking this in.]

4. Remove the onions from the baking dish to a baking sheet. Don't turn off the oven. Stuff the onions with the stuffing, packing gently, until full to overflowing. Add more cheese on top. Return to oven and cook around 5 minutes more to melt the cheese.

5. While the cheese is melting, heat a small pan with the sauce's oil, garlic, shallot, wine, juice and zest over high heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce to 1 Tablespoon (not including the solid bits). Add the cream, reduce to 2 Tablespoons. Turn the heat down to medium and whisk in the butter one or two pieces at a time [OK, I did four, but my pieces were quite small.], waiting until each has melted before adding the next. This won't take much time and the sauce will thicken considerably. Strain into a small bowl.

Remove onions to individual serving dishes and top with the sauce. A little more parsley on top would be nice for the presentation too. I wish I had done that.
In the end, it's sausage and onions. I don't need to tell you that that's a good combination. And I particularly like the play between the pineapple in the sausage and the cheddar. The onion, with it's bite bred out, doesn't really assert itself in the mixture. It's more of an equal partner with the stuffing. The sauce adds richness, but less flavor than I'd hoped for. Overall, not bad; not great. I'd be curious to compare with a version done with the hot sausage the recipe calls for.

As far as the flavor goes, I may as well have sliced up all the ingredients and sautéed them up in a pan. The stuffing is all presentation, albeit, quite a nice one. I've stuffed peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers and every time I expect more than the sum of the ingredients and every time I'm disappointed. Well, I've learned my lesson; My stuffing days are over. If you see me declaring my intent to stuff anything in the future, do please remind me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Azerbaijani herb omelet

No doubt there's an Azerbaijani name for such a thing, but that's the title on the recipe I found on World Hearth. The cookbook it came from, Please to the Table, has got translations, but that page isn't in the Amazon preview so I can't tell you what that translation might be (or even what language it was translated into. It's a Russian cookbook, but not a Russian recipe.) The cooking method is more Spanish tortilla than omelet, but, hey, close enough.

2 cups spinach, finely chopped
5 large scallions, finely chopped (I've only got three regular-sized ones)
1 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup dill, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
6 large eggs, well beaten
3 Tablespoons olive oil

When herbs are getting finely chopped I use the stems too, but that's just me.

Of more general concern is the question of when a recipe says "2 cups spinach, finely chopped" does it mean to finely chop two cups of spinach leaves or to finely chop enough spinach to make two cups? Finely chopping cuts the volume in half, more or less. See?

Whoops, I should have scraped down the bowl; you can't really see. Just trust me on this one.

When I write recipes, I usually mean the latter and it bugs me that what I write literally means the former but the latter seems more precise as to the amount that ends up in the dish.

Since I wasn't sure what the creator of this recipe (presumably Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman, the authors of the cookbook) meant, and since I had started with the amounts listed and ended up with half that, I decided to mix three eggs into the herb mixture to see what that got me.

What it got me was a bowl of barely moistened herbs. I doubted that was right so I added the other three eggs and got something more reasonable. That means the authors meant what they wrote: "2 cups spinach, finely chopped". OK, good to know.

Once everything (bar the olive oil) is mixed the instructions are to heat the oil over medium heat in a 10-inch pan, pour in the egg mixture, cook for 5 minutes to let the eggs start to set, cover and turn heat to low and cook for 15 minutes more.

That's where my second problem presented itself. The large burner on my stove doesn't really do medium. Not very well anyway. When you turn it on it only does high and barely-warm with nothing in between. If I leave it on high for a while, temperatures in between slowly become available, I think, or possibly that's just heat stored in the pan. Anyway, getting a pan over medium heat is tough, particularly when the only suitable 10-inch pan I've got is cast iron. I gave it my best shot, but the eggs set right away so I skipped the first 5 minutes, covered the pan and checked progress at 5 minute intervals.

In fact it did take the full 15 minutes for the omelet to set, after which it was time for the next step: slicing it into 8 pieces while still in the pan over the heat and then flipping each piece. That sounds like it would be problem number three for this recipe, but it actually was pretty easy. The trick was to pull one slice out of the pan and set it aside. That leaves room to flip another slice and slide it over to make space to flip the next one. Once everything was flipped, it was 5 more minutes over the heat (which seemed pretty well medium at this point) and then out to a serving dish.

Now let's see how it tastes...
It's mostly savory egg, with some very nice flavor from the browned edges, with aromatic parsley and dill. I'm not getting a lot of spinach, cilantro or walnut. The egg is a bit, but not badly overdone, chewy but not rubbery. There's a bit of crunch from the nuts (and the stems). Nothing spectacular, but nice enough, if you like parsley and dill anyway. It could use some contrast; at least a bit of acid, but I think I'd like it in a sandwich with a mayonnaise with some vinegar in. Maybe I'll try that tomorrow as I've already had three slices and I want to save the rest. I wonder how it's served traditionally.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Capellini with crab, jalapeño and mint

If you've been watching Top Chef Masters, you've seen this dish. Chef Jonathan Waxman made it a couple weeks back for one of the challenges. He said it was a big hit at his restaurant and the (amateur) judges seemed to like it quite a bit, but it didn't make sense to me. I've got enough experience at this that usually I can see how ingredients fit together; these, not so much.

I've got all four of those ingredients in the house right now. It's an odd happenstance really as jalapeños are the only one I consider a staple. I only buy those other three when I've got some particular purpose in mind and the leftovers don't last indefinitely.

I'm using canned crab, not the king crab leg Waxman calls for, but otherwise I'm following the recipe I found on the Top Chef Masters website as best I can. Unfortunately, it's missing some important details, like temperatures, cooking times. Adding the crab. I made guesses for the missing bits, but it's a simple enough recipe that I don't think I can go too far wrong.

As an aside here, does it bother the rest of you as much as it bothers me to see broken recipes on profession websites? It's surprisingly common to find recipes with unused ingredients, vague instructions or chunks missing out of the middle. I expect that from recipe sites that are made up of user-submitted content, but mass media companies really ought to do better. It's not that hard. Are there no copy editors or proof readers to look at these things? Don't the chefs with their names attached ever check?

Anyway, here's my version.

2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 jalapeño, finely diced
zest from 1/4 of a lemon
zest from 1/4 of a lime
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons mint leaves chiffinade
1/2 cup crab meat
1/2 pound angel hair pasta
juice from 1/2 of a lemon

0. Put a large pot of water on high heat. When water reaches a boil move on to step one.

1. Melt butter in a medium pan over medium heat. When it's done sizzling add jalapeño, zest, garlic and mint. Turn heat down to low and sweat the pepper and garlic for several minutes. Add crab and cook for a minute more.

2. Add pasta and a few pinches of salt to the boiling water. Cook to al dente. (capellini takes only a few minutes) When just barely done remove from water with tongs and add to the pan without draining. Mix well. Add lemon juice and a bit more water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve garnished with a bit more mint.
And here it is. The mint and citrus have blended together mojitoly, but the crab is still distinct and I'm getting different ratios of the two flavors (plus a touch of heat) in each bite. he flavor is best, I think, when crab is in the forefront, but I only get that when I get an actual forkful of crab. Maybe that's because I'm using relatively cheap canned crab that doesn't have the intense flavor of the king crab legs Waxman uses. Also, king crab leg meat would be in chunks not tiny flakes. That probably makes a significant difference.

The flavor combination is interesting and unusual, but not a synergistic knock out like some recipes I've tried. The problem is that it's all right at the front of each bite with no follow-through. There's some element missing to round out the back end. I think chunks of king crab would help here, but lacking that it needs something else. Maybe just a little wine or shrimp stock would do it, but I'm not going to put everything back in the pan to find out.

I don't suppose any of you have been to his restaurant, Barbuto, and tried the proper version?