Saturday, October 27, 2018

Things I Will Not Buy Again: Cocktail Sauce

I have a secret. I hate commercial cocktail sauce from bottles and jars. They're oversweet and not very exciting. When I go to good restaurants, theirs, well, aren't. I wanted to figure out for myself how I can improve on shrimp delivery, so I did.

  • 6oz of unsalted, unsugared tomato paste. Canned is fine.
  • 4 Tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce.
  • 1-2 Tablespoons of white wine vinegar.
  • 2-4 Tablespoons of grated horseradish, again from a jar. 
Mix the ingredients in a suitable container, being sure to get everything mixed thoroughly. I used my fancy-pants $5.99 glass 2-cup measuring cup. Serve chilled, probably.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Studio Living With Brine or Kate Cooks Vegetarian

I'm dedicating this post to my aunt, Barbara. She has been incredibly supportive of Knives, Fire, and Fun and of my cooking adventures in general. Barbara, I think you'll enjoy this, if only for its flexibility.

One of my favorite easy dinners is wine and cheese with some bread and some kind of produce. Sometimes it's fruit, other times it's a marinated vegetable like mushrooms, artichoke hearts, or peppadew peppers.

Or olives (yes, I know that's a fruit). My favorite nibbles are a Greek mix and they go well with many cheeses, or simply bread with a little oil or butter.

The grocery store across the street recently started selling pasta made from chick peas, so I thought I'd give it a try. It's not bad. The texture will never be like semolina (you need gluten for that), but there is some tapioca in it, so there is some of the chewiness that's essential to the mouthfeel.

For some reason, my brain wanted Mediterranean flavors, so this is what I came up with for two main dish servings or four sides:

  • 1 8 ounce package of chick pea pasta
  • 1/2 Cup of mixed Greek olives, drained, rinsed, finely chopped or run through a blender or food processor 
  • 12-15 peppadew peppers, as above
  • 4 ounches of  feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil 
  • 3 tablespoons oregano
  • Black pepper to taste

Boil water for the pasta and salt it generously. When you're cooking chick pea pasta, you need a little more than you would for semolina pasta. You're also going to get some foam. Don't worry, you'll be rinsing it off in a bit. The rotini I used said 7-9 minutes. I started tasting at 7 and drained it at just barely 9. Rinse well, return to the pot. Stir in your olive oil, the oregano, and your vegetables, mixing until everything is evenly distributed to your eyes. I served mine in a bowl, but it would look very pretty on a plate especially on a bed of spinach.

This is tasty warm or cold and lends itself to many variations. Make it with semolina pasta. Use chick peas themselves. Switch out peppers and add sun-dried tomatoes or artichoke hearts. Eliminate the cheese and make it vegan, still getting plenty of protein. If you insist on meat, throw in a chicken breast and my best assumption would be to increase the vegetables by at least 50%.

If you have ideas or variations, please comment!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sauce or Soup? Or It's Gina's Fault

I was talking to one of my best friends a couple weeks ago and the subject of peanuts came up. I am kind of weird about peanuts. I don't particularly like them out of the shell, though I have been known to munch on them while drinking with friends and not thinking about it too much. You won't see me buying a bag at a ball game. I don't like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, but I will eat a Snickers as a meal replacement once or twice a year. Peanut butter sandwich? Hard pass. If there's peanuts in a box of chocolate truffles you'll see me heading straight for the caramel or the chocolate ganache on the other end of the box.

When it comes to Asian food, however, I quite enjoy them. They seem to belong there. Pad Thai. Satay. The top of a bun bowl (Vietnamese vermicelli with many wonderful things). Gina mentioned African Peanut Soup, which I'd never had before. Why not? I thought ,and set aside a Sunday afternoon.

I searched a lot and found Congo Cookbook, which has a lot of things I'm going to try. The peanut soup recipe, I have to say, was pretty vague, so you'll see a lot of my purple comments below. I doubled the recipe so I would use the entire jar of peanut butter (I have no other use for it), but I'm leaving the proportions as they are on the website: 

What you need
  • two or three cups chicken broth or chicken stock
  • one small onion, minced (I used Vidalia)
  • one small sweet green pepper (or bell pepper), minced (I used a green bell pepper and I can't help thinking a red or gold one would be better)
  • one clove of garlic, crushed (optional) (I do not grok "one clove of garlic" never mind "optional" in this context. I threw in 5)
  • salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper or red pepper (to taste) (this meant a few grinds of salt, about five grinds of black pepper, and a Tablespoon of cayenne. I'm thinking red pepper flakes for next time)
  • one hot chile pepper, minced (optional) (I used habanero, ribs and seeds removed)
  • one carrot, chopped fine or one sweet potato or yams, boiled and mashed (optional)(I went with the carrot. I only like sweet potatoes in fries. It's a texture thing)
  • one or two tomatoes, chopped or canned tomatoes (optional) (I used a 28 oz can, there's a reason, below)
  • one cup natural unsweetened peanut butter (or make your own peanut paste, see the simple peanut soup recipe below) (as I mentioned above, I used the whole 16 oz jar of peanut butter. I poured the oil off, then got the rest out with a rubber scraper)
What you do
  • If using homemade peanut paste (snipped because I used the below instructions)
  • If using peanut butter: Combine all ingredients except the peanut butter and simmer over medium heat until everything is tender. Reduce heat, add the peanut butter and simmer for a few minutes more. Stir often. Soup should be thick and smooth.

Simplest Peanut Soup (which I'll try next time, though I did add the cream listed here)
The simplest Peanut Soup recipe calls for two parts chicken stock, two parts shelled peanuts, and one part milk or cream. (I ended up adding a bit more) Start by roasting the peanuts in a baking pan in a hot oven, or on the stove in a large skillet, turning often. Remove the skins from the peanuts and mash them with a mortar and pestle, mince them with a knife, crush them with a rolling pin, or use a food-processor. (Or you could use one part peanut butter, preferably natural and unsweetened.) Combine the peanut paste with the chicken stock in a saucepan and simmer for thirty minutes to an hour. Season with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and sugar to taste. Stir in milk before serving.

Like I said, a little vague. I don't know if my deviations mean the soup has lost its African identity. If anyone has experiences in this area they'd like the share, please do.

When I first tasted the soup, it burned my mouth for about fifteen minutes. If you've eaten spicy food with me, you'll know that doesn't happen too often. So, I had to cut the heat a bit.

This meant, first of all, more cream than originally called for. If I'd been thinking, I would have added that last, but dairy was the first thing I thought off. It was still OMG spicy, so I went for some acid that wouldn't curdle the cream and the rest of the tomatoes went in. To cut it even further, I added a teaspoon of honey that has Meyer lemon juice in it. This was much better, though all the heat was now at the end of the mouthful. 

I really wasn't sure what to do about the texture. "Thick and smooth" to me means blending, so out came the immersion blender. 

While I was making the soup, there were chicken breasts in a water bath getting the sous vide treatment. I had originally planned to use a habanero and some acid for a marinade, but with the soup so hot, I just added salt, black pepper, and half a lemon's worth of juice to the chicken and put the breasts in their vacuum bags with a lot of fresh parsley

Once I cooked the soup down, unpacked the chicken, and made the rice, my guinea pig (thanks Scott!) and I made an interesting discovery: The lemony chicken tasted delicious when dipped in the soup. Well, it was more like a sauce, really, and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it needs more protein elements? Chunks of vegetables instead of the minced? This calls for more research and experimentation after I eat the leftovers. 

Regardless, it was delicious and I'm happy to say I've got a ton of leftovers. It could be used for a poaching liquid or I could put it in a vacuum bag for sous vide. 

Question? Comments? Other thoughts? Please let me know!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Quick Tips: Taming Floaty Sous-Vide Bags

So I found my sous-vide bags floating. I was cooking frozen shrimp, you see, and when I got the vacuum tight, the cheap-o bags kept being punctured. We needed to find a way to weigh the bags down, and it being pretty late at night, my options felt a bit limited. Skipping the shrimp was Not an Option.

Oh, and I didn't want to just plonk down random metal pieces because they might leach into the water and I couldn't quite trust the bags to not have punctured. So I just vac-sealed some salt — make a small bag, pour some salt in, and vacuum seal. That worked well enough I made another bag. You can buy some weights from Amazon, or some fancy pie weights from Sur la Table or something, but this was quick, cost me pennies and I didn't even have to put on pants.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

I Didn't See Anything Like This in Mexico City

Of course, I was only in Mexico City for four days. It was a quick trip last November and one of the highlights was a cooking class I took. We made guacamole tacos (with crickets!), lime soup (which I will have to wing from memory because I never got the recipe), chicken adobo, and a zapote dessert. 

My friends and I tried lots of different food. I determined I do not like chiccarones in sauce, but they're okay to crunch on by themselves. Mexico makes some fabulous cheese. We had delectable churros with three different dipping sauces. There was a smoky mezcal, and some wonderful enchiladas.

But nothing like the recipe I'm writing about today. I don't remember what I was searching for when I found it, but when it caught my eye, I knew I had to try it. The ingredients are pretty simple:

For the soup:

  • 8 medium/large ears corn, husks and silks removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large onion, preferably Spanish, (the white ones) chopped fine
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (I might have added a few more)
  • 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped (I went with two, next time, thinking a couple serranos)
  • 1 tablespoon mild chili powder or 1 teaspoon of a hotter one
  • 3 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups (945 ml) vegetable or chicken stock or broth
  • 2 15-ounce cans small red or black beans, drained and rinsed (or one of each) (3 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup (235 ml) whole milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper or cayenne to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 cup (120 to 235 ml) heavy cream

For the finishing
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) sour cream or Mexican crema
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) finely crumbled Cotija, feta or ricotta salata cheese, plus more for serving (I used Cotija)
  • 1 lime, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Chili powder or a chili-lime seasoning
  • Baked tortilla chips (optional)
For the soup: With a sharp knife, cut kernels from 8 ears corn (you should have about 6 cups); transfer half to a bowl. Chop the other half into pulpy bits on a cutting board or blend them in a food processor until half-pureed. Add to bowl. Firmly scrape any pulp remaining on cobs with back of knife into bowl with corn, unless you’re me and had weirdly dry stalks, yielding no corn “milk.” Set corn aside.
In a large (5 quarts is ideal) heavy pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium. Add onion and cook until tender and beginning to brown at the edges, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño and chili powder and cook together for 2 minutes more. Add flour and stir into onion-garlic mixture until it disappears. Stirring constantly, gradually add stock. Add beans, corn, and 1 cup milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 13 minutes, until corn is tender. Add salt (I used about 1 tablespoon Diamond kosher salt total here) and freshly ground black pepper or cayenne to taste (why not both?). Add cream to taste (we found 1/2 cup sufficient, but it will be less creamy than traditional) and cook for 3 minutes more. (I added a bit more cream)
For the topping:
Combine mayonnaise, sour cream or crema, cheese, and juice of half a lime in a bowl; stir to combine. Cut second half of lime into wedges. (Next time, I'm either zesting the lime and adding it, or adding a full lime's worth of juice. It really lightens up the richness of the other three ingredients. 
Ladle soup into bowls and dollop in center with 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) of mayo-cheese mixture. Squeeze lime juice over to taste, sprinkle with chili powder and chopped cilantro and serve, baked tortilla chips on the side if you wish. (I used warm multi-grain tortillas instead of chips with a little butter. I didn't really feel the need for crunch)
This was a lot of fun to make and I was thrilled with the results. While it may not qualify as a true chowder because there are not potatoes in it, I found it delicious. Lots of different textures, and a nice warmth on the back end. I do like food a little more spicy than this came out, but that's easily adjusted for the next batch. And it's corn season!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

I got to pound something!

The warm weather is here in the northeast, but that doesn't stop me from making soup. I've already got one picked out for this weekend. Recently, a friend made carrot ginger soup for a potluck and it got into my head to make some of my own.

I've made it before, but I looked around for a new recipe just for fun. This one on Epicurious caught my eye because it includes lemongrass, which I hadn't considered or cooked with before. Previously I've used curry spices or cashews in carrot soups. Cashews add some body and a bit of protein, curry of course adds some nice warmth and spice.

So here's our recipe:
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or olive oil I used olive oil 
  • 1 1/2 cups diced onion
  • 1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced carrots
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger chopped ginger from a jar is also perfectly fine
  • One 2-inch-long piece lemongrass, pounded
  • 4 cups Chicken Bone Broth (if you don't make your own, store-bought is fine. Not everyone has time to make their ingredients)
  • Sea salt (didn't bother, let your guests do this themselves. Onions add sodium, and I really didn't think the soup needed any)

    1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the ghee or olive oil. Add the onion and sweat until translucent, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. (it was a little longer than this, so don't worry)
  1. Add the carrots, ginger, and lemongrass and stir to coat the vegetables with the ghee or oil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes. (again, don't worry if this is a little longer)
  2. Add the broth and increase the heat to medium. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender, about 15 minutes. (more like 45. I cooked until I could easily mush my largest bit of carrot against the side of the pot)
  3. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth, (stick blenders are good here if you have one) blending in batches if necessary. Season with sea salt to taste and serve immediately.
You can refrigerate the soup for up to 1 week, or freeze it for up to 6 months.
As I'm sure you expect of me by now, I did several things differently and was very happy with the results. Often when I see recipes online I think they are going to be too mild so I will increase the spices, and sometimes even the main ingredients. I bought two pounds of carrots. I don't know if between peeling and chopping off ends that I actually got rid of half a pound of carrot, but it didn't seem to be worth worrying about. This is me not worrying about it. I increased the ginger by 50%, doubled the lemongrass, and started with 1 cup of onion and about 3/4 Cup of shallots. I've taken to keeping a pound of shallots on hand. They keep better than onions, and can usually be substituted for them, while the reverse is not necessarily true. I love their nice sharp flavor and if you fry them to a crisp they're good on top of many things.

I don't use my kitchen mallet very often. Usually it's for when I make chicken or veal Parmesan and I want to flatten a cutlet, all the better to crisp you my dear. This time, it was just a couple of whacks to each stem of the lemongrass. They immediately released their delightful fragrance into the air, so I know I did that right.

An option to consider next time is half vegetable broth and half chicken broth, but I wasn't going to do that this time. I had the luck of my dinner guest offering some of his homemade chicken stock so of course I used that.

I served the soup with a sous vide chicken breast that I spiced with garlic and ground chile pepper. I wanted some of those tiny Thai peppers, but my nearest grocery store did not have any, so the garnish was some chopped scallions, which worked pretty well. I dunked a bit of chicken in my soup and that was unexpectedly delicious.

Questions? Comments? I always love to hear from you.  

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Studio Living (1 of many)

Hi everyone. 

I've talked about tuna melts a few years ago, but I didn't put in a recipe for tuna salad, so I thought I'd add a supplementary post. Currently, I'm cooking for one, but I think this will scale pretty well. 

Our ingredients:

  • 1 5-ounce can of your favorite tuna
  • 2 Tablespoons mayonaise (if your tuna is packed in oil, you start with one)
  • I Tablespoon finely chopped shallot (I'm going to use more next time. Onion will also work just fine here and I recommend a yellow one)
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 short fat bell pepper (I have a fondness for yellow or orange ones)
  • 1/4 cup shredded or thinly sliced cheese (today's was an Italian blend because it's what I wanted to use up)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil

Drain your tuna well, flake into a small bowl and mash with a fork (I usually use a salad fork for this, I find the shorter, thinner tines to be helpful) to separate the chunks. Add your shallot, spices and mayo, mash together until all the mayo and spices are well mixed. 

Set your oven to broil. If you store things in your oven because you have a tiny kitchen, take them out first. Don't ask. Put olive oil in an oven-safe pan or dish. I used a small Pyrex casserole dish (I was not paid to mention Pyrex, but will happily take money for it.)

Cut your bell pepper in half, scrape out seeds carefully. Don't take off the stem because it will help keep the filling in the pepper. Add your filling, then place on your baking dish or on a cookie sheet. One can of tuna fits pretty well in one pepper. Mash down as necessary. Top the tuna with the cheese. Check your text messages, slip on the wet floor when you go back in the kitchen and knock all the cheese on the counter. Yeah, that's a thing that happened, but I was able to rescue most of the cheese.

Put your dish in the center of the oven. Check after five minutes if you want the cheese gooey, about seven minutes if you want it brown and bubbly.

I served this on a bed of spinach because I'm always looking for ways to get more vegetables (you may be seeing this a lot in upcoming posts) and had a few crackers on the side. If you're making more, you can probably do half a pepper per person if you're serving soup or a full-blown salad, but I find this is a great as the star of the show.