Sunday, January 26, 2014

We need a candy thermometer

A few weeks ago, Nexx made a chocolate mousse and topped it with candied orange peel. It was quite delicious, and I topped mine with just a touch of cream.

This weekend, we were invited to a dinner party and we were asked to make a salad. In my staunch refusal to be boring, I went digging and found this recipe. A bit more about that in a moment.

Now, one can buy candied lemon peel, but somebody very cute frowned at that, so I went digging a bit and also talked to Nexx.

The recipe I found seemed pretty easy. Peel lemons, eschew pith, boil and strain a few times then cook in simple syrup until soft and tasty.

When I talked to Nexx, he mentioned that he didn't boil it as many times as Lynn Rosetto Kasper did in her recipe. I took that under advisement and started my first boil.

And when I saw how yellow the water had turned and how much lemony goodness was being thrown away, I decided to cut the peel into smaller pieces.

Then it was a question of making simple syrup, which is easy. 2:1 ratio. Sugar in the pot, then the water. I had the heat up too high (hence the title of today's post), so ended up making more, but in the end, I had delicious bits of candied goodness. 

Now for the rest of the recipe:

  • 2 heads frisée (curly endive) (6 to 7 cups, washed, dried and torn into bite sized pieces). Frisée is out of season, so I went with a mix of arugula, radicchio and a bit of endive.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt I eliminated, the cheese provides sufficient salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
  • About 3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved into long furls I used a cheese called grana padano here. It's much less expensive than imported parmesan and has a slightly softer texture, making it easy to shave with a vegetable peeler.
  • 1/3 cup Candied Lemon Peel, homemade or store bought, cut into 1/2-inch sticks
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup Balsamic Syrup (balsamic vinegar with a bit of brown sugar).

1. Place the frisée into a large bowl and have 4 to 6 individual salad plates at hand. Sprinkle the greens with the salt, pepper and the olive oil. Toss and then add the wine vinegar. Toss again and taste for oil-vinegar balance.
2. Heap greens on each plate, and tuck the cheese furls and lemon peel here and there into the greens. Scatter with the pine nuts and drizzle each pile with a few streaks of the balsamic syrup. Serve immediately.

We didn't quite get into the fancy plating as this was being driven about an hour away. So, tossed together, except for the balsamic, it was sent with Nexx to the dinner party, with a bowl reserved for me to eat later. To my extreme annoyance, I had been attacked by a cold this week and was not fit company for man nor beast. Which is a pity because the friend hosting the dinner party has bunnies and bunnies are one of my favorite beasts.

Nexx came home with an empty container and a little bit of balsamic syrup that had been funneled into a bottle for easy transport. The salad, I was told, was a hit. I had enjoyed it quite a bit, especially the different play of textures. The sharp saltiness of the cheese ad the richness of the pine nuts practically danced with the lemon peel.

And now I have about a pint of lemon syrup which is going into hot tea, because poor Nexx now has my cold.

Next time--either a lamb chili or a carrot ginger soup. Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Another round of making ingredients or, "Oh shit, pot luck!"

In my new job, I work with some great people and have recently transitioned onto a new team. It's both a happy and sad occasion, because while I'm looking forward to new challenges to go along with my current project a person I'd become very fond of took a job elsewhere. 

So a couple weeks ago, someone said, "Let's do a pot luck!" And then someone said, "Spicy!" and I said, without thinking, "I'll make aloo gobi." 

Three of the guys on the team are Indian. Can you say, "Oh shit?"

I was also long out of garam masala, so this was a nice excuse to make a new batch. After several uses, I decided I could do better than the last one--in retrospect, it seemed heavier on the black peppercorns than it needed to be.

So in the grand Knives, Fire, and Fun tradition, I explored some recipes and then made up my own. Into a dry pan on medium-low heat went:

  • 1 T cardamom pods
  • 1t whole cloves
  • 1 t black peppercorns
  • 2 t cumin seeds
  • 1 2" cinnamon stick
  • 1 t coriander seeds
  • 1" dried chile
  • a medium-sized bay leaf, broken into bits.
Toasting spices is one of my favorite culinary things. I get to make the house smell heavenly and I get to shake a pan to mix the ingredients as if I knew what I was doing. Anyway, I did this until the seeds started to make popping noises and then turned off the heat.

I began to break the ingredients down first in a mortar and pestle and then to a fine powder in my spice grinder. I also added a teaspoon of powdered nutmeg, which is something I always have in the house (and why can't I have egg nog all year round?).

This went into my aloo gobi, which I hadn't made in a while. The following morning, I packed it up and navigated the bus, the Metro North train the subway to get to work. At lunchtime, I heated it up and waited nervously.

Success! I was given a pass by the Indian guys, all of which brought some delicious food of their own. 

This has the slight disadvantage of setting the bar a little higher next time . .  . I think I'll go for the cabbage recipe. If I can find it. There were mustard seeds involved . . .

Saturday, December 28, 2013

I didn't measure this one . . .

Greetings friends, and I apologize for the delay. I have actually been cooking and now that I have a few days off you may see a few new posts before I go back to my 90-100 minute commute.

I was in New Orleans back in September, and part of the fun there is tasting a ton of different things. In a shop I forget the name of, that had a ton of hot sauces and local jams/jellies/preserves, there was a big display of pecan oil. 

I was intrigued. I've seen recipes (usually salad dressings) that involved walnut oil, but not pecan. I grabbed a bottle.

One of the uses I've seen online for it is roasting cauliflower, but I haven't done that yet. I let it sit in the cupboard for a bit, and then an idea occured to me. Why not pasta?

Specifically, pasta with andouille, romano cheese, caramlized onions and some red pepper.

My best approxmiation:

  • 1 pound pasta of your choice. I used cavatapi, because it's full-bodied and will stand up to strong flavors.
  • 2 medium yellow onions--the kind you get in the red net bag.
  • 2 T butter
  • 12 oz andouille, sliced. If you're not familiar with andouille, it's time to introduce yourself. It's delightfully spicy and double-smoked. I believe I read somewhere that at least one of those smokings is over sugarcane, but I can't find the reference.
  • 3/4 cup romano cheese
  • 2 t red pepper flakes. 
  • 1/4 cup pecan oil
Chop onion into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces. Melt the butter in a sauté pan on low heat and add the onions, stirring constantly until caramelized and dark brown.

Start the water for the pasta. 

After you remove the onions from the pan, add the andouille and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

I used a spice grinder for the red pepper. A mortar and pestle will do or you can buy it in ready-to-grind jars.

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain. Turn off the burner. Add the pecan oil, swirl it around a bit so it picks up the warmth from the pot. Add the pasta back to the pot, then the cheese, onions, pepper, and andouille.

At the last minute, I added about a teaspoon each of thyme, parsley and marjoram. 

Stir well, dish it out and enjoy. You'll have a sweet & spicy blend of deliciousl.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Special Guest Meal: Savory Crepes

I've had this on my iPad for a while. I got the iPad about six months ago to study for the CAPM on the train, and ran into a bit of a financial bind. While Verizon has a lot of good signal, it also has a lot of dead spots and I was sucking down data at a rate only exceeded by the ingestion of morning coffee.

I killed the data plan and started using the iPad for other things and it is fabulous sitting on a kitchen counter, easel-style for keeping a recipe handy, or for making notes.

Earlier this year one of our foodie friends gifted my sweetie with a crepe pan and he finally got a chance to try it out. These are nicely eggy savory crepes and the ingredients go as follows:

2 eggs beaten gently
30 g cake flour
100 g all-purpose flour
350 g milk
3 T melted butter

additional butter for greasing the pan.

Mix all liquids and solids separately.
Mix in the flour gently and get as much of the balls out for crushing. Don't worry too much about getting them all.

While letting the batter rest, heat your cast-iron enameled crepe pan over medium head. Butter the pan and ladle the batter into the pan. Use the wooden t-tool that came with the pan to gently spread the batter around. Let it cook until it's dry on top, then flip. About 20-30 seconds later, it will be done and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Use extra paper towels to keep the crepes separately. Makes about 6.

I filled these with a combination of pink sauce, pork cube, onions and mushrooms. It worked out rather well. Next, I want to try sweet crepes, with lemon juice and just a little sugar.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Stir Crazy 5 mac & cheese with Mexican fixings

Hi folks, it's been a while. I had this great idea about catching up this morning, but then I slept. Then we had to go to the grocery store because I didn't have any poblanos and then I had to change my plans and buy cubanelles.

I'm not sure where I got the idea to do this, but I adore chorizo, and I've made it with scrambled eggs and cheddar, so why not pasta?

I used the basic recipe I settled on way back when, with the addition of about 7 oz of chopped chorizo and about a half cup of chopped cubanelles. I zapped the chorizo in a pan first thing to release some of the oil.

For cheese I used 2 cups of sharp cheddar and one of jack. For some reason, this batch came out a little thinner than usual, so Nexx grated some more cheddar. At the last minute, I stirred in two T of Dos Equis

The sauce got stirred into the pasta first, this allowed the starch from the pasta to thicken the sauce a little bit. Next I added the peppers (raw, I wanted a fresh crunch) and then the chorizo.

Quite the delicious combination. I also added a bit of chili powder to my bowl right before serving. I drank the rest of the beer alongside.

I am quite full. And quite happy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

What a jerk

When I lived in Tennessee, there was a Caribbean-themed place known as Calypso Cafe. It was a little pricier than fast food and scads, scads, better. They did a curry chicken with apples, mustard greens, a beautiful jerk chicken and I’m damned if I know what they did to the black beans, but they were always fabulous.
This being Labor Day weekend, grilling was somewhat obligatory. While I love my barbecue recipe, it involves a little too much sugar for a diabetic friend. After some discussion with my darling Nexx about what we should put together, I decided upon jerk chicken. The challenge–a recipe without a hell of a lot of added sweetener, and something I could adjust because half of my gaming crowd (aka the Overthinkers) doesn’t have my appetite for heat.
So, there came the searching. I discarded a ton of recipes as being not quite what I felt I needed and settled upon this recipe. Our ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallion
  • 4 serrano or jalapeño chiles, chopped with seeds, or 1/2 Scotch bonnet chile, chopped without seeds
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 lb boneless pork loin, cut crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil plus extra for brushing
  • 1 tablespoon chopped scallion (optional)
I tripled the recipe, because there are six of us, all with a healthy appetite for meat. I switched out the pork for chicken thighs (I think I had about 14). Being sensitive to the heat issue, I reduced the serranos by 1/3 and scraped out the seeds (a bit of a bitch since the insides of a serrano are similar to Lucky Strikes as being firm and fully packed.
I had fun with this, after all the chopping and scraping. For one thing, I got to use my spice grinder for the allspice and the black pepper. I adore that little gadget. I had originally bought it for eating flaxseed on my cereal or yogurt, but it’s shown to be perfect for spices. It’s adjustable and it has an auto-shutoff.
All the ingredients went to the blender, and turned into a thick liquid that went immediately into two ziploc bags, followed by the chicken thighs.
I may have said this before, but ziplocs are the best thing in the world for marinating, in my less-than-humble-opinion. As long as you seal them properly (and I have had situations where I didn’t), it’s easy to turn them over and properly distribute the marinade.
Six hours or so later, I handed the chicken to Austin for grilling. Eight minutes a side brought back juicy chicken. Nexx and I shredded it and we served it with optional green onions as a garnish, and limes as an enhancement.
Nexx tried to steal mine. I did not stab him with my fork.
Have a jerk recipe you want to share? Let me know, I plan to do some pork at some point and I know there are places I haven’t looked.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I don't know what they are, but they aren't crackers

You may have noticed I'm rather fond of carbohydrates. Pasta, bread, the occasional pastry.

I also like crackers. A lot. Especially with soup. Or cheese and fruit. Or a big glass of milk. The commercial ones are not, however, the healthiest thing on the grocery shelves. 

Not wanting to give them up, but thinking cutting out processed snacks is a good idea, I thought I'd try to make my own. 

As usual, when trying something new, I read a ton of recipes. Many of them involved butter and a food processor, but I came across a few that used olive oil as the fat.

Then I got a little more free-form than I usually do when trying something new.

So, a couple cups of flour, a teaspoon of baking soda, about a third cup of olive oil, 2/3 cup of water, the better part of a bunch of rosemary that had dried out in the fridge but was still plenty fragrant. I needed a little more liquid, so I threw in some chopped garlic in olive oil (yes, I buy chopped garlic by the jar sometimes). I had some grated parmesan that needed to be used up, so I threw that in, along with some pepper.

I had parchment paper in the house, so I didn't have to grease the pan. I rolled out the dough onto the parchment paper, ran the pizza cutter over it, poked holes in the little rectangles with a fork and put it in the oven at 400 degrees for about fifteen minutes.

The crackers poofed up in the oven and I took them out when they started to turn brown around the edged. They're not quite crunchy and there's too much pepper. They're more like tiny peppery biscuits.

They did go rather well with the tomato soup I had for lunch (Amy's, it's a little sweet). I think they might be okay with cheese. 

They don't crunch, but they're not a complete failure.

Another learning experience. 

And no trans fat.