Monday, September 27, 2010

? School of Improvised Cuisine

When I worked as a computer tech, I used to say I graduated from the Wing-It School of Computer Science, an affiliate of the CYA School of Business.

I need a name for my cullinary improv school, out of which tonight's recipe came.

You may recall a while back, I bought some marjoram. I'd found a recipe involving pork, but I don't have all the ingredients, so I decided to focus on what I did have in the house.

I don't do a lot of breading, I don't need the extra calories, but it's a lot less than say pan frying, so I started with a cup of panko. Please note I don't say panko breadcrumbs. Panko means breadcrumbs, otherwise you're saying breadcrumbs breadcrumbs. Like Automated Teller Machine machine or spiced chai tea. Anyway, I like panko over American bread crumbs because they're flaky and soft and crisp up nicely in the oven, sealing in juices.

I ended up with the following:

1 cup panko
1/2 t garlic salt
1 t dried marjoram
1 t dried parsely
1/2 t dried thyme
about 20 grinds of black pepper

This coated 6 thin-cut pork loin chops that were about 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick with plenty leftover. I served them with mashed potatoes, broccoli and corn. The whole meal was very tasty, as judging by the amount of food my sweetie attempted to steal from my plate.

This is a recipe that needs more experimenting. There was a vague herbal flavor that stayed at the front of the mouth, but nothing really definable. The herbs got lost in the pepper.

So, we shall consider a good, home-made herb breading my next perfection project. Which reminds me, I did so another version of the macaroni and cheese, that'll be coming up in a couple of weeks.

Next week, we'll have a special guest. A dear friend and a fabulous cook, my friend Beki, who makes her home in West Seattle. Beki has an easy-to-follow pho recipe that demystifies a favorite Vietnamese dish. I think you'll love it.

Questions? Comments? Death threats? Let's hear them!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Too much information! Or how Kate found what was in front of her the whole time

Back in the earlier days of the World Wide Web, I'd come across a great recipe for chicken marsala. It wasn't difficult, but tasted like it had taken lots of preparation, in other words one of my favorite types of recipe.

It was on a page of low-carbohydrate recipes, but I couldn't remember the URL. The site had no distinguishing graphics, it was all text. So I went searching.

A Google search for chicken marsala results in 293,000 recipes. Even if I didn't have a full-time job and a life, I couldn't go through all those in a reasonable amount of time. But I did look at quite a few.

Some had ingredients I didn't feel belonged in the recipe. Emeril Lagasse would have you add his famous Creole Essence. This one asks for cooking sherry, which to me is nothing but wine-flavored liquid salt. Epicurious, one of my favorite sites, adds cream and lemon juice. I knew the flavor profile I was after and none of these were it, so I kept hunting.

I liked the concept of the whole Cooking for Engineers site, but I really didn't like the recipe on this site at all. I really don't think the chicken needs to be brined, and the author had problems dredging chicken in flour. Instead of figuring out or learning how to do it  properly he spends time and effort on brine.

When I went shopping, still without a recipe, and figuring I may have to wing it, I saw veal scallopine on sale and it dawned on me that a)if you can do something with a chicken paillard, you can do it with a veal cutlet. Back to my trusty search engine.

And immediately, I felt like an idiot. Who is one of the most famous Italian chefs on the planet? Mario Batali. And not content with just one recipe, we have a few variations.

Basic Marsala cutlets:
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 6 veal cutlets
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala

For the basic: In 12-inch saute pan, heat the olive oil over high heat until hot, but not smoking. While the oil heats, salt and pepper both sides of each veal cutlet. Dredge through the flour, shaking to remove any excess flour.
Place the floured cutlets in the pan and fry until golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Flip the cutlets over, and pour in the wine. Continue cooking until almost all of the wine has evaporated and a thick gravy-like sauce has formed.
Garnish veal with chopped parsley and extra-virgin olive oil
I served with angel hair with olive oil and parmesan cheese and a salad.
I haven't tried all the versions yet, but I really liked #2, which had only small changes from the basic:

  • 4 leaves fresh sage
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala

  • For number 2: Prepare the pan and the veal cutlets as described above. When the pan is ready, add the sage leaves, pushing them around to infuse the oil with their flavor. The sage will become lightly fried. Remove the sage leaves and set them aside for garnish. Add the mushrooms and saute until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the floured cutlets and cook until golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Flip the cutlets over, and add the wine. Continue cooking until the wine has evaporated and a thick gravy-like sauce has formed. Top with sage leaves. Garnish veal with chopped parsley and extra-virgin olive oil.
The sage adds a really nice subtle flavor to the sauce, and I think a level of sophistication. 

What are some of your variations on this classic dish? Other comments, questions? Let's hear them!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Roast. . .cauliflower?

Hi everyone!

I hope you had a fabulous Labor Day weekend. Mine was severely busy, and involved a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which was a lot of fun, though the drive was long.

We ended up eating at a small-town diner on the way home, and while the dessert was delicious, the rest of the meal was kind of lackluster. Canned, overcooked green beans. Not my thing anymore, not when I know what fresh tastes like, and even frozen ones can retain crunch and more flavor. So, I've been inspired to find recipes that use veggies creatively.

When I first saw this recipe, I was a little curious and a lot intrigued. I like cauliflower in its most typical steamed fashion. I also find it delicious in curries like an Aloo Gobi (all spelling errors mine). I've had it raw, and like most Americans, I've had it smothered in cheese, but never roasted. This recipe allows you to enjoy the cheesiness of a childhood comfort food with the sophistication of a good balsamic vinegar. It also employs marjoram, which I have heard is making a comeback in culinary circles. I put a great deal of thought into this, and I couldn't for the life of me think of anything I'd ever eaten with marjoram, though I'm sure I must  have.  If you ask my friend Beki, it never went out of style, but I digress:

    8 cups 1-inch-thick slices cauliflower florets, (about 1 large head; see Tip) Make sure your favorite large knife is really sharp, or it could get stuck in the core of the cauliflower.Also, beware the crumbling of the edges. You will have little bits of cauliflower everywhere, but it's worth it.
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 teaspoon dried marjoram
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    Freshly ground pepper to taste I have a grinder with a blend of peppercorns, about five grinds worked here
    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
   2. Toss cauliflower, oil, marjoram, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast until starting to soften and brown on the bottom, 15 to 20 minutes. Toss the cauliflower with vinegar and sprinkle with cheese. Return to the oven and roast until the cheese is melted and any moisture has evaporated, 5 to 10 minutes more. 

No quibbles here. The recipe is straightforward and easy to follow.  What you'll end up with is a mix of textures, as the bits that came into contact with the pan with be softer, yet there is still some crunch. I thought I should have cooked them about five minutes longer, my sweetie disagreed. While this was meant to be four servings, I didn't serve a starch with dinner and we ate the whole thing, including scraping the burnt cheese off the bottom of the baking pan in a very undignified fashion.

Tips & Notes

    * Tip: To prepare florets from a whole head of cauliflower, remove outer leaves. Slice off the thick stem. With the head upside down and holding a knife at a 45° angle, slice into the smaller stems with a circular motion—removing a “plug” from the center of the head. Break or cut florets into the desired size.

I actually sliced straight down, and removed the core parts as necessary, I think it worked just fine. No need to complicate a side dish with geometry unless it's absolutely necessary.

I served this with chicken in a cream sauce with chives. The vinegar contrasted nicely with the chive sauce.  

Let's hear from you! What's a creative way you do vegetables? Questions? Comments? Death threats? (just kidding) Please comment below.