Archive for March, 2009
I crave creamy soup when it rains. And to me, the definition of a comforting, creamy soup is none other than New England clam chowder. Spending half my life growing up outside of Boston, ther’s plenty of good memories when someone’s uncle makes a giant pot of chowder and the whole neighborhood gets together to warm their bellies on cold days with oyster crackers. It’s comfort food you want to curl up inside and take a mid-afternoon nap.
So with that found memory in mind and a cold, raining to look forward to I decided to make the genuine article. The Cook’s Illistrated Best New Recipes encyclopedia turned out to be one of the best reference points to work with after browsing over a few other recipes. There isn’t a ton of variation with this dish except with your spices. It’s up to you what you want to add, but as usual I highly recommend some cayenne pepper to give your chowder a nice heat.
If you can’t get your hands on fresh clams, using store bought clam juice for the broth is still a much better option than buying premade chowder.
The first time I ever tried papas rellenas I was on a first date at a Cuban restaurant. The date started well when we agreed to share appetizers; she ordered the ceviche, I spotted the papas. After we tried each other’s dishes I exclaimed, “This must be what an orgasm wrapped in bacon tastes like!” once I tried the papas. She was not amused. I became more interested in the food. The crispy,breaded crust, soft mashed potato casing, and savory/spicy beef in the center was really blowing my hair back, while my date picked at her squid ceviche suspiciously. There was never a second date. Turns out making quasi-inappropriate food comments is a great way of screening women for me. Lesson learned.
So that’s where the inspiration for today’s post originated from. I haven’t had papas rellenas since that date so I figured I try putting the dish together myself using a few ingredients I had on hand and glancing over a few recipes online. It’s a solid dish that can be served just was an appetizer/snack or if you want to make the balls bigger and include a sauce it makes for a nice main coarse. I’m just going to cover the basic method of putting this dish together as a snack today.
Small. And by small I mean buy in small quantities / use in small quantities. The reason for this is because a spoon full of tomato paste can go a long way. Also, I prefer to pick up a couple small cans at a time so if I use a couple spoons worth and it happens to get lost in my fridge I didn’t lose much. An open can of tomato paste is good in the fridge for a little over a week. It’s a task that rarely requires much effort since a spoonful of paste can be used in almost any dish that is savory or has tomatoes in it. Bottom line: this stuff costs nothing price wise, takes up virtually no space in your pantry, and really intensifies a lot of good dishes.
Tomato paste originated in Italy [shocking] where tomato sauce was spread out on wooden boards to thicken and dry in the sun. Then it was scraped together into a ball and used to intensify and thicken sauces or simply eaten by itself as antipasto. The craft of making artisan tomato paste has largely been replaced by the industrial brands unfortunately, but that shouldn’t prevent anyone from trying to make some homemade versions. Don’t be surprised by a tomato paste post once it gets warmer.
When shopping for TP, it’s best to look for cans that are made with 100% tomatoes. Some will have oil and other stuff in there, I’d rather add extra ingredients myself and let the paste simply ad the tomato flavor. Also, tubes of paste are becoming more and more available. I don’t ever see them in my supermarket, but it’s pretty clear that a tube is the best way of storing TP if you’re not a regular user.
I find I use paste a good bit even outside of tomato based dishes. A hearty stew, a rich soup or even as a dip for savory fried foods all require a small spoon of paste or two and you’re in business. If you’re braising a roast tomato paste is only going to add flavor and depth to your dish.
For tomato based dishes the application is a bit more obvious. Pizza sauce, pasta sauce, chili, gumbo, you get the idea. You can even use paste as a substitute for tomato sauce. Just add about 2 cups of water to a 6 oz cans worth of tomato paste and add whatever spices and herbs you want and your in business. It’s not easy to make paste out of sauce you have on hand, but it’s nothing to put a few ingredients with some paste and add water.
WARNING: Despite this being such a useful and flavorful ingredient it can overpower your dish! The rich tomato flavor and acidity can really mask the flavors of a delicate dish so save this application for those semi-loud dishes that need that twang, that burst of intense flavor. Also, if you’re going for a fresh/bright flavor TP isn’t the best addition. Nothing is going to substitute for quality, just sliced tomatoes if you’re looking to add a fresh flavor.
Just remember this simple equasion: small amounts + savory foods = gangbusters
I never expected this ingredient to be so useful, but once I figured out how and when to use it I can’t imagine my kitchen stocked without a few cans. Try it out, see what it adds to the to foods you love, or almost love but think is lacking. You’ll get a thicker, richer constancy in your sauces and add just one more secret weapon to your arsenal of flavors.
I really can’t think of a time when I didn’t want to make some paella. There’s just not that many dishes that are as filling, flavorful, and satisfying as a good old fashioned paella. I’ve been lucky enough to go on a few adventures that resulted in me eating the genuine article, homemade Spanish version of this dish complete with glasses of gazpacho and lively conversation. It’s just an immensely social and gratifying dish and I can’t think of a better way of starting spring than sitting around outside with friends, drinks in hand, and tearing into a big skillet of this crispy rice wonder.
That being said, paella is very easy to make, but kinda tricky to make right. I say that because the actual process of sauteing some veg and throwing some seafood in to cook with the rice isn’t difficult; it’s basically just making a stir fry. A true paella, which it’s crispy layer of rice on the bottom (called socarrat), saffron flavored rice and variety of ingredients takes a little effort to get right. You can literally make paella a thousand different ways, there’s no solid rules on that. But in my mind a big part of the challenge behind this dish properly is getting that rice texture and flavor right.
There’s plenty of easy shortcuts to make a great paella, but the genuine article is really worth the small degree of extra effort. I’ll touch on a couple of shortcuts in the post for those that are just looking to cook a tasty dinner.
So now that you’ve hacked up a chicken (assuming you tried out some of the techniques recommended yesterday) you may as well make use of the bird. What you’ve basically done at this point is butterfly a chicken Tuscan style, so why not grill the whole chicken on a grill with some citris. What the hell, get yourself a brick or heavy pan and you’ve got the makings for a pretty tasty meal.
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 garlic gloves minced
1 whole chicken (butterflied)
1 Tbsp paprika
2 whole lemons
2 bricks wrapped in foil/big ass heavy skillet
The more I cook, the more it becomes very clear to me that being comfortable taking apart cuts of meat and getting chunks of flesh and blood under your fingernails is just another step in the process. I know there’s plenty of people out there that would just prefer have the butchering done by the super markets and specialty shops, but I really enjoy figuring out how to cut my own filet or debone a leg of lamb. I don’t have a ton of skill doing these things yet, but I like learning about the anatomy of all these different animal parts almost as much as I like cooking them.
So I decided it was about time to learn more about chicken. Or more to the point, with grill season just around the corner, I wanted to start getting used to taking apart a whole chicken for the many lazy afternoons spent roasting and grilling various chicken parts. Mmmm, chicken parts. Don’t get me wrong, a whole chicken cooked perfectly is a real treat, but I’m a man that likes his options.
I swear to god that was a gorgeous plate of food. Maybe if I had a decent camera you could tell that last night I cooked a delicious chicken and eggplant curry. But that is not currently the case. Actually, it kinda looks like I made vomit treebark stew (maybe next post). Not that I have any professional photography experience, but I can usually salvage the footage and make it look decent. Last night though the pics just weren’t coming out and there wasn’t really anything I could do to change that. Meh, the day I can finally invest in a quality camera will come and that day my friends will be a joyous one.
So last night’s Thai curry was inspired by the Blaze & Dale Top Chef team-up back in Season 4. At the time of the show’s airing I was really curious about learning how to make complex, creamy curry so I made the dish for some friends for our regular Top Chef gathering the following week. What I love about this dish is the process of making the curry. The melting of the sugar, the sweating of the veg, the simmering of the coconut milk, are all really satisfying for me to put together. And if you do the curry right, then you can really do anything else you want with the dish.
I hate tofu so I’ve always used chicken, and the veg is really up to you depending on how much time and energy you can devote to the dish. Last night I did just the eggplant and skipped the green beans. Honestly, next time I do the dish, I’ll probably skip the eggplant. Unless you’re really craving a tempura-ish fried veg it’s a lot more work than I think is worth. The curry is going to make everything taste amazing so use whatever veg you prefer. Top Chef curry from last night follows..
The funny thing about cooking is that the amount of time and energy that goes into a meal doesn’t necessarily mean that the final product will be the home run you were aiming for. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve spent hours, and I mean hours, prepping a meal, reducing a sauce, braising meat, roasting vegetables only to be disappointed by the end result. To me it’s maddening to find a recipe that looks amazing and regardless of how closely I’ve followed the instructions or shopped for the most random of ingredients, the first bite falls flat.
Yeah your friends are raving how much they like it, yeah they’re so impressed that you put together some fancy dish for them, but deep down you don’t really give a shit because this masterful concoction you had your heart set on recreating Just_Doesn’t_ Hit. And you know you did things wrong, you can taste what didn’t get cooked right, or what flavors and textures don’t match up, and you eat begrudgingly wondering how the hell you missed the mark.
So when one does come across a recipe that can stand on its own, that doesn’t need frill upon frill of elaboration, where the ingredients enhance each other and meld into something that is flavorful and delicious and unpretentious, and that first bite forces you to pause and take in the fact that this is everything you could have possibly hoped for, well my friends, that needs to be shared.
For me, one of my all time favorite recipes is one I picked up reading Bill Bufford’s Heat (a great book for anyone that loves reading about the fine dining kitchen subculture or Italian cooking). Simple ingredients, enough technique to make it a fun challenge, and one of those dishes you hope you have extra bread with so you can soak up any remaining sauce.
If I was going to be on Top Chef (which I’m well aware is never going to happen), one thing I would master before at some point and time before the contest starts would be making a perfect souffle. I’ve been watching Top Chef for five seasons now and time and time again this dish has caused nothing but heartache and frustration. Anthony Bourdain talked about how it was without question the most difficult station to manage while in culinary school. It’s a dish few restaurants will serve and even when they do they usually specify that the dish will take an unusual amount of time. So I decided I wanted to see how difficult putting together this fragile dish would be expecting to fail miserably. What can I say? I like a challenge.
Surprisingly, I was pretty happy with the result. Trying to put this dish together gave me a pretty good understanding of the importance of each step. Making a souffle isn’t really that hard, but like most baking, it’s a goddamn science in that each step needs to be done just right … and I usually hate science.
Always. I’ve been trying to think of a dish I wouldn’t want to add at least a pinch of cayenne pepper to and honestly, I’ve got nothing. Ice cream? Actually that I have no problem with that, and will most likely add some next time I pick up some vanilla. Chocolate? I suppose, but then again I wouldn’t mind a little heat with my chocolate. The point here is that cayenne powder can be added to any dish to enhance flavors and provide a little heat and I keep mine right next to the salt and pepper.
Cayenne powder is made from grounded up dried chillies. Now I like things hot, so I’m exaggerating a tiny bit when I say you should add it to everything. I mean you should, but it’s ok if you don’t dig lots of spices and heat. In comparison to other spices it’s one of the hottest and most pungent so a little goes a long way.