Archive for the ‘Veg’ Category
Ok, enough lobster talk. Who says decadent has to be hard work and fancy ingredients? I wouldn’t say I need to toil and experiment with the fancier ingredients, but I do enjoy trying something different. But then there are days when I’m tired of searching for the hard to find stuff, when I just want the simple ingredients ton stand on their own, when you want give the most basic of items their due as something whole and delicious unto themselves. You want to give them their 15 seconds of fame if you will.
It’s not unusual for me to read a cookbook cover to cover. I’m the guy on public transportation flipping through some dense Jaime Oliver book making notes and earmarking pages. But I’ve started to realize that my favorite recipes to cook, the ones that really challenge and intrigue me, are the recipes passed on from generation to generation.
Those are the dishes that invoke that nostalgic silence when someone just closes their eyes and remembers something. Being able to recreate that kind of familiarity for someone has to be one to the best parts of tinkering around in the kitchen.
So when my buddy Leandro, laments about his childhood in Argentina and all the food his parents would make from scratch when he was a child, I never miss a chance to ask him to dig up an old family recipe. He’s an allusive bastard about it. He’ll dodge me with, “It’s just this and that. There’s nothing special about it.” But we both know better. His folks can make magic in the kitchen.
Going to a major supermarket in a large city on a Monday is fucking miserable. Especially after a long weekend dedicated to consuming your not so healthy regiment of grilled foods and alcohol. Everyone is pushing through each other, families with screaming kids take up entire ailes, and the lines are a rabid clusterfuck of impatience and frustration.
But there I was, wandering around in this chaos, trying to figure out what the hell I’d be eating for dinner and pretty bored with my options. I wanted meat and I wanted grillable, but everything I was seeing (chicken, pork, steak) I had cooked or eaten recently. I wasn’t in the mood for a three hour slow cook either.
And then, in the corner of my eye, I spotted them: precut, bone-in lamb chops the size of lollipops, only one package remaining, looking up at me. I stared in disbelief. Most French trimmed whole rack of lamb chops I have played with were pathetically tiny, but these beauties were actually a decent size! It may actually take one or two bites to consume the medallion. I looked around like someone about to steal a purse and snatched the chops up without another moment of hesitation.
I was so ready to cook up some cornish hens. I had a solid idea for a recipe, legwork had been done to double check different techniques and methods, and most importantly, I was just really craving whole grilled/roasted chicken. Alas, my little Hispanic supermarket owned by a family of Koreans and not in any way affiliated with even the smallest of established and credible supermarkets , cleverly conceals the “Sell By” date on a regular basis. As soon as I unwrapped the plastic from my prize hens, I knew something was wrong and thanks to Alton Brown, precatious paranoia about my poultry’s acceptability was on high. Roast cornish hen = dismal failure.
So I had to take another trip. While the Latin cashiers stared hatefully at my gringo-ass upon my return (this isn’t exactly the type of place you bother tyring to get a refund), this little market sells one thing better than any of the local chain shops: whole fish! A whole red snapper; clear, shiny eyes; clean ocean smell; preserved well in fresh ice. I was sure this time around I had a quality product.
The recipe I used isn’t anything too special, basically me just using what I had on hand that would pair well with white fish. The focus today is on crisping up your fish skin and breaking the long time tradition of leaving the mushy, unappetizing skin as the last morsel on your dinner plate. Fuck that. Would you go to KFC and remove the crispy, battered skin? Of course not, it’s the best part right?
BS over at Endless Simmer inspired me. I’m usually the one that is struggling to figure out a technique, usually it’s my friends that suffer from my failures and misunderstandings. But this time around I was happy for once it wasn’t me going, “What the fuck?!” So learning from someone else is a welcome change.
In this instance it’s simply peeling asparagus so you can toss it with some pasta. Basically your making noodles out of ‘gus and in theory not only is it sexy meal, but it’s delicious. Don’t worry too much about cooking or blanching the ‘gus, the cool crisp texture of the strands brings this dish together. This is a Jamie Oliver recipe I’ve been itching to try for ages now, but just never really got around to have the right set of ingredients. But it’s spring, I’ve been trying to O.D. on crab (unsuccessful) and you have to love a good summer pasta dish.
No, that’s not a pizza, although I certainly don’t mind the occasional leftover pizza for breakfast. The frittata is just one more out of a thousand things you can do with some eggs and a few leftovers. Have a bunch of mushrooms that are about to turn? A sausage link you don’t know what to do with? Any assortment of leftover veggie and you my friend can make yourself an tasty breakfast that can easily be split into slices to serve company.
Unlike the omelette the frittata doesn’t require a lot of technique. The only thing you’re really worried about is getting the added ingredients cooked just through and then setting the egg base. Another item that is key is a pan that can go into the oven without the handle melting or catching on fire. A small cast iron skillet is best, or any pan with rounded edges will work well. This may not be the most traditional frittata, but it’s great in a pinch or when you’re too hung over to leave the house to pick up breakfast.
Why the hell would you be munching on shredded pork at 1 am you ask? Well, my initial reaction would normally be, “I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it”, but I suppose another reason could be because you enjoy the Spanish style of eating dinner in the late evening. Or maybe you take the initiative to prepare a large amount of pork and package it up for easy access when you’re so inclined. Or you’re like me, you can grossly underestimate the amount of time it requires to braise down a whole pork shoulder while your friends happily hang out and drink all night until the food is ready.
Don’t get me wrong, braising is pretty dummy-proof even for me, but there is one tiny bit of calculation that needs to be factored into the process: the weight of the meat.
A good rule of thumb to consider with most tough cuts of meat is braising for a solid 3 hours for 3-4 lbs of meat, plus an extra hour for each additional pound. You need at least 2-3 hours for even smoall cuts just to break the tissue down enough to tear apart easliy. With this dish, we braised it at 350 degrees in the hopes of a slightly faster cooking time which turned out great, but I’d really recommend 300-325 degrees as the ideal temperature to set your oven. You want that connective tissue to break down and dissolve into the meat to really give it that amazing melted texture. Too hot or too cool, the connective tissue doesn’t break down properly and the meat remains chewy. The braising liquid is best if fat skimmed off and reduced to thicken as a sauce.
Also, one good thing about the long cooking/drinking time was have a chance to throw some bottles around and coming up with new shot/cocktail. Next time you’re looking for something to do with that Southern Comfort, cheap tequila and triple sec you’ve had sitting around collecting dust, pick up a can of guava juice. Mix equal parts each spirit and juice, shake with ice and pour into shot glasses or martini glass. Bonus points for adding a dash of whipped cream to an already very girlie shot. Not the best cocktail for the scotch drinkers out there, but the cosmo drinkers of the world will not be disappointed.
Apologizes on the lack of photography on this post, it was not a sober evening.
Keep in mind that ingredients are very interchangeable and this recipe is more of a guideline. You can vary the vegetables, braising liquid, seasonings to your liking. The only thing i would add to this recipe is hotter peppers and/or some spices to give it some heat.
There’s a lot of dishes out there, and it’s hard for your average home cook to become familiar with the basic or master recipe of such a wide variety of cuisine. So I try to make a point of learning at least one basic recipe for as many different dishes as possible, just to familiarize myself with the process and technique. Hence the realization that I really had no idea how to make guacamole. Sure you peel the avocado and add some lime juice and salt/pepper, but it’s just not something that really attracted my attention. Maybe it’s because I grew up loving cheesy nachos with only salsa or maybe it’s because [gasp] I’m not that huge of a fan of avocado. So once I got a few requests to do a good guacamole recipe I figured it was time to get this dip down pat.
Starting with a little research, I settled on an America’s Test Kitchen recipe that included some bacon, spices, and a few veggies. Nothing fancy, but definitely worth a try. What I was really intrigued by was not so much how the various ingredients worked together, but how important the seasoning and lime juice played in making the guac really tasty. I think I get it now, guacamole really is kinda brilliant in it’s simplicity. And with a few little techniques on how to remove the avocado flesh, it was an easy and enjoyable little dip to throw together.
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.