Friday, January 30, 2009

Wines for the New Depression: Carte Vieja Merlot

This is another entry from my friends at Acker Merril . This was a big surprise, because it is a really good Merlot and in the 5 dollar range.

There are so many bad, weak, sweet, overpriced wines coming from California of all varieties and a Merlot in the same price range is almost guaranteed to be BAD. This lovely little entry from Chile was quite good. Much better than a lot of examples at 3 to 4 times the price. It has great fruit, good acid, and a nice finish.

While it has a nice body and extraction I would not pair it with short ribs, however it did make a great pasta wine.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Baked Brie and Macaroni

This is not the first time I have made macaroni and cheese, nor the first time I have shared a recipe for it. Josephine Pardy's preparation was one of the most widely read posts on this site. Always wanting to play with my food and use up things in the freezer I came up with another version that deserves sharing. Anyone who is a fan of baked brie will love this version.

I had a lot of Brie bits in my freezer leftover from parties, along with a good bit of brie and a cheddar scrap (actually a goat milk cheddar) so I got out the food scale and the grater and went to work. The Brie was frozen allowing it to grate easily into the milk mixture. Always select a ripe, runny brie. It it looks like plastic, it will likely taste like plastic. You can always leave in the pantry covered with a bit of cloth or wax paper until it properly ripens.

1 1/2 pounds brie
1/2 pound bleu
1/2 pound of various scraps including cheddar
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 cup whole milk
1 medium grated onion (you can do it on the grater, or the food processor)
11 chopped scallions
1 teaspoon creole seasoning (I used the Slap ya Mama brand but you can use what you have on hand)
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Several grinds of black pepper
2 diced Roma tomatoes (ripe)
2 cups finely chopped greens (I used mustard greens, but anything, even spinach will do)
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1/4 pound of melted butter
1 pound cooked pasta (any small shape that amuses you, I like penne)

Grate cheese into milk, add seasoning and onion and lightly salted greens and tomatoes and pasta. Essentially dump in everything but the bread crumbs and butter and mix well. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top and drizzle with melted butter, bake 375 for one hour and it should be bubbly and crisp on top when you remove. Wait a few minutes for the cheese to not be quite so melty before cutting. This is actually better re-heated the next day and I am telling you this because I know. It was lunch.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tahini Zucchini

I love zucchini, it is one of those versatile vegetables that can go from salad to side, appetizer to main. It's gentle flavor is adaptable to many sauces or none at all. This recipe is for 4 servings or two zucchini, but you can easily adapt to more. You can serve as a side dish or on it's own. With a little rice to sop up the sauce I find it makes a great meal. Your vegetarian friends will be quite impressed, and the nuts will see to it that everyone gets plenty of protein.

2 zucchini split and scooped out (use a spoon and make them like a canoe, keep the walls strong but hollow the center.
1 cup mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped or slivered almonds
1/2 cup chopped olives
2 tablespoons capers
Dash of Cumin
Dash of Coriander
Dash of Salt
Dash of pepper
2 tablespoons butter plus some olive oil

Dash is clearly my word for the day. Once the zucchini is scooped toss the seasonings with the nuts olives and capers. Saute the mushrooms in butter and oil until nicely wilted. Puree the mushrooms with the zucchini in the food processor to make a fine chop, not quite a paste. Combine with the nuts and olive mixture. Let the flavors mix while you make the sauce.
2 Teaspoons Tahini
2 Teaspoons Peanut Butter

2 Cloves Garlic
2 green onions finely minced
Salt and Pepper go ahead and Dash them in
1 1/2 cups milk (WHOLE) I am the kind of guy who might use cream but do not make the mistake of using skim for this sauce.
Mix in blender or food processor until pureed.
Stuff your zucchini, pour a little of the sauce in a small pan (you want a tight fit) and put in your stuffed zucchini and top with the rest of the sauce. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes to an hour in a 325 degree oven. You want the sauce warm and the zucchini tender and tasty.

Eat your vegetables.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gems from the Fancy Food show San Francisco

I was working this trip so I didn't taste the whole show like I managed to do in NY. There could be some wonderful products I missed, but I doubt it. The biggest shame of the show were the Natural and Organic products. More and more small manufacturers are managing to take good ingredients and muck them so that they are creating unhealthy (Organic) junk food. Most of it doesn't even taste good.

The new lie is NO ADDED SUGAR, and all the drinks that taste like syrup proclaim it. Of course when you read the ingredients they have apple, pear, grape, and reduced cane JUICE, which all technically are juice but they add so much sugary sweetness to something that should be a bit tart like lemonade that they render their drinks undrinkable. There were so many painfully sweet juice and soda products in the natural and organic was disgusting. When the makers would ask me what I thought I told them they ought to be ashamed of themselves for making such garbage. Hey, they asked.

Let's get to the good stuff. Slap Yo Mama tops my list for several reasons. One, it does not have another chef's name on it. I can't very well walk into a party with an Emeril or Prudhomme blend of seasoning, even if they were good. Two, these are very good. The White Pepper is my favorite, it passed the chicken, fish and popcorn tests. If I am using a spice blend, I want to taste spice, not just salt. You try the white pepper and you taste the white pepper, the hot is hot, but not burning, just nice.

The name is fun, the seasoning is good. They have great web prices if your local market does not carry it. Visit Slap Ya Mama and you will be making catfish that does your Mama proud.
If any of you are aware of how important Omega 3 is to heart health you know the importance of flax in the diet. Premium Gold is some of the best flax I've had. They cold-mill so the ground flax (flour) contains all the important oil and is finely ground enough for use in smoothies. I made some really good pizza crust with this, some whole grain rye and a touch of whole wheat flour. It was crisp, nutty and very healthy. Ask for it in your local store, but there is always the net, visit Premimum Gold for all of their products.

I have to give another shout out to Club Sauce for their Shiro, Pomegranate, Sake reduction sauce. They are very cautious with the sugar making the sauces good for sweet or savory dishes. This one I used in a Salad dressing for a salad of fruit and lettuces. I am reeling from the goodness of it. These are a great investment for your pantry.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Playing with my food: Goat Cheese Leek Pasta Sauce

I just returned from the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco where I had chance to play with some very good ingredients and make and eat some really nice food. I will share a few of the finds at the show once I have had the chance to test them at home.

One of the wonderful things about San Francisco is that it is surrounded by small farms and wineries making it possible to be well supplied with fresh produce year round. For locavores it is a dream city. Many of those small farms produce local cheese that rivals anything Wisconsin can put out as well as some pretty great olives. Small producers have really learned about the differing techniques of salting and brining olives in order to produce a lovely variety of flavor and texture. It is a fun city to cook in and no wonder they have so many world class restaurants.

Are you ready for a rich tangy pasta sauce highlighted by oven roasted vegetables. Let's cook!
This serves 4 healthy eaters as a main course or 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

2 sweet red or yellow peppers
2 cups broccoli florets
6 leeks chopped and well washed (the white and soft green portion, save the tops for the stock pot)
Olive oil
2 tablespoons butter

First slice the peppers into thin strips toss in olive oil with a touch of salt and put in a 400 degree oven, 10 minutes later add in the broccoli prepared the same way. The leeks can be simply sauteed in butter on the stove top at a low heat until softened. You can have these going while you make your pasta and sauce.

The sauce
4 oz goat cheese
1 1/4 cup heavy cream (wimps can use milk)
2 cups olives chopped, pitted (reserve 1/4 cup for garnish)

The Sauteed leeks (reserve 1/4 cup for garnish)

In the food processor mix the goat cheese and cream, scrape into a large pan on the stove and stir in the olives and leeks. Turn the heat on low to warm the sauce.

Now cook your pasta, I like a small penne for this dish because it grabs the creamy sauce on both the inside and out, but use what you have on hand. When the pasta is al dente toss in the warm sauce adding the roasted vegetables. Serve in warm bowls and sprinkle on the reserved olives and leeks.

It qualifies as Grandma food, because if I were a grandma I would serve this to my grand kids on a cold evening along with a great salad. I am however an Uncle so Jordan and Linnea remind me to make it for you on my next foray into Minnesota.

Friday, January 16, 2009

French Grandma Food like Coq au Vin

Many, many years ago I spend July in France. I began my Trip in Paris with JM and then onto Nice, Marseilles, Toulouse and finally a small village where I spent my birthday with Amanda and Tim.

JM, a chef friend told me since I was going from Marseilles to Toulouse I MUST stop off at his Grandmother's, just let him know which train I was on and his cousin would pick me up at the station. This was in the old world before folks traveled with cell phones and did everything by e mail so once in Nice with an actual itinerary I telephoned from the train station and had to trust the cousin would meet me.

She did and I went to a wonderful house with lots of grounds, chickens, goats, and a huge garden.

There was a freshly plucked chicken hanging in the kitchen and when I met Grandma and she showed me her wonderful kitchen I looked at the kitchen and excited I asked..."Are you going to make Coq au Vin?"

What did I know...this was a young chicken, not an old rooster and entirely unsuitable for a dish that was for winter anyway. Not to disappoint I got a summer version that was so delicious and comforting that I had to share it, finally, I won't say how many years later.

1 young chicken cut and and well salted
1/4 pound of lardons (yes you can use bacon cut into small pieces
2 large onions
10 cloves of garlic chopped
2 carrots chopped
2 leeks chopped
2 celery stalks chopped
(big chunks of these are fine)
Wine, about a half a bottle of whatever you have on hand
Some butter

If it's winter and you don't have fresh herbs in the garden a few shakes of whatever you've got in the house will be fine.

Crisp the bacon and remove from pan, hold it back til much later. Put in the chicken and get VERY brown. Remove chicken and throw in the onion and when it is soft the garlic. Get out your dutch oven and throw in the leeks, celery and carrots along with some herbs, fresh or dried, not too much. Toss the onion garlic mix from the skillet onto the veg and deglaze your pan with some wine, toss it in. Now lay the chicken pieces skin side up, nice and even. Pour wine JUST until it reaches the edge of the chicken skin. Cut some butter and put on the chicken, it will melt into the wine and veg and be so frigging good.

Let it sit while the oven pre-heats to 450.

Put the pan in the oven for 10 minutes at 450 then turn the heat down to 350 and leave for about another hour. The wine should reduce to a sauce. Remove chicken to warm platter and stir in the bacon and put the vegetables on the side.

Because we had heated up the kitchen in the summer we at in the garden and sopped up the last bits of buttery sauce with the bread.

A dish that was never made in the summer, modified for me. That's what grandma's do...they always cook with love.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pastina for the Baby...Italian Grandma Food

I am not promoting Barilla, but Pastini can be hard to find in the grocery store, if your grocer carried Barilla, ask him to order you some, you will want to have it around.

I had the good fortune of getting sick in Sicily. Seriously.

I was in Sicily to learn the real food of the region. I had been matched with a host family on a small farm who wanted to share the old ways. The previous two weeks in Rome I had been drinking and eating up a storm and not sleeping as much as I might. The three train, car commute had knocked the last bit of resistance out of me. I arrived with a cold. My Italian was very primitive but my symptoms were obvious. The grandmother of the household immediately put me to bed with tissues and tea and eventually brought me one of the most healing, delicious meals I had ever eaten, pastina for the sick baby (me). This was the ultimate in Italian Grandma comfort food. I ate every bite, drank the strong wine and got good night's sleep. The next day i awoke restored and ready to take on the artichokes.

I pushed for my host to make the dish a second time so I could observe and she laughingly complied. To her, this was nothing special, trust is seriously delicious, even when you feel good.

1/2 cup Pastina
2 cloves of garlic minced
3 cups of strong chicken stock ( I am pretty sure it came warm from a chicken as well)
1 egg for poaching (In Sicily it came warm from the chicken, but if you have no chickens, you can get some at a store)
Freshly ground pepper
11 anchovies

In a touch of olive oil saute the garlic until it begins to soften Put about a cup of stock in the sauce pan with the garlic and bring to a boil, add pastina, and reduce heat. Think of this as a very fast cooking risotto, stir pretty consistently. Add more stock as needed. In a few minutes the pasta will begin to be tender. Make a well in the center and fill with some chicken stock. Crack and egg in the center and lay the anchovies over the pastina and cover pastina for two minutes so the egg can poach. Slide into a bowl keeping the egg intact if possible and top with remaining hot stock.

Have with a glass of rustic red and feel better.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Personal Comfort Food Favorites plus...Salmon Gravlax Myrna

I got an e mail from someone who accused me of Caloric Seduction. It was the first time I had heard the term. She stated that I could not possibly eat the types of recipes I post all the time as I would be huge.

She is right, I don't. I cook something wonderful and sumptuous about twice a week. I tend to graze, I am more of a tapas and anti pasta guy. I like a little bit of a lot of different foods, along with some salad and a bit (two ounces) of pasta a couple of times a week.

I my defense I have posted some of the healthier options but I will refresh memories with a few links to my favorites, and the types of things that one typically finds in my refrigerator along with such staples as olives, anchovies, and truffle butter.

My favorite winter salad is the faux ceaser, and spring through fall I often have a Bulgarian Shopska sitting in the refrigerator. I make enough for a few days and it gets better each day.

and olive tapenade are often side by side waiting for a little flat bread and a glass of wine to accompany them.

I do a lot of vegetable dishes...and while patty pan is not in season year round I make this one with eggplant and it is one of my favorite dishes. I could make a meal out of it...and sometimes have.

When I feel really fat I dine on spinach and asparagus in season.

So the truth is that I eat for more vegetables than short ribs and lard.

Lately a favorite is Gravlax, which is quite simply cured salmon. It is a comfort food from Scandinavian grandmothers. Thin sliced with some capers and a bit of black bread it is quite delicious.

Step one:

1 pound filet of salmon (WILD caught)
2 cups sugar
1 cup salt
1/4 cup black pepper
Huge bunch of dill

Mix the sugar and salt together with the black pepper.

Lay a large piece of plastic wrap on the bottom of a cookie sheet. Make a dill bed roughly the size of the salmon, top it with a very thick layer of the salt mixture. Lay the salmon down and top with more salt mix. Pack it around the sides. No unsalted salmon should be visible. Top with more dill and wrap up the sides of the plastic bringing over the top and firmly around the sides. Top with more plastic and put a cookie sheet on top. Put a few cans, some beans or something heavy on top of the cookie sheet and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours, depending on the thickness of the salmon. Don't sneak peaks, just leave it alone.

Is it a day or two later? Okay, now you can look. Feels kinda sold and heavy hu? You've just cured your first salmon, now it's time to add a little kick. Wipe it off.

Step 2

Juice of two limes
1/2 cup good tequila (other spirits can be used, rum will emphasize sweetness)
1 garlic clove finely chopped
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
Another bunch of dill finely chopped (If you like cilantro, it can be subbed for the dill at this point)

Mix it all together and put in a plastic bag. Add the salmon and squish all the air out so the salmon is surrounded and put back in the frig for 12 to 24 hours.

Take out, wipe off, slice thinly at an angle and serve, with crackers, bread, capers, chopped olives cream cheese, or yogurt. It's even good on a bagel or toast at breakfast. Wild Salmon is rich in omega 3 so this delectable treat makes your heart happy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Upscale Russian Comfort Food

I have never been to Russia, it is on my list of places I must visit, but for the moment I have Brighton Beach in NY. I have learned that there are as many different dishes that call themselves Stroganoff as there are Russian Grandmothers. When asking about this dish two women at the market got into an argument about whether shallots or onions are 'correct' for the sauce. This conversation was quelled by a much older woman who reminded them that they should be grateful to have both, there was a time in Moscow when the woman made their Stroganoff with cabbage and dried bread because no meat was available.

It is a good reminder that we are fortunate enough to be able to make those choices.

The following is my interpretation of the dish, it is upscale enough to serve at a dinner party and your guests when served will be grateful not to be given the hamburger mash they remember from childhood. This serves 6 comfortably.

1/4 pound butter, a bit at a time
18 ounces of filet cut into 3 thick steaks
1/3 cup chopped shallots
3 large onions sliced
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
A nice handful of chopped fresh tarragon
1 cup of sour cream at room temperature
A tiny bit of oil (to keep butter from burning)
1/2 cup of strong beef broth
1/4 cup good red wine
1/2 pound noodles with a little more butter

Salt and pepper the outside of your filet and put 1/4 of the butter in a large pan and sear the steaks a few minutes on each side leaving nicely rare. Set aside.

Throw in a little more butter and take your sliced onions and saute until they are soft and turning caramel in color, set aside.

Throw in a little more butter (I never said this was low fat) and your shallots, when they are soft add the mushrooms and the rest of the butter and go until the mushrooms are soft. Turn the heat down, way down, you don't want to curdle the sour cream.

You should add your noodles to the boiling water at this point because they need to cook.

Slowly add the sour cream stirring well to incorporate into the butter. Then slowly add the stock and wine. Toss in the tarragon and nutmeg and heat on a LOW flame. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. When the sauce is hot and the noodles are almost done slice the rare steak against the grain in thin slices.

Drain the noodles, toss with butter, top with sour cream sauce and arrange sliced meat atop the bed of noodles. The carmelized onions on the meat; then drizzle a little more sauce atop the meat and if you have a few tarragon leaves left they make a nice garnish.

Serve with a serious red wine.

This is a sumptuous comforting feast that will make you want to curl up and read Tolstoy.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Grandma Food: Hot Pepper Chicken

I am sure it will come as no surprise to lean that a Szechuan grandmother looks upon those bottles of pre-made 'Chinese' sauce in the grocery store with the same disdain an Italian Grandmother looks at Ragu. Those corn-syrup based sauces are for 'lazy' people who don't want to learn how to do things right. In the old days the sauce bases were made from honey or reduced fruit juice, much more work than a touch of sugar and water.

I am so fortunate to have been able to travel as much as I have and to have become friendly with some of the woman I meet shopping in Chinatown. The grandma secrets are not that hard, and the difference in quality...see for yourself. No swimming in grease corn syrup, corn starch mess will be presented here.

Hot Pepper Chicken...Grandma style Serves 4
1/2 pound of chopped chicken (Small bit sized pieces, I recommend thighs) boned or boneless
2 tablespoons of 5 spice powder
A few shakes of salt
A few shakes of black pepper
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/8 cup water (dissolve the sugar in the water)
1/8 cup BREWED soy sauce (read ingredients and avoid the fake grocery store brands)
1 ginger root peeled and sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves roughly chopped
1 zucchini chopped in pieces roughly the same size as the chicken
As many peppers as you can stand, whole chopped, or split
peanut oil
A wok*

*If you don't have a wok, it is a good kitchen investment. You can not get a nonstick skillet hot enough to cook as quickly as you can in a wok. Improvise if you have to but a wok is a very good thing to have around.

Sprinkle the chicken with the 5 spice. Leave for half and hour, go watch the news.

Have a little water by the side of your wok and some rice cooking in another pot.

Heat the wok as hot as you can get it, turn the stove fan on, it's going to be smoking in a minute.

Toss in a bit of peanut oil and the chicken. Toss and sear, when cooked remove to a bowl.

Throw in the water/sugar mix. Toss it around a little in a couple of minutes it will begin to become golden, then Carmel. Anytime after golden throw in your flavorings, your garlic, ginger and peppers. (for my lesson we used one Thai chili and two Serrano's. At home I used 5 Jalapenos, both made a nicely hot dish, use a milder pepper if you are a wimp.) These flavoring agents cook quickly but if it starts to darken throw a touch of water in the mix.

Zucchini next, it will ad it's own bit of water, cook about 1 minute til tender and then throw the chicken back in along with the soy sauce. Toss until the sauce is fully clinging to the meat and there is no pool of liquid.

Serve with rice.

It's that simple and there is nothing greasy or goopy about this dish. You don't need La Choy, just a few Grandmother's for friends.

You can eat around the ginger and the pepper if you are afraid of those bursts of flavor...I relish them. They are Chinese comfort food.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009 predictions

I predict the upcoming year will be the year of comfort foods. The world is going through economic and political changes and as exciting as this can be there is also the element of change everywhere. Many of us will want to cling to what we know, to what is comfortable, and if we can't have that in life, we can have it on the table.

This Chicken and Noodle dish is very adaptable and happy to adjust to what you have in the house. It is warm and comforting and the leftovers are even better than the first dish.

Get an old chicken with some fat on it. Sometimes they are known as fowl. You can use a fryer in a pinch, but an old chicken tastes better done this way. A rooster even more so. If you are in NY you can go to Jeffrey's on Essex Street down in the lower east side. He literally got on his bike and went to find me a goose for Christmas. I have never had better service from any butcher in my life. He also carries incredible chickens for stewing along with just about everything else you can imagine.

Old chicken
Two big onions
Two big carrots
1 fennel bulb
4 stalks celery
Tablespoon smoked paprika
Tablespoon dried tarragon
A little oil
4 cups water or wine
A little bacon if you have it cut into bits

Any noodles or pasta you have in the house.

Salt the chicken liberally, and hit with a little pepper. Brown your chicken, whole or in pieces, whichever you prefer. If you have some bacon or salt pork, brown it too in little bits. Set your bacon aside.

Rough cut the vegetables into big chunks. Throw them in the hot oil and cook on a high heat until you get a little Carmel stuff happening. Toss in the water or wine, and seasoning. Rest the chicken on top of the vegetables, mostly submerged, but you can leave the skin just out of the water if you want it to brown.

Cook in a pot in the oven for about 90 minutes on 350 until the chicken is tender and starting to melt into the broth. Boil your noodles and stir into the broth along with the bacon. Put a big ladle of broth, noodle and vegetable in a bowl and top with chicken. Feel comforted yet?

Leftovers...shred the chicken into the the rest, warm the next day and top with a spoonful of sour cream.

This has made me hungry...I am going to head to Jeffrey's. I owe his mother a fruitcake.