Archive

Archive for the ‘cookbook’ Category

Christmas Fruit and a Citrus Kick in the Ol’ Boxers

I had forgotten about a particular tradition until Lindz visited one of her professors before Christmas.  Her professor receives a box of citrus from one of his former students every year during Advent.  When Lindz showed up to visit, he had just gotten his yearly present and he realized that he couldn’t eat it all before it went bad.  So, Lindz ended up with a box of fruit.

DSC00853_3

The Red Navel oranges (in the red tissue) were by far the best ones. Sweet, but with a prominent citrus tang.

The tradition that I forgot about was the giving of a certain bag of “goodies” at Christmas time.  This bag consists of an orange (maybe an apple too), nuts in the shell (usually peanuts), and some form of candy (candy canes, old fashioned ribbon candy, chocolate coins, etc).  With a bit of research on the good ol’ internet, I found that a lot of people used to get these in their stocking from their parents.  Personally, I received it from our priest every year as a youngster.  I’ve heard of this custom off and on over the years, but never knew the origin.  I’ve always assumed that it was a “healthy” and/or “inexpensive” gift.  But the more that I heard about it, it slowly dawned on me that this wasn’t just a local Catholic thing, it was far more widespread phenomenon.  This year I finally took the time to do the research.  It turns out that the actual origins are pretty murky.  Frustrating, but not surprising.  On the web, a lot of people remember this as a kid, and many continue it with their own children.  Most people are comfortable with the answer of “I don’t know.  It was just something that grandma (or whomever) always did.”  They assume that it either came from the old country, (Italy, Poland, England, etc) or it dates back to the time when oranges were a rarity and hence an actual treat, or some combination of these two factors.  While I can see these two reasons being factors, it just didn’t feel right for how widespread and long lasting this experience is.

Wiki to the rescue!

In his (St. Nicholas) most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes . Hearing of the poor man’s plight, Nicholas decided to help him . . . and drops the third bag down the chimney (where) the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

Ok, but how do we get from a bag of gold to an orange?  Here is where symbolism comes into effect.  The best explanation is that an orange is a similar color to gold and that oranges are similar in shape to bags of the shiny stuff.  Also, in some European countries, oranges have symbolized Jesus’ love for the world.  I’ve listed a bunch of the more interesting links that I’ve found at the end of this post.

Now that the history lesson is over, on to the food!

We weren’t eating the box of oranges as fast as we should have and they were in real danger of going bad.  So I had to come up with something to use a whole bunch of oranges at once.  I’ve had a venison loin sitting in the freezer since last fall and it seemed like it would be a perfect pairing for an orange pan sauce that I had in mind.

Since the sauce was going to be the star of the show, I simply cut the loin into medallions and pan fried them in a bit of oil.

DSC00938_2

I’m not sure why I keep posting pics of frying meat, but it always look so good.  Well, that I love to see my cast irons being used.

As a side, I went with roasted potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic all mashed up together.

DSC00941_2

I really love roasted root veggies and mashing them up makes for a nice variation. Especially if you plan on putting some kind of sauce on them.

Once the venison was fried off and resting, I made the pan sauce.  The recipe that I borrowed quite heavily from is the Orange Pan Sauce with Middle Eastern Spices from the Cook’s Illustrated cookbook.  I really wanted the sauce to be a “Friday-night-drunken-barroom-brawl” explosion in your mouth, so I went very heavy on the OJ and zest.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Shallots, minced
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Ground Cumin
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/4 C Orange Zest
  • 3 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar
  • 2 C Orange Juice
  • Salt

Pour off all but 1 1/2 Tbs fat from the skillet (of whatever meat you are making).  Place skillet over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook until softened, about 1 minute.  Stir in sugar, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in vinegar, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the fond.  Add the orange juice, increase heat to medium-high and simmer until reduced to about 3/4 C, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Off heat, season with salt to taste.  Spoon over meat and serve.

DSC00944_2

Yes, it tasted even better than it looks.

I managed to create the citrus barrage that I was intending.  Plus, the other spices weren’t lost in all of the citric acid.  They were a nice background note in the sauce.  What is even better, is that the sauce worked equally well on both the meat and the roasted veggie mash.  All in all, I was quite pleased with this meal.  In fact, I am hoping the bag of lemons that we have in the fridge right now linger around a bit so I have an excuse to try this with a different citrus.

p.s.  Sorry if there is less snark in this post than usual.  Lindz has been hoarding our household’s share of it lately.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

An informative page, with emphasis on the Canadian Prairies.

A well-researched page (much more effort than I put into mine) that is a nice narrative.

This page looks at this Christmas tradition with regard to its English origin.

A sugar- and food-centric page that emphasizes the sweet and preservative aspect of fruit.

An interesting audio story from Minnesota Public Radio about the impact of a couple from Minnesota and their influence on the Christmas orange tradition here.

A not very helpful page with regards to Christmas oranges, but a still very interesting read.

A wonderful page full of Polish Christmas time traditions.

More Soup From The Arctic Blast

As previously mentioned, we had a bitterly cold spell here a couple of weeks ago.  In addition to the French Onion soup, I also made a Smokey Corn Chowder. I was excited to revisit this recipe because I’ve only made it once and that was several years ago, and it was nice hardy and decadent soup to fight off the chills.

The recipe is adapted from a Real Simple magazine issue from, well, several years ago.

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz Bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces (the recipe only called for 8 oz, but I had to do something with the other half of the package, right?)
  • 1 large Onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 20 oz Frozen Corn
  • 3 lbs Potatoes, cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • 3 C low sodium Chicken Broth
  • 1 C Half & Half
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Scallions, sliced on a bias for garnish (optional, i.e. I didn’t have any)

Over medium heat, cook the bacon in a stock pot until crisp.

DSC00957_2

You really thought I would only use a half a package of bacon!?!?

Remove the bacon and place on a paper towel to drain.  Remove all but 2 Tbs of the fat and return the pot to medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic, paprika, and red pepper, cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in the corn, potatoes, broth, and half & half, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

DSC00958_3

Insert wry and witting comment here.

With either a food processor or a stick blender, puree half of the soup.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer soup to bowls and garnish with the bacon and scallions.

DSC00963_4

I think I’m starting to get the hang of these foodporn shots.

I prefer to tailor make up spice mixes as I go.  But lately I’ve been trying to use up some of the spice blends that have been sitting around in my cupboard for way too long.  What I’ve been doing is looking at what spices the recipe calls for and try and find one that matches the closest.  In this case it was Penzey’s Jerk mix.  I’ve got absolutely nothing against mixes (in fact, the Penzey’s line is quite superb),  I just prefer to make it up as I go.  I substituted around 2 Tbs of the Jerk seasoning for all of the spices in the above recipe.  It turned out quite well.

DSC00964_3

Hey! Who are you calling a jerk?

Arctic Weather and Homemade Soup

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been having a proper Minnesota winter.  More often than not the highs were topping out in the single digits with wind chills hovering around -15 degrees Farenheit.  If you’ve ever lived in this climate, you know how appealing a piping hot bowl of soup can be.  In the middle of this cold snap, our friend Ring came over for a visit and I decided to make some homemade french onion soup.

This is yet another example of the necessity to properly read through the recipe and plan accordingly.  The first night I ended up staying awake until one in the morning cooking the onions.  Not the best thought out plan.  Of course, the other option was to be eating at 10 p.m. the next night.  But, I digress.

The recipe I used is from the 9th season of America’s Test Kitchen.

Ingredients – Soup

  • 3 Tbs Unsalted Butter, cut into 3 pieces
  • 6 large Yello Onions (approx. 4 lbs), halved and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • Salt
  • 2 C Water, plus extra for deglazing
  • 1/2 C Dry Sherry
  • 4 C low-sodium Chicken Broth
  • 2 C Beef Broth
  • 6 sprigs Fresh Thyme, tied with kitchen twine (I just used a heaping Tbs of dried)
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Black Pepper

Ingredients – Cheese Croutons

  • 1 small Baguette, cut into 1/2″  slices
  • 8 oz shredded Gruyère Cheese (approx 2 1/2 C)  (I used Mozzarella because I’m too cheap to drop $20 on cheese for one recipe)

For the Soup:  Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Generously spray the inside of a heavy-bottomed pot (at least 7 quart) with nonstick cooking spray.  Place the butter in the pot and add the onions and 1 tsp salt.  Cover, and cook for 1 hour.  The onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume.  Remove the pot from the oven and stir, scraping the bottom and sides.  Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar.  Continue to cook the onions until they are very soft and golden brown.  This will take 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer.  At the 1 hour mark, stir the onions and scrape the bottom and sides again.

(This is a good stopping point if you want to split up the cooking.  Just let the pot cool and stick it in the fridge till you are ready to get back to the cooking.)

DSC00967_2

First part of the cooking done and I was off to bed.

Carefully remove the pot from the oven and place it over medium-high heat.  Using oven mitts to handle the pot, cook the onions, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, approx. 15 to 20 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium if the onions are browning too quickly.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the bottom of the pot is coated with a dark crust, approx. 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary.  Stir in 1/4 C of water, scraping the bottom to loosen the crust.  Cook until the water evaporates and another dark crust forms.  Repeat the deglazing 2 or 3 more times until the onions are very dark brown.  Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry evaporates, approx. 5 minutes.

DSC00970_2

Starting to look like a proper french onion soup.

Stir in the broths, 2 C of water, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Scrape up any final bits of browned crust on the bottom and sides of the pot.  Increase the heat to high and bring up to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove and discard the herbs.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

DSC00973_2

Liquid added, flavors melded, and almost ready to eat.

For the Croutons:  While the soup simmers, arrange the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree F oven until the bread is dry, crisp, and golden at the edges, approx. 10 minutes

DSC00971_2

Lacking the proper bowls, I found an alternative path to get the crouton with melted cheese on top of the soup.

To Serve:  Adjust the oven rack to 6″ from the broiler and heat the broiler.  Set individual broiler-safe crocks on a baking sheet and fill each with 1 3/4 C soup.  Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (don’t overlap) and sprinkle evenly with the cheese.  Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly around the edges, approx. 3 to 5 minutes.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

DSC00974_2

Not quite the standard french onion soup presentation, but every bit of the flavor is there.

From start to finish, this recipe took me around five and a half hours to complete.  Granted, half of that time was waiting for the onions to brown in the oven, so it was time-consuming, but not very labor intensive.  Just make sure you give yourself a nice big block of time when you plan on cooking this.

Ring gave me crap about not properly melting the cheese on top, but my feelings would have been hurt otherwise.  Lindz said that this even surpassed the french onion soup at one of the restaurants where she used to work, which previously was her favorite.  Score one for the TJ!  For a relatively short list of ingredients, I thought that this method gave a nice depth to the flavor of the soup.

Family Time, Beef Wellington, And A Happy Surprise!

My little sis, Sara, wanted a pepper grinder for her birthday this past summer.  So Lindz and I found her a nice one and gave it to her (it ended up being a couple months late, but we’re pretty chill about this kind of thing in my family).  Then my uncle Art discovered it.  Mom had written a note to remind herself to tell me that I needed to pick up one for Art.  Somewhere along the line, my nephew Cole found said note and added his name to it as well.  Christmas rolled around, so we gave a grinder to Art and another one to Cole.

Since Cole has been expressing an interest in cooking, Lindz and I decided to pick him up a cookbook as well.  The one Lindz selected was Jamie’s Food Revolution, by none other than one of my favorites, Jamie Oliver.  Personally, I like a couple of his other cookbooks better, but I couldn’t argue with Lindz’s logic.  This book is a spin off of the time he spent in Huntington, West Virginia, where he started a grassroots campaign to end obesity and to get people to eat healthier.  While working a bit with the community as a whole, he concentrated his efforts on the school lunch system because that is where he felt he could do the most good.  As a result, this cookbook is geared towards a novice in the kitchen and the recipes tend to be on the easier side.  Like I said, I couldn’t argue with her logic.

I ended up giving Cole the cookbook a day early because I told him that I was kidnapping him one day, so we could cook supper for people.  (I saved the pepper grinder for Christmas day and judging my how much he was bouncing around, I think he liked it).  The recipe I picked out was the Ground Beef Wellington.  Before we started, I told Cole that he was cooking and I was just there to make sure he didn’t burn the house down.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium Onion
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Celery Stalk
  • 1 Potato
  • 2 cloves of Garlic
  • 2 Portabella Mushrooms
  • Olive Oil
  • 4 sprigs of fresh Rosemary
  • large handle of frozen Peas
  • 1 large Egg
  • 1 pound Ground Beef
  • Salt and Pepper
  • AP Flour, for dusting
  • 2 sheets Puff Pastry

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Peel and chop the onion, carrot, celery, and potato into 1/4″ dice.  Finely grate the garlic.  Clean and roughly chop the mushrooms to about the same size.  Heat 2 Tbs of olive oil over medium-low heat in a large frying pan and place all the veggies in it.

DSC00874_2

Yeah, probably should have split this between two pans.

Pick off the rosemary leaves, finely chop them, and add them to the pan.  Fry and stir the veggies for around 8 minutes, or until they soften and color lightly.  Add the peas and cook for another minute.  Put the veggies in a large bowl to cool completely.  Crack an egg into a cup and beat it until it is mixed.  Add the ground beef to the bowl with a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Add half of the beaten egg.  With clean hands, mix everything up.

DSC00875_2

Cole working hard and getting dirty.  As it should be.

DSC00876_3

Cole demonstrating the proper folding technique to mix the ground beef and veggies.

Lightly dust a clean work surface and rolling pin with flour.  Lay the puff pastry sheets one on top of the other.  Roll out the pastry so it is roughly 12″ x 16″.  Dust with flour as needed.  Turn the pastry so that the long edge is towards you and place the beef mixture along this edge.  Mold the beef mixture into an even log.  Brush the edges of the pastry with some of the beaten egg.

DSC00877_2

Here Cole is demonstrating how to brush on egg wash to the edges of the dough.

Roll the beef mixture up in the pastry until it’s completely covered.  Squeeze the ends together.  Dust a large cookie sheet with flour and place the Wellington on top.  Over all of the Wellington, brush with the remaining beaten egg.  Bake in the preheated oven for an hour until golden brown.

DSC00878_5

Glossy and fresh out of the oven.

DSC00883_2

Not too bad for a twelve year old.

Since we were cooking for a fairly large crowd, we did a double recipe.  Also, since I am apparently inept at finding puff pastry, I just used the croissant dough in the paper tubes.  Cole and I did have a minor argument about who got to pop them open.  I thought this recipe was a bit under-spiced, but it was well received by everyone.

And now for the surprise!

Chell tried out a different family recipe for coffee cake.  She said it was an easier dough to work with, but she liked the crumbles from the original.  I would have to agree with her on the topping.  These were a bit doughy instead of a nice sugary consistency.  The new recipe had cinnamon in it, which wasn’t a bad addition, but I prefer it without.  But most importantly, she made it with a poppy seed filling!  And even better, she sent a poppy seed one home with Lindz and me!!!

DSC00882_2

Don’t take a drug test after eating this. Seriously. False-positive. Mythbusters proved it.

RI: Saltimbocca

The one non-seafood meal (other than lunch / snacks) that I planned for the trip was one that had caught my eye about a week before we took off East.  I had a hard time believing that I could be led astray with chicken, sage, and prosciutto.  Not surprisingly, I found the recipe in my copy of the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook.  Yup.  Love that cookbook.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C unbleached AP Flour
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • 8 thin-cut, boneless, skinless chicken cutlets (about 2 lbs), trimmed of ragged edges
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh Sage leaves, plus 8 large leaves
  • 8 thin slices of Prosciutto, cut into 5″ to 6″ long pieces to match chicken (about 3 oz)
  • 4 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 1 1/4 C White Wine
  • 2 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 4 Tbs Unsalted Butter, cut into 4 pieces and chilled
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh Parsley Leaves
  • Salt

Salty-hamy goodness.

The this-n-that which fills out the ingredient list.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 200 degrees.  Combine flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in a shallow dish.

There really is no purpose to this picture. It’s just flour and pepper, but I bothered to snap a picture, so I’m bothering you by putting it here.

Pat the cutlets dry with paper towels.

Another pointless photo. This time it’s chicken breasts cut in half. Ooh!

Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off any excess.  Lay the cutlets flat and sprinkle evenly with the minced sage.  Place one slice of prosciutto on top of each cutlet, pressing lightly to adhere and set aside.

This picture, which actually serves a purpose, I almost forgot to take it! Hence, the one corner of prosciutto that is folded up.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer.  Add the sage leaves to the skillet and cook until the leaves begin to change color and are fragrant, about 15 to 20 seconds.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the sage to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.  Add half of the cutlets to the pan, prosciutto-side down, and cook until light golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.  Flip and cook on the other side until golden brown, about 2 minutes more.  Transfer the chicken to a wire rack (set on a rimmed baking sheet) and keep it warm in the oven.  Repeat with the two remaining tablespoons of oil and cutlets.  Transfer these to the oven as well to keep warm while preparing the sauce.

One big tray of happiness right out of the oven.

Pour off the excess fat from the skillet and stir in the white wine, scraping up the fond.  Simmer until it reduces to about 1/3 cup, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in the lemon juice and turn the heat to low and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time.  Off heat, stir in the parsley and season with the salt and pepper.  Remove the chicken from the oven and place on a platter.  Spoon the sauce over the cutlets before serving.

This is a great buttery pan sauce.  And surprisingly, fairly light.

The one glaring mistake that I made was using too much sage.  While in the process of making it, I knew I was using far more than the recipe called for, but I went ahead with it because I bought a package of fresh sage specifically for it.  The other option was to throw it away.  I should have went with my first instinct and follow the recipe.  Other than that, I think it turned out really well.  With the cost of ingredients, I’m not going to be making this all the time, but I would like to make it again in the near future.  Using the proper amount of sage, of course.

Anyone want to give me $500?

I was watching some of the foodie TED talks (Technology, Entertainment, Design) because I love to geek out like that.  One of them was by Dr. Nathan Myhrvold.  He was promoting his and his co-authors new cookbook called Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.  It emphasizes the science behind all of cooking with a special emphasis on the field of molecular gastronomy.  I highly recommend checking out the talk if you are even slightly interested in the how and why of cooking.  It is a five volume set of books that contain over 2400 pages, plus a waterproof companion volume with the 1500 recipes collected for easy kitchen use.

 

That is one sharp looking set of cookbooks!

One of the things that they do in the cookbook are cut-away photos of cooking in progress.  These pictures are amazing, but not the easiest to capture.  Dr. Myhrvold said their philosophy was that it only had to look good for 1/1000th of a second.  And they succeeded!  Being a nerd, one of my favorite things is that they have differential equations in the book describing the physics behind cooking, one example is Fourier’s Law of Heat Conduction (an equation that describes how efficiently heat/energy is moved along in a certain substance).  Along with all of these, what really got me was their philosophy of wanting to make a cookbook that they wished they had while they were learning to cook.  Of course all of this greatness comes at a price of $450 plus S&H.  But what do you expect from a man who was a chief technology officer for Microsoft, a World Champion of Barbecue, Chief Gastronomic Officer for the Zagat Survey, and has formal training in mathematics, geophysics, space physics, mathematical economics, and theoretical physics.  Oh yeah, he also worked with Stephen Hawking.

How can you not want to own a cookbook with photos like this???

 

A Taste of the Past.

While I was working and living in Decorah, Iowa, a couple of my friends and I would always be on the look out for new and interesting places to eat.  One place we found in a neighboring town was a Mexican grocery/restaurant called Sabor Latino, which translates as Latin Flavor.  Within a year after we had first visited this place they opened a restaurant in Decorah.  The new place was such a regular stop that the whole staff knew our names, our order, and what was going on in our life.  Plus, they would throw in some freebies on a regular basis.  Which, of course, just encouraged us to come back all the more often.  They closed their doors shortly after we stopped making it a regular stop.  Possibly a coincidence, possibly not.  The reason why we stopped going was that one our trio graduated from college and stopped coming into town on a regular basis.  Of course, the fact that they got raided for having illegal immigrants working there may have been a factor.  (Just for the record, we did not know that some of the workers were here illegally).

There were several things that I learned from our frequent visits.  I fell in love with their pico de gallo (fresh, uncooked salsa) as well as relished their guacamole.  In fact, when I make either of these items at home, it is their recipes that I try to emulate.  We also discovered a drink called horchata.  Horchata is a rice milk beverage made with cinnamon, sugar, and sometimes with almonds or vanilla.  It is a cool and very refreshing drink that I have surprisingly not attempted to make.  I’ll have to put that on my list to try.  I’m not sure if it’s the same one as in his cookbook that I have or if it’s a different recipe, but here is a link to Aarón Sanchez’s horchata recipe (Right now I’m too lazy to get up off the couch and look).  But, the most relevant thing to this post is that I discovered the method how Mexicans prepare their tacos.  Forget about what you normally see in the U.S., i.e. covered in lettuce, tomato, and all sorts of a salad, the way we were shown was to just put some diced onions and some cilantro on top of the meat.  I’m not sure what it is about that combination, but it helps to liven up the meat flavor as well as add its own dimension to each bite.  I much prefer “Mexican style,” as the boys at Sabor liked to say, as opposed to what normally passes in the U.S.

While flipping through the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated, I was very pleasantly surprised to find a Tacos al Pastor (shepherd’s style taco) recipe.  I was even more surprised when they just called for cilantro and onions for a topping.  Given this gift of a recipe and the memories that I have connected with eating this dish, I couldn’t wait to cook it.  At this point in time, we had already made plans to go down and visit one of the people that I had spent so much time with at Sabor Latino.  It seemed almost sacrilegious not to cook it for him.  It was even more fitting in my brain to cook this for Narren because he has cooked for me countless times in the past.  Granted, it was often payment for helping him with something (hence him dubbing me a food-whore).  But the occasional payback is nice too.

I did end up making several modifications to the recipe because I wasn’t cooking in my own kitchen.  As usual, I’ll put my notes in parenthesis.

Ingredients

  • 10 large dried guajillo chiles, wiped clean; can substitute New Mexican chiles (I used a Tbs of Crushed Red Peppers)
  • 1 1/2 C Water
  • 1 1/4 lbs plum tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • 8 Garlic Cloves (I used 1 1/2 small bulbs)
  • 4 Bay Leaves
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 3/4 tsp Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground Cumin
  • 1/8 tsp ground Cloves
  • 3 lbs boneless Pork Butt Roast (the one I got weighed 3.5 lbs and had a bone, but it dressed out to 3 lbs)
  • 1 Lime, cut into 8 wedges (I used 2)
  • 1/2 Pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ thick rings (did not use at all)
  • Veggie Oil
  • 18 Corn or Flour Tortillas, about 6″, warmed
  • 1 small Onion, chopped fine
  • 1/2 C fresh Cilantro, coarsely chopped

Toast guajillos in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until softened and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes.  Transfer to large plate and when cool enough to handle, remove stems.  (Obviously, I completely skipped this step.)  Bring toasted guajillos, water, tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, sugar, cumin, and cloves to simmer in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occassionally, until guajillos are softened and tomatoes mash easily, about 20 minutes (I only cooked it about 12 minutes).

That is a pan full of sauce potential.

While the sauce simmers, trim excess fat from exterior of pork, leaving 1/4″ thick fat cap.  Slice pork against grain into 1/2″ thick slabs.

The bone is the lower right piece. It was a lot trickier to remove than I would have guessed.

Transfer the pepper-tomato mixture to blender and process until smooth, about 1 minute (I pulled out the bay leaves).  Strain puree through fine-mesh strainer, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible.  Return puree to pot, submerge pork slices in liquid, and bring to simmer over medium heat.  Partially cover, reduce heat, and gently simmer until pork is tender but still holds together, 90 to 105 minutes, flipping and rearranging pork halfway through cooking.  Transfer pork to large plate, season both sides with salt, and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Whisk sauce to combine.  Transfer 1/2 cup to bowl for grilling.  Save another 1/2 cup for use later.  Squeeze 2 lime wedges into sauce in bowl and add spent wedges; season with salt to taste. (This is where I stopped with the recipe, I just used the bit of sauce to keep the pork moist for serving it.)

Sliced the slices and ready to serve!

Heat grill until hot.  Clean and oil cooking grate.  Brush one side of pork with 1/4 cup reserved sauce.  Place pork on one side of grill, sauce side down, and cook until well browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.  Brush pork with remaining 1/4 cup of sauce, flip and continue to cook until the second side is well browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes longer.  Transfer to cutting board.  Meanwhile, brush both sides of pineapple rings with vegetable oil and season with salt to taste.  Place on other half of grill and cook until pineapple is softened and caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes per side.  Transfer to cutting board.  Coarsely chop pineapple and transfer to serving bowl.  Using tongs to steady the pork, slice each piece crosswise into 1/8th inch pieces.  Bring remaining sauce to simmer, add sliced pork, remove pot from heat, and toss to coat pork well.  Season with salt to taste.  Spoon small amount of pork into each warm tortilla and serve, passing chopped pineapple, remaining 6 lime wedges, onion and cilantro separately.

The extras (from top down): flour and corn tortillas, limes, onions, cilantro, and guacamole (to be featured in a later post).

Normally, I try and stick pretty close to the recipe the first time I follow it.  I make notes and change it on the subsequent tries.  The reason I deviated so much on this one is because I was cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen (Narren’s) and using a grocery store that I was unfamiliar with, i.e. I would have picked up the peppers somewhere else had I known I couldn’t get anything close to them.  I’m going to go one of two ways the next time I do this recipe.  Either I will follow the recipe as intended and grill the meat and pineapple, or, more likely, I will do a slow roast in the oven instead of the stove top treatment.  Really the only critique that I had with the way I did it was that the meat ended up a bit tough.  But through some creative slicing, I was able to minimize it.  Which is why I’m thinking of doing a slow roast, and almost going for a pulled pork sort of effect.  Although I do like the idea of crisping up the pork.  Well, we’ll see where my whims take me.

So unbelievably easy I can’t believe I haven’t tried it before.

So we ended up a whole jar of olives from a care package for Martha.  BTW, she is doing really well.  She is starting to ween herself off of the crutches.  Mainly just around the apartment, but it is a start.  Like I was saying, we had this entire jar of olives that I didn’t know what to do with.  Then it occurred to me that I had all of the things around to make a tapenade.  Ted Allen to the rescue!  Some time ago I picked up his book The Food You Want To Eat.  I haven’t done many recipes out of it, but the ones that I have tried were all really good.  So it made sense that this was where I looked first for a tapenade recipe.  Lo and behold, Ted came through for me with style!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint Green Olives; pitted and not stuffed
  • 1 Garlic clove (I used 3)
  • 2 tsp Anchovy Paste (I used about 3 fillets)
  • 2 tsp Capers (I used a Tbs)
  • Grated zest of 1 Lemon (didn’t have, so I used about 2 tsp of lemon juice)
  • Grated zest of 1 Orange – optional (didn’t have, so didn’t use)
  • 5 Tbs Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Combine everything in a food processor and pulse until a rough paste.

I used my crappy blender because I don't have a food processor. Hence the less than stellar physical appearance.

 

Like I said, this recipe is pathetically easy and tastes unbelievably good.  In fact, after making this on my own, I’m a little pissed that I’ve spent so much money at restaurants and stores to get my tapenade fix.

R.I.P. Auntie Theresia

Last Saturday, my great-aunt passed away at the ripe ol’ age of 94.  (The obit is here.)  I have met very few people who were always genuinely happy to see you and Theresia was one of those.  Even if our family visits weren’t the most regular.  For most of my life, she and Grandma Rose (they are sisters) lived in the same apartment building and later in the same assisted living housing, so it was really easy to duck in and say “Hi.”  The catch was that she wasn’t at home all that much because she was off visiting somebody, or shopping, or doing something at church, or out for heaven knows what reason.  One of Auntie Theresia’s passions was baking.  As an added bonus, she was unbelievable good at it.  Her two signature desserts, angel food cake and coffee cake, are the gold standards in our family.  It is considered high praise if someone said that you came close to Auntie Theresia’s version.  Like all great cooks, she loved to share her creations and we were more than happy to oblige.  She was also very prolific in her baking.  When we did manage to cross paths and visit, she always had some kind of treat already sitting on the counter or she pulled something out of the freezer to thaw even before you had a chance to sit down.  And if you were really lucky, you managed to catch her when she was cleaning out the freezer and she would send something home with you.

Many people in my family have tried to reproduce her recipes.  Most have had decent luck with the angel food cake.  No one has been able to nail her coffee cake recipe though.  My sister Michelle probably comes the closest with a version that’s about 87% of Theresia’s sinfully delicious coffee cake.  All the different fillings that Theresia used were wonderful, but the one that everyone fought over was the poppy seed filled one.  It had so much poppy seed in it, you couldn’t pass a drug test for a year after only one piece.  There would be a layer of three-quarters of an inch of poppy seed across the whole cake.  Combined with milk and sugar, the poppy seed layer was always the best part.  As a very close second, was the crumb that she put on top of the cake.  It is a combination of sugar, flour, butter, and lard that approaches foodie nirvana.  Remember fat equals flavor!

I have never worked up the nerves to try this recipe, but here is Auntie Theresia’s Poppy Seed Coffee Cake recipe (as found in the Holy Trinity Centennial Cookbook, Royalton, MN):

Ingredients – Dough:

  • 3 1/2 C Milk – scalded
  • 1 1/4 C Lard
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 1 1/2 C Sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 10 C Flour

2 yeast cakes and 1 package yeast dissolved in 1 C lukewarm water, 2 tsp vanilla and 2 tsp sugar add to above ingredients.

Mix and let rise, punch down and let rise again.  Divide dough in greased 10″ round or 7″ square pans.  Spread filling (see below).  Gather sides to the the middle, pinch together and press down.  Spread on dough (beat 1 egg and 2 Tbs sugar mixed so crumbs stick).

Crumbs:

  • 5 C Flour
  • 1 C Butter
  • 1 Tbs Vanilla
  • 2 C Sugar
  • 1 C Lard

Mix until crumbly and spread on dough.

Poppy Seed Filling:

  • 6 C Milk
  • 1 C Half & Half

Bring to boil and add 2 lbs ground poppy seed, 6 C sugar, 1 Tbs Vanilla;  boil slowly for 1 hour stirring frequently; let cool.

Bake at 350 F degrees for 30-35 until brown.

Mind you, this is verbatim from the church cookbook and I’ve never done this before, so if you have questions, ask Michelle.  She is getting better as the years go by.  Michelle did want me to say that this is a very sticky dough, so be warned.

Not Theresia's coffee cake, but it's the closest picture I could find.

As a very strange aside, I find comfort in that Fr. Virnig will be co-officiating the funeral.  He was the priest at Mom and Dad’s church while I was growing up, and then he moved over to Royalton where Grandma and Theresia lived.  Then when Grandma passed, he was one of the officiants at her funeral with my cousin, Fr. Tom.  I guess I just like the continuity.

I just want to leave saying that Auntie Theresia will be missed, and more than just for her food.

My favorite roast chicken plus a couple of new side dishes

This happened around a month ago, so the details are a bit sketchy in my brain.  I know someone came over and ate with us, I recently went grocery shopping, and I needed to use the chicken because it wouldn’t fit in the freezer anymore.  Other than that, make up whatever back story you want.  It probably will be more interesting than what really happened.  Just for the record, I’m not excluding the possibility of a ninja attack.  They’re sneaky like that.

So, the roast chicken recipe is hands-down my favorite one that I have ever done.  I try to do it on a regular basis since I can get great birds from Mom (she raises some for butchering every year).  The recipe is from Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef, one of my first cookbook purchases way back around the turn of the century.  Also one of my favorites that I constantly turn to first for ideas.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken, whole; about 3 lbs
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 Tbs each of Basil, Parsley, and Marjoram; mixed together (I use dried, if you use fresh go with a small handful of each and finely chop them)
  • 1/4 C Olive Oil
  • 1 Lemon; quartered
  • 4 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tbs of Rosemary (again I use dried, go with 2 sprigs if you have fresh)

Preheat the oven and a roasting pan to 425 F degrees.  Clean up any odd bits of the chicken, i.e. pin feathers, excess fat, anything that got missed inside of the cavity, etc.  Rinse the chicken, inside and out, and pat dry.  Rub the cavity with salt.  I usually use around a couple of teaspoons.  Gently grab the skin, breast side, by the neck and separate the skin from the breast.  The easiest way to do this is to poke a couple of fingers down in between.  Just be careful not to rip the skin.  The skin is attached better between the breasts, instead of trying to separate things, I just leave it as two tunnels.  Sprinkle a couple of pinches of salt down in the tunnels, followed by most of the herb mixture and a drizzle of olive oil into each.  Stuff the cavity with the lemon, bay, and rosemary.  Tuck the wings under themselves and truss up the bird with some kitchen twine.  I won’t go into how to truss the bird because I’ve done it numerous ways and still haven’t found a method that I like and works well.  I’m assuming that it’s more user error than actual methodology.

Make a three or four shallow cuts into the thighs to help the heat penetrate (dark meat takes longer to cook than white) and rub in the remaining herb mixture you have left.  Rub the entire chicken with a little olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.  Remove the hot roasting pan and add a little oil.  Place the chicken on one side, breast down, and put back into the oven for five minutes.  Switch to the other side, again breast down for another five minutes.  Finally, flip the bird onto its back and cook for approximately one more hour.  When the chicken is done, let it rest for ten minutes or so.  That way the juices can absorb back into the meat instead of ending up on the cutting board.  The skin ends up nice and crispy, while the meat is juicy and flavorful.

For side dishes I adapted two recipes from the book I’m currently reading, A Mediterranean Feast by Clifford A. Wright.  I’m only about a hundred pages into it, but so far it is a great history of food of the entire Mediterranean area.  There is plenty of emphasis on the food of the poor (which doesn’t get talked about a lot, period) as well as the over the top feasts like when we think of de Medici’s and the like.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in food history.  The first recipe I did almost verbatim from the book, the second, well, not so much.

The first recipe that I did is called Salatat al-Malfuf from Syria.  It is a pretty basic cabbage salad, but I would like to make some tweaks the next time.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small head Savoy Cabbage (about 1 lb); damaged leaves removed, cored, and shredded
  • 1/4 C Sea Salt
  • 6 Garlic Cloves; minced
  • 2 Tbs Lemon Juice
  • 6 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 tsp dried Mint (I didn’t use this because I didn’t have any, but I think it would be great in here)

Toss the shredded cabbage in a large bowl with the salt and let it sit for an hour.  Thoroughly wash the salt off of the cabbage by dunking it in water.  Taste a piece to make sure the salt is washed off.  Place in a clean bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients.  Serve at room temp within an hour.

I like the idea of this recipe, but letting the cabbage sit that long with that much salt wilted the hell out of it.  I think the next time I do this, I will go lighter on the salt and definitely lighter on the time it sits.  Also, I think the “dressing” of lemon juice and olive oil could be cut in half because there was a lot sitting in the bottom of the bowl when everything was eaten.

The second recipe is called Col-i-flor from Catalonia (the very northeast corner of Spain).  Surprisingly enough, this is a cauliflower recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lbs Potatoes; peeled and cut to the same size as the cauliflower florets
  • 10 oz Cauliflower florets (about one small head)
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tsp White Wine Vinegar

Place the potatoes and cauliflower in a large saucepan and cover with two inches of slightly salted cold water.  Bring to a boil and cook until both are easily pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.  Drain and transfer to a serving dish.  Mix the oil, vinegar, and salt to taste.  Pour over  the cauliflower and potatoes and mix, breaking them up a bit.  Serve immediately.

So that’s the recipe from the book.  Here’s how I did it:

  • I skipped the potatoes and just doubled up on the cauliflower because I had a very large head
  • I added a pound of fried and chopped bacon because everything is better with bacon
  • I ended up using 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar just to give it the punch I think it needed

Assuming that you just didn’t skip down to the end, here’s your reward for reading this really long post:

Well worth the effort in the kitchen.