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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

When The Rooster Crows

I'm a sucker for Sriracha. Packed with bold flavor and pungent garlic undertones, it has a lip tingling sweet heat that lingers on the tongue. Slow burn. Creeper chili. I literally squeeze it onto everything I eat (ask Michael).  I smear it onto crackers, spread it onto cheese, squirt it over pizza, and swirl it into soups. My favorite treat? Biting the end from a pan seared crisp-bottomed soflty steamed  potsticker and filling the hole with Sriracha Chile Sauce before shoveling the entire potsticker into my mouth. 

And.....because I'm the only one in our home who gets off on Sriracha Chili Sauce, I keep the bottle tidy by sucking the green-tipped squirter until it's clean. Yep.  No drips. No mess. No fuss. No waste. Happy camper.

While tossing around ideas for something to take to a potluck affair last weekend, I stumbled across a Ming Tsai recipe for grilled Sriracha shrimp. Bingo. Although his recipe was solid, I tweaked it. I know, right? Tweak Ming Tsai? Shoot me. After preparing his recipe and tasting it, I found it to be overly pungent and acidic, so I tempered the marinade by adding 2 tablespoons of honey to balance the flavor.

I squirted 3/4 cups of Sriracha sauce into a mixing bowl before adding 1/3 cup canola oil, the juice of a lime, 2 minced garlic cloves, salt, and pepper. After whisking the marinade together until it emulsified, I reserved 1/3 of it before pouring the remainder over 1 1/2 pounds of cleaned/deveined 21-30 count jumbo shrimp. I gave the shrimp a quick toss in the marinade and slid them into the refrigerator  for an hour to absorb the rooster bath.

After an hour, I threaded the shrimp onto pre-soaked bamboo skewers and set them aside. I cranked two cast iron grill pans until they smoked, brushed them with  oil, and carefully placed the shrimp skewers onto the sizzling pan ridges. The blazing  heat  from the grill pans immediately seared the outer flesh of the shrimp, causing them splatter and spit Sriracha mist through the smokey air.  Fabulous. After 3-4 minutes on each side, they were caramelized and charred.  The good kind of char. They were coated in a sweet spicy Sriracha candy char.  Think about it.

Knowing the Sriracha shrimp skewers would be eaten at room temperature, I let them cool before brushing them with the reserved marinade for a final flavor boost. In an attempt to tame the fiery rooster heat, I served the skewers over a cooling asian pear salad tossed in a tangy  honey-sweetened yogurt based dressing. Did it calm the flaming cock? Hell, no.

Were the shrimp skewers spicy?  Hell, yes.

The Rooster crowed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spaghetti? Nope.

I've spent the past few weeks testing authentic Dominican Rebublic recipes for a work event that took place last weekend.  Testing recipes has a special meaning in our home. As usual, the testings turned into several Dominican suppers for Michael and me. Thankfully, he was a good sport about our Caribbean culinary journey. Pollo Chicherones (lime-marinated double fried chicken), Pollo Guisada (soffrito-spiced stewed chicken), tostones, rice, and beans became our temporary new norm. While tatsy, after weeks of eating our way through their unique and delicious cuisine, we needed a change of pace. Big time.

I still had a gorgeous Stripetti spaghetti squash from Elmwood Farm plopped inside a giant wooden bowl on our kitchen countertop. Although we adore straight-up roasted and buttered spaghetti squash, I wanted to put a new spin on it, so I used a dozen small littleneck clams and threw together a riff on spaghetti  alle vongole (spaghetti with clams......or, spaghetti squash with clams).

After preheating the oven to 350 degrees, I halved the squash, scooped out the seeds, brushed the flesh with olive oil, seasoned it with salt & pepper, and placed the squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet before sliding them into the oven to roast for an hour.

While the squash baked, I diced a 1/3 cup red bell pepper, 1/3 cup green bell pepper, and 1 small shallot into small diagonals before setting them aside. After a couple of glases of wine, I played around with a few meyer lemons. Shellfish. Lemons. No brainer. I wanted more. I wanted contrasting textures and layers of lemon flavor, so I thinly sliced three meyer lemons into wheels before slicing  one into half moons and setting it aside for a bright acidic garnish.  After cranking the deep fryer to 375 degrees, I lightly dusted the remaining lemon wheels with cornstarch and fried them until golden brown. Sea salt and fresh parsley flecks finished them off.

I wanted another depth of salty crunch for the steamed clams. Although crispy fried  bacon was the obvious choice, I had a few leftover shavings of Browning's Country Ham tucked away in the meat drawer of the refigerator that I picked up at the Kentucky Proud Market  during one of my many trips through the Lexington Civic Center last week. Perfect. I julienned the ham shavings and baked them alongside the squash for 10 minutes until they morphed into glistening country ham brittle.  Perfect.

After an hour, I pulled the spaghetti squash from the oven and used a fork to scrape the delicate threads from the halved shells before tossing them with  melted unsalted butter.

While the squash absorbed its sweet butter bath, I melted 2 tablespoons of butter into an equal amount of olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. When the butter started to brown a bit, I tossed the reserved peppers and shallots into the sizzling butter/oil combination. After they softened, I added 2 tablespoons of minced garlic and deglazed the pan with 1 cup of white wine. When the wine reduced by 1/2, I spiked it with 1 cup of bottled clam juice and tumbled the tiny littleneck clams into the boiling stock. I showered the clams with fresh meyer lemon juice,  fresh parsley, and (on a whim) split grape tomatoes before covering them to steam open.

Within seconds, the briny clams opened their shells upward, revealing their plump sexy meat. Annointed with flavor, I pulled them from the heat.

After twirling the spaghetti squash into large pasta bowls, I placed the steamed clams around the squash and bathed them with the aromatic stock. After nestling the fried lemon wheels between the clams, I scattered minced fresh red and green bell peppers over them to mimic and contrast their sauteed counterparts. To gild the lily, I crumbled the country ham brittle onto each splayed juicy clam.

The clams were sweet and tender. They exploded with flavor, squirting briny juices that mixed with the bright lemony luscious stock. Bits of crisped ham added crunch and saltiness while the peppers provided tiny bursts of wet freshness. The spaghetti squash, bathed with stock, was perfect. The strands were delicate and light, yet bold enough to retain thier  integrity after being slathered and scattered with an array of wonderful crazy ingredients.

Roasted spaghetti squash with clams.


Monday, January 16, 2012

The Indoor Winter Market...

Early last Saturday morning, I planned to quietly slip out of the house for a quick trip to the indoor winter farmers' market.  Although it's a fairly short walk from our house, I decided to drive because it was freezing outside. I grabbed my Martha Stewart market-designated canvas tote bag and drove down our driveway.  After two or three thumpity thumps, I realized I had a flat tire. Great.  Michael was sound asleep.  It was really early, very cold, and I was dressed  like an unkempt overly bundled up character from a wintertime South Park episode. All bundled up with nowhere to go. Bliss.

I cautiously jostled Michael awake, without scaring  him to death in my arctic outfit, and we eventually swapped driveway car positions. I used his car for my 'quick'  market excursion. I loved the serenity of the indoor winter farmers' market. It was calm and quiet with gentle guitar music humming through hidden speakers. It felt great to be back at the market.

Quarles Farm had canned vegetables, salsas, chow-chows, relishes, breads, and coffee cakes. Even at 9:00 a.m. , I couldn't resist a taste of their stewed beef wafting  heavenly aromas from cranked up slow cookers.  Samples? Sure.

Perched on a higher level overlooking the other vendors, Elmwood Farm offered the motherload of the indoor market.  They had the usual suspects; baskets of watermelon radishes, beets, turnips, black radishes, sweet potatoes, collard greens, winter squash, gorgeous celeriac, garlic, organic eggs, and chicken.

 I was totally surprized by bags of fresh English Bordeaux spinach.  Really?  In January?  With deep green lacy leaves highlighted by bright red viens and stems, the spinach  reminded me of  delicate swiss chard. Apparently, it's a hardy variety that grows profusely until temperatures dip into the teens. They actually harvested their my spinach during  our latest snowfall!. It was still damp....from the snow. Wow.

I filled my bag with organic eggs, spinach, Stripetti squash, garlic, and sweet potatoes before driving home. 

It's been a while since our kitchen countertops were covered with market booty. I was giiddy and couldn't wait to play with my stash.

I wanted to try something different with the small sweet potatoes, so I adapted a recipe from Fine Cooking and threw together individual sweet potato and goat cheese galettes.  Crazy, right? Goat cheese and sweet potatoes? Weird,  fascinating, fabulous, and a far cry from sweet potato casserole.

Before getting started, I slushed  through our snow-covered back deck to snip handfuls of  fresh thyme and chives. I pulled out my mandolin and sliced the sweet potatoes into thin rounds. After buttering small individual ramekins, I filled them with alternating layers of sweet potatoes, parmigiano reggiano, crumbled goat cheese, fresh thyme, salt, and pepper before ending with a final layer of goat cheese.

After preheating the oven to 375 degrees, I placed the galettes onto a foil-lined sheet pan and slid them into the oven to bake alongside a pan of  roasting whole grape tomatoes.

Because  the individual galettes were small, I checked on them frequently.  I burn stuff...a lot. Really. Yep. After 45 minutes, they were beautifully browned and tender, so I pulled them from the oven to rest.

Pomegranate Molasses-Glazed Smoked Pork Chops.

I cranked a cast iron grill pan over high heat until it was smoking hot  and tossed two smoked boneless pork chops onto the grill to cook through. While the chops caramelized on the grill, I brushed them generously with a thick ruby red glaze made with 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses, 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar, the juice of a fresh lemon, and a splash of red wine. The glaze seared onto the  pork flesh like molten lava, sealing the juices inside while encrusting it in a sweet tart candied pomegranate shell.  Just before the pork chops combusted, I pulled them from heat and slid them into a low oven to keep warm.

After a glass of wine or three, I gave the snow-kissed spinach a quick rinse before sauteing it in olive oil with minced garlic, shallots, and julienned red bell peppers.

I plated the wilted garlicky spinach and nestled the sweet potato goat cheese galettes into the spinach nests.  After scattering fresh julienned red peppers over the spinach and galettes, I slid the tart sticky pomegranate glazed pork chops onto our plates before tumbling roasted grape tomatoes to the side. Lemon zest and sliced chives finished them off.

Ok. So, here's the deal.  It was a ridiculous riot of flavor. Really. The earthy spinach balanced the tart sweet moistness of the pork chops with bits of pungent garlic, sweet red pepper, and meltingly soft shallots. When sliced, the plump roasted grape tomatoes popped their sweet wet juices over  the pork, creating a bonus sauce. Win. The sweet potato goat cheese galettes were ridiculous.  Oh. My. The cheeses didn't ooze or drip.  It wasn't about that. The galettes were delicate, soft, and sweet. The nutty parmigiano added subtle saltiness while the fresh thyme provided floral undertones. The goat cheese profoundly elevated the simple  galettes to another  level. Suspended between layers of thinly sliced sweet potatoes, the soft goat cheese had the mouthfeel of tangy soft marshmallows. Air pillows. Clouds. Fabulous.


Check out the indoor winter farmers' market.

It's full of surprizes.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Glitter Dust

The broken ornaments have been swept away and the glitter dust has settled on the holiday season.  It was a whirlwind  run with  head-spinning action, eating, drinking, and merry making.

Although  it's over, reminders of the Christmas carnage still dot our kitchen counters. Gifted bottles of red wine, corked and uncorked, stand at attention like a a vintner's Stonehenge.

Michael and I don't drink a lot of red wine. When we have leftover wine, I usually cook with it.

On the final day of my short holiday break, I used a bottle of Kendall Jackson Merlot for a slow and lanquid braised beef bourguignon. Typically, I'm not fussy with the details of beef bourguinon.  I'll brown some beef,  deglaze the pot with red wine, add beef stock, toss in a few vegetables, and throw it into the oven to bubble away. A few days ago, I felt frisky and had an entire day to putz around in the kitchen. As a final curtsy and nod to the end of a fabulous holiday season, I embraced the details of cooking a good beef bourguignon.

The method was fairly straightforward.  Orderly steps and mise en place were key.
Marinate. Brown. Braise. Garnish.

I sliced 1 1/2 pounds of well marbled beef chuck into large cubes and doused it with a full bottle of Kendall Jackson Merlot. After adding fresh thyme, bay leaves, chopped carrots, onions, and garlic, I slid the red wine beef bath into the refrigerator to marinate for a few hours.

After 5  hours in the fridge, I brought the purple wine-tinted meat to room temperature and patted it dry. 

I sliced a few pieces of thick cut bacon into lardons, browned them in olive oil until crisp, and removed them to drain.  While the sizzling bacon fat was still spitting hot, I browned the beef in batches until the fat melted away and the flesh was beautifully caramelized.  I removed the beef to drain before tossing the marinated vegetables into the smoking crimson-stained bacon fat.

Once the vegetables browned, I slid the beef (with their juices) back into the pot, added a tablespoon of tomato paste, and let it saute until the tomato paste coated the beef.  When the tomato paste caramelized, I flambeed the mix with 1/3 cup brandy,  deglazed the pot with the reserved marinade, let it reduce by half, and added beef stock to barely cover the beef.  I brought the stew to a boil, reduced it a simmer, covered the pot, and slid it into a 325 degree oven to braise for 3 hours.

Michael and I adore eating  beef stew, beef in red wine, or beef bourguignon served over pasta. Specifically, perfectly cooked egg noodles.  Although I can make pasta in my sleep, I've never attempted egg noodles.  That was the challenge.  

While the bourguignon simmered in the oven, I made pasta.

I haven't followed a pasta recipe  in years. By trusting my instincts and feeling the dough, I usually know when it's ready to roll. On any given day, depending on weather conditions, the measurements for pasta dough can vary.

I sifted 2 cups of Weisenberger Mill unbleached all purpose flour onto a large wooden cutting board.  After forming a well in the center of the four, I added 1 whole egg, 2 egg yolks, a pinch of salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and a 1/3 cup water.  Using three fingers, I gently mixed the eggs with a bit of the flour before gradually pulling the remaining  flour into the center and mixing it until a loose, somewhat sticky, ball formed.  After adding a few drops of water to bring it together, I kneaded the dough for several minutes, formed it into a ball, covered it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 30 minutes to allow the glutens to develope.

After clamping my pasta roller to the side of the kitchen island and preparing the working area, I was ready to roll. I cut the dough into thirds and floured it.  Starting with the lowest setting, I passed the dough through the rollers several times, increasing the setting after each pass until I reached the final setting and the pasta sheets were paper thin.

Freestyle.  After allowing the pasta sheets to dry for  a few minutes, I cut them into 4 inch squares before slicing the squares into 1/2 inch ribbons. I wasn't sure how to form egg noodles, so I simply wrapped the ribbons around a wooden spoon handle and slid them off onto floured dish towels. Unconventional. Not egg noodles. Not even close.  What the hell.  Who cared?  I finished rolling my curly pasta noodles and set them aside to dry.

Nothing can fill a home with warmth like a long simmering braise. Within an hour, amazing aromas seeped into every crevice of our old house, covering  the windows with delicate steam.  Heaven.

After 3 hours, I pulled the bourguignon from the oven to rest before removing the beef to finish the sauce. Classsically, the sauce is thickened with a beuure manie (kneaded butter and flour).  I wanted a bit more body and texture, so I pureed the braised vegetables in the beefy red wine stock and finished it with a few pats of butter for lusciousness. After tumbling the tender meat back into the sauce to warm through,  I pulled everything else together.

I brushed off a handful of small cremini mushrooms and tossed them into a hot skillet with butter, olive oil, and minced garlic. When they turned golden brown, I added blanched pearl onions, fresh parsley, salt, pepper, and let them rip until the onions were caramelized.

I dropped the pasta into heavily salted boiling water to cook for 7 minutes while Michael and I finished our glasses of wine.

Bring the beef.

I drained the steaming noodles, tossed them with butter, plated them, and topped them with gorgeous shreds of beef bourguignon.  After sprinking  the reserved crisp bacon lardons over the top, I scattered the sauteed mushrooms and pearl onions around our plates.

To balance the richness of the stew, I served a peppery watercress, artichoke, and celery leaf salad, dressed simply with fresh lemon juice, olice oil, salt, and pepper. Bright. Clean. Fresh.

The meat was ridiculously moist, tender, and deeply infused with the earthy tannins of the red wine. The buttery rich sauce dripped from the uncutous meat and oozed through the noodles until it puddled on our plates. Crisp bacon added salty crunch to the soft mushrooms and candied onions. Texture. Balance.
Crazy good.

At the same moment (without even noticing it) Michael and I both had moved the  beef slices to the sides of our plates. Although the sensual succulent meat was fabulous, it was all about the pasta, onions, bacon, mushrooms, and sauce. The noodles were perfectly al dente. Velvety and to the tooth.  Brilliant. After absorbing the rich sauce, they were meaty and soft with a wonderful mouthfeel.

Best batch of pasta I've ever conjured up.

I had a dream day in the kitchen. The world was my oyster. No deadlines. No worries. No glitter.

Just fun.

And good food.