16 February, 2012 § 2 Comments
Perhaps it is due to the weather being sunny and then quickly returning to a wintery grey with freezing temperatures that put me in a stew frame of mind. Or, perhaps it is simply that I love a sticky and unctuous lamb stew on any night of the week, regardless of the weather. Either way, this stew makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside with the added benefit of leaving enough leftovers so that both the hubby and I can eat it for lunch the next day and freeze another serving for the emergency stew craving.
This stew takes it’s inspiration from my Moorish ancestors, adding dried apricots, cumin and tomatoes; then serving it over cous cous. The apricot is the real surprise in this dish. I use an unsweetened and unsulfered variety. This lends a richness to the dish rather than the cloying sweetness you get with the sweetened and sulfered apricots. I really love serving this dish with Cous Cous not only because it soaks up all the lovely sauce but because it cooks so quickly and let me be honest, after cooking a stew for hours, I want something fast to serve it with.
3/4 Lbs Lamb bones
3/4 Lbs Lamb shoulder (cut into cubes for stewing)
1 Rib of celery
4 Cloves Garlic
25-30 Cremini Mushrooms
1 Tsp Cumin
1 Pack Diced Tomatoes (I prefer these to the tin but the tin works fine)
1/2 Cup Dried Apricots, unsulfered and unsweetened
4 Sprigs of Rosemary
1.5 Liters of Boiling Water
Salt and Pepper to taste
Roughly chop the Carrot, finely slice the celery, dice the onion, crush the garlic, stem and break up the mushrooms and season the lamb with salt and pepper. Set to one side. Place a large Dutch oven or stock pot over high heat and allow to get nice and hot.
Add the lamb pieces, both bone and shoulder, to the dry pan. There is no need for oil here as the lamb is fatty enough. The trick here is to let the lamb be for a minute or two before you turn it. If the pot was hot enough it will not stick, and if it does stick a bit, it doesn’t matter, you will be scraping it off the bottom of the pan anyway.
Turn it around so that it is brown on all sides and then remove to a plate. The idea here is simply to brown, not to cook through.
Next add the mushrooms to the pot. Saute until they have given up most of their liquid. If they get too dry you may add a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. Do not add salt to the mushrooms at this point as that will draw out the liquid in the mushrooms and they won’t fry up, instead simmering in their own juices which defeats the purpose of cooking them separately.
Once they have browned and are fairly cooked through, remove them to a plate.
Now, add the onions, celery and carrots to the pot and reduce heat to medium. Season with salt and pepper to help the onions release their liquid and begin to sweat. After 3-5 minutes the onions should be soft and translucent.
Add the lamb and mushrooms back into the pot along with the cumin, garlic and rosemary.
Stir together and then add the tomatoes and water. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for roughly 1 1/2 hours.
Add the apricots and allow to simmer for another 30-40 minutes or until the meat is falling off the bones and the shoulder meat is super tender.
Serve over cous cous and apply to face.
14 February, 2012 § 1 Comment
I was lucky enough to spend two summers singing in Italy while I was in college and as you can imagine I ate a lot of pasta. Although it made me sick at times, I absolutely loved it. The sauces tasted nothing like what I was used to back home and the pizza wasn’t like any pizza I had ever had, there was a freshness to it all that I had never experienced in the United States of Sysco. Upon my return to the US I craved those fresh flavors and wasn’t able to find them. As you would imagine, I was very upset 5 year old. I wanted my spaghetti with pomodoro sauce damn it! Thankfully my mom had locked me in my room at the first sign of a tantrum when I was little, so I didn’t throw the tantrum most Americans throw upon returning to the US. I did however, decide to figure out how to make the sauce I craved. It took some time and cost a lot of tomatoes their lives, but in the end I persevered and came to this recipe! Over a decade after my return I am sharing the recipe with you. Sadly, I can’t get the same amazing tomatoes they have in Italy and the ones in the can are not a suitable substitute for this sauce, not even the imported kind. Tomatoes that are in a can have been cooked as a means to preserve them and as such don’t have the freshness required for a fresh pomodoro. However, if you are ever lucky enough to grow your own tomatoes and have a surplus at the end of the season this is a perfect sauce for it. You also should call me, cuz I need more friends like you.
Given the fresh simplicity of the pomodoro sauce I decided to serve it with pork chops simply seasoned and garnished with basil leaves. This dish is meant to serve 4 but if you are feeding big eaters it will only go for two.
8 oz Dried pasta
10-12 Roma Tomatoes (about 3 lbs)
1/3 Cup olive oil (In Italy they use more but it makes me sick and frankly, this is enough)
1 bunch basil ripped by hand (if you cut it use a sharp knife so it won’t bruise)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Red pepper flake and salt to taste
3/4 pound thinly sliced boneless pork chops (4 steaks)
6 basil leaves
Salt and Pepper to taste
A note on timing: This is a relatively simple meal to make and takes well under 30 minutes to cook once the tomatoes are peeled. That said, if you want to get the meal to the table hot the timing is essential. Here is the timing/steps I recommend. Peel and crush the tomatoes, assemble the pork chops, place pasta pot to boil, begin frying the pork chops, add pasta to the water once it starts boiling, begin sauce, keep checking on the pork and move to serving tray when cooked, two minutes before the pasta is perfect add the basil, a minute before the pasta is perfect add it to the sauce and allow it to finish cooking in the pasta sauce adding reserved pasta water as needed. This should make the meat perfectly rested and ready to serve just as the pasta is finished cooking. If you are using thick pork chops you will want to start them before you place the pasta water to boil.
Place a pot of water over high heat.
While the water is comming to a boil score the tomatoes with a cross on the bottom, this will help them peel easier. Fill a bowl with cold water and ice and set near your pot.
Next, transfer to the ice water and allow to cool. This is not only so that you can handle them without burning yourself, but it actually helps the peels come off more easily. Let sit for 30-40 seconds.
Once all the tomatoes are peeled you can slice them in half and remove the seeds if you like. I prefer not to do this because I don’t find that the seeds really add a negative flavor and I enjoy the flavor the tomato water brings to the sauce. However, if you don’t like the seeds, scrape them out.
Then, either dice or crush the tomatoes with your hands. I like crushing them as it reminds me of the “brains” bowl on halloween when you were a kid, and I also just like playing with my food and getting dirty.
Set the tomatoes aside.
Bring water to boil in a pot and add the pasta noodles. The pasta should cook for 1 minute less than necessary in the boiling water. This means that if your package states to cook it for 8 minutes, cook it for 7. Strain the pasta, reserving some of the pasta water, and add it to the sauce.
Place a skillet over high heat, add the olive oil and the red pepper flakes. Toast/fry the pepper flakes until they are aromatic being careful to not let them get black. About 15-20 seconds.
Quickly add the garlic, stir once or twice, letting cook for no more than a 10 seconds and then add the tomatoes.
Let the tomatoes cook down.
Then, 1 minutes before you are going to add the pasta add the basil.
Once the pasta is a minute away from doneness strain it, reserving some of the pasta water and add the pasta to the sauce, stir together and allow the pasta to finish cooking in the sauce. If it gets too dry add some of the reserved pasta water.
Season the pork with salt and pepper on both sides. Next take the basil leaves and apply to the pork. You will see when you hold the leaf that there is a dull side and a shiny side. The trick is to apply the shiny side to the pork. That way it will stick without any “glue”.
Fry the pork chops in a hot pan with a little cooking spray. Begin cooking them with the basil side down. Allow them to cook for 3-5 minutes or until they have achieved a nice golden crust. Flip and reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the pork has reached the desired internal temperature.
It is important to let these rest before you eat them. The timing I have given above should give you enough time to rest the pork but if your chops are larger than mine and take more time, do not skip the resting phase. Pork can be very dry and I find that it benefits more from a rest than even a steak will. So… rest your pork, OR I WILL KILL YOU!!
All that’s left to do now is to serve with a good parmesan cheese and apply to face.
11 February, 2012 § 2 Comments
Ladies and Gentlemen, Hell has frozen over!! I have managed to make a basic chicken stock. Not the brown stock from and earlier post, in where I admitted my shameful lack of kitchen prowess, but a clear, pure essence of chicken. I have reclaimed my cavewoman birthright of knowing how to boil water and bones to make something delicious. I feel like a champion!! I am so excited I must share this with all of you!
A few notes on the recipe:
Some of my previous attempts at making chicken stock ended with a liquid that was a bit funky. I usually save my carcases and freeze them so I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the ingredients may not have been the freshest and that might have contributed to the unpleasant flavors. However, even when I bought chicken wings for stock it often came out 70s funky. So as I do whenever I have a question that needs answering, I did my research and discovered that in most Asian cultures, they boil the bones, strain them and then make stock with them. Sort of like a 3-5 minute pre-boil. This method, it turns out, not only removes the funk, but almost all need for skimming as there is hardly any scum on the top of the pot.
Another question I wanted to answer was if there were parts of the chicken that were better for stock making. I read 100s of recipes, one of which was Ina Garten’s recipe calling for the use of three whole chickens! Cooking like this, no wonder she’s barefoot, she spent all her money on wasteful recipes! Aside from this, most people seemed to use wings, backs and necks. Seeing as backs and necks were cheapest, I went with that. Here I used a little over 4 pounds and got great results, however, I think adding a pound or two would make for an even richer broth.
As is usually the case when I make stock, I do not use any aromatics or seasoning. I can appreciate that this is likely what has held me back in my previous attempts, however, I feel that it is the right thing to do with stock that is not being made with a particular dish in mind. My reasons are few, yet valid. First and most importantly, I do not know to what use I will put the stock, and ramen, pho and cock au vin all have very different base flavor profiles. Secondly, I feel that pre-seasoning your stock does not allow you to control the salt and overall seasoning of your dish in as precise a manner. I have vivid memories of sauces made too salty by reduction. Finally, I feel that if you season your stock your food all begins to have a similar flavor. While this might be good for a restaurant that is trying to achieve consistency amongst its menu, it is not good for the cook experimenting with new flavors and trying to expand their cooking palate. If you know what you will be using the stock for and would like a more traditional, french style stock, you may add an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 stalk of celery and 1 large carrot along with herbs of your choosing, tied in a bouquet garni so as to be easily removed. Here, however, you will find a basic, essence of chicken that may be seasoned a la minut; because of this, It is more a technique than a recipe. So, without further ado, here is my victorious recipe, feel free to bask in the glow with me.
4-6 Lbs of chicken bones (I used backs and necks here but wings work great.)
3 liters of water (or however much it takes to fill your stock pot and submerge your bones)
1 large stockpot
1 smaller pot (your next largest pot)
Fill the stockpot with the 3 liters of water and place over medium heat. Fill the smaller pot with water and bring to a boil. Once the water has come to a boil, add the the chicken pieces to the smaller pot allowing them to boil for 3-5 minutes. Depending on the size of your smaller pot you may have to do this in batches. Once the bones have been boiled remove them from the boiling water and drain them well. Next add them to the large stock pot.
Bring the stockpot to a boil and immediately turn down to a bare simmer. Cover and let cook for 5 hours, checking regularly, skimming any skum that might raise to the top and adding more water so as to keep the bones submerged. While you should check on your stock to ensure that the water level is not too low and that the heat has not raised the stock above a simmer, you do not want to stir it frequently, if at all. Doing so will actually make your stock more cloudy and more importantly it will make the flavor muddier. Leave it be and it will reward you. You will know the stock is ready when you can snap the bones easily with your fingers.
Once the stock is ready, place a fine sieve over a bowl large enough to hold your stock. If you do not have a fine sieve you can use a colander lined with a few layers of cheese cloth as I have done here. Transfer to the refrigerator and allow to cool over night. Once the fat has solidified you may skim it and transfer the stock to it’s final resting place/vesel. Personally, I like to fill zip top freezer bags and lay them flat in the freezer as it makes it easier to thaw the sauce later on.
If for some reason the fat does not solidify well and you can’t seem to skim it off properly, you may freeze the stock. The fat will rise to the top and the whole thing will freeze, it is then very easy to scrape it off. If you need to use the stock right away I would suggest investing in one of those little fat separaters that look like measuring cups with the spout coming from the bottom. They have worked very well for me in a pinch.
9 February, 2012 § Leave a Comment
When we were much younger my father used to take us frequently to an Argentinian restaurant in Miami, and I think it is here that I learned to love beef. I also learned to love the piquant sauce they put on their meat called Chimichurri. It is a tangy sauce of parsley, garlic, red chili pepper, vinegar and a little olive oil which is much greater than the sum of its parts. In our house we spread it on everything, from fish to beef to bread; it also makes a great pasta sauce should you have some of it left over from a grill session.
This really comes out better if it’s made by hand, I think it has to do with the mouth feel of the rougher, less uniformly chopped parsley, that is why I chose this method for the post; however, I admit I am lazy and most times I just make it in the food processor. That said it is not hard to chop the parsley by hand, it just requires patience and a little practice. More importantly, the lack of a food processor should not be an excuse for not making this dish. If you are going to use the food processor, remove the parsley, garlic and pepers from the processor before adding the liquid and seasoning to taste. Either way it will turn out delicious!
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
3 cloves of garlic
1 red pepper (you can use more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
1 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin works best)
1 tsp salt
Chop the parsley very finely, crush and mince the garlic and finely chop the chili. If you are using a food processor you would add the chili and garlic first and whiz up, then add the parsley and pulse it 15-20 times, or until the parsley is at the consistency you see in the picture or finer.
Place the herb mixture in a bowl and add the vinegar, oil and salt. Taste your sauce and adjust the quantities of vinegar, oil and salt until you reach your desired flavor. Sometimes you will need more vinegar or olive oil, it all depends on the potency of your vinegar, the strength of your parsley and how tangy you like your chimichurri. The finished product should be a very thick sauce as pictured above.
7 February, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This little french cafe is tucked away in a suburban shopping mall and is the last place on earth you would expect to find such magnificent french pastries and sandwiches. Looks can be deceiving and in a city obsessed with coffee, where you can find a coffee shop on every street corner, this cafe stands out in many ways; it makes great coffee, has excellent pastries, wonderful sandwiches, all organic ingredients and above all a charming owner who is very involved in the business and seems to take great pride in what she does.
The coffee at Le Rendez-Vous is that wonderful, bitter coffee that you get when the beans are roasted well but not burnt. When I spoke with the owner about her coffee she said she was trying to replicate what she loves about drinking coffee in Italy and I think she has done a fair job of accomplishing this. They have decided to go with coffee from Cafe Vivace, a local roaster, which seems to go along well with the organic nature of her business and who does indeed roast a great bean. The coffee is treated with respect at Le Rendez-Vous and they make excellent cappuccinos and cafe cremes. You are actually able to taste the coffee through the milk which to me is always the sign of a well roasted, pulled and mixed coffee.
One of the nicest things about Le Rendez-Vous is that while the coffee is great, the food is better. For me, this means that if I am at the cafe to study or read I am able to have lunch and coffee in the same place without having to compromise the quality of either. The sandwiches are made on some of the best french bread I have had outside of Paris and the pastries are to die for. The Soleil Sandwich and Parisien are two of my favorites. The proportion of filling to bread is perfectly in balance and what one would expect from a french cafe sandwich and the ingredients are top notch. My favorite however, are her patries, amongst the best are the Almond Croisant, Pain au Chocolate and my absolute favorite, the Chouquettes. The latter are little hollow pastries made of Choux dough that are like our cream puffs but unfilled, then sprinkled with pearl sugar; they are light, not too sweet and incredibly addictive. These are sold in little bags of 10 just as you would find them in Paris.
Finally one can not write of this place without commenting on the owners. They are a brother and sister team who came from a line of bakers in Paris and decided to move Redmond and open a french cafe. The sister seems to be incredibly proud of her cafe and is often seen working the front of the house, handing out free chouquettes and chatting up the customers. While she will remember you when you return, she is gracious and warm to all her customers making you feel instantly welcome.
All these things, partnered with what seems to be the entire French expat community lunching there and speaking in rapid french, almost makes you forget you are in a strip mall in Redmond and transports you, if only for a moment, to an idealized Parisian Cafe. I am so grateful they decided to come to Redmond and open this wonderful cafe and I plan on becoming a frequent customer, if for nothing more than the chouquettes and a mini vacation.
4 February, 2012 § 1 Comment
When I was much younger and had crushes on boys who didn’t like me, my mom always consoled me by saying “It is better it didn’t work, he wasn’t Cuban, so he wouldn’t understand why you need a pastelito de guayaba.” She was of course kidding but it did, at least on some level, ring true; I do love those damn pastries!! So when I first took Tom, my midwestern boyfriend, now husband, to Miami and he fell in love with these I saw it as a sign!! He understood why I needed a pastelito de guayaba!! He was the ONE!!!
I have a million memories of summers spent in Miami with my family where my dad would call me into his room and say “Emmy, bring me a pastelito de guayaba from Gilberts” and so I would have to go out and drive to casa del coño to get him one*. I would of course get myself one, and maybe a croquetica, but that’s another post. So of course when Tom and I go to Miami, we drive to Gilberts and get ourselves pastelitos de guayaba. Here in Seattle though, I can’t seem to find them anywhere and Tom gets quite the craving for them; esta tan aplatanado!** I tried making them with guava paste and puff pastry at home and they came out ok. Sadly, try as I might I couldn’t get the glaze on the top that I LOVE on the pastelitos from back home. That was, until I added a teaspoon of sugar to the egg wash. That was the trick and now I make the best damn pastelitos. The puff pastry is flaky and crispy and the interior is gooey and sticky and sweet. I find that the brand of puff pastry doesn’t make as much a difference as does the brand of guava paste, if you can find it, go with Goya.
* Casa del coño is a Miami Cuban saying that means “very far away”
** Estar aplatanado is another Miami Cuban saying. It translates literally into “to be very bananaed” but means to be a non-Cuban who acts like a Cuban. Usually the saying is that Cuban wives aplatan their husbands. I guess I have succeeded
Guava Paste – about 4 ounces
1 Sheet of store bought puff pastry (here I am using Trader Joes brand)
1 Tsp sugar
Pre-heat oven to 400F
Crack egg into a little bowl
Add sugar and mix together
Bring puff pastry to room temperature and place on cutting board
Cut pastry in 4 equal squares
Fold over and press pastry together to close. I like to use a fork to make a pretty pattern and ensure a good seal.
Video “How to assemble a Pastelito de Guayaba”:
Apply to face.
3 February, 2012 § Leave a Comment
When I was at Pike Place Market earlier this week I stopped by Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and scored some Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk cheese that was slightly funkier than normal. As my choice of verb indicates I have a love of cheese that borders on addiction! So it was with gluttonous joy that I brought home half a small wheel of it and stashed it in my refrigerator. Over the next 24 hours I could hear its creamy siren song beckoning me from the dairy drawer. I have been trying to be virtuous lately, both in an effort to take off some weight, as well as to continue on the path to healthy digestion. Therefore, I found myself contemplating ways of building a whole dinner around it that highlighted the cheese, maintained my recent virtuousness and above all, silenced the damned cheese.
In this dish the wonderful bitterness of Kale is well complimented by the creamy texture and slight muskiness of the cheese, giving the rather bland chicken breast a magnificent flavor. The key in this recipe is to use chicken cutlets, basically a chicken breast cut in half lengthwise and lightly pounded, and to not over cook the chicken. If you do not like funky cheese you can make this with a standard Brie, although I will lose a bit of respect for you. Another, more respectable option, would be a fresh chèvre.
3 Chicken Breast Cutlets (roughly 3/4 pound)
4 Cups Chopped Kale (I used baby kale but any will work)
1 Tsp Garlic (about 1 large or 2 small cloves minced)
3 Ounces Stinky Cheese sliced into three even slices.
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450F
Place kale into a dry skillet over high heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until the kale has reduced in size significantly.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Wipe out pan and place back over medium heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray and saute chicken 3 minutes on both sides or until the chicken has been browned on the outside but is not all the way cooked all the way through.
Transfer the cutlets to a half sheet tray lined with aluminum foil and top with Kale and cheese. Place into oven and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165F.
Serve with a salad and apply to face.