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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Shakshuka

I've seen and made multiple versions of the eggs-poached-in-chunky-sauce meal...one with a bed of sauteed spinach and mushrooms, another with caramelized shallots and a marsala-beef consomme reduction, among others.  This one is a recipe from the cookbook Jerusalem by Ottolenghi that uses a stovetop-simmered pepper-tomato sauce as the poaching bed.  A similar sauce that would probably also work well for cooking eggs this way is this roasted red pepper sauce.

The original recipe calls for harissa, a super-spicy pepper paste, that I don't have on hand.  I used some minced jalapeno and ginger from my freezer stash to bring a little heat and depth of flavor to the sauce.  If you like things hotter, use more or hunt down some harissa.

To chop your pepper finely enough for this dish, I highly recommend using the food processor.  Pulse quickly and stop short of pureeing them.  If you use canned tomatoes instead of fresh, drain them very well to shorten the cooking time needed to thicken the sauce.

I like how quickly the sauce went together and how well this recipe lends itself well to prepping ahead and freezing ahead.  You can chop all the ingredients for the sauce ahead of time and fridge them, or make the sauce completely in advance.  If you're going to freeze the sauce, you can even freeze it in individual portions for a quick meal-for-one.  Just bring the sauce back up to a simmer (from its frozen state even!), crack an egg into the sauce, cover and simmer 8-10 minutes.  Probably this thaw-and-poach process could even be managed in microwave...I don't know offhand how long to zap an egg to poach it, but if you do, let me know!

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Faux-grilled Alabama Chicken

I love how food tastes when it's been grilled over charcoal.  I hate how much time and cleanup a charcoal grill takes though (not to mention what a PITA it is to control temperature for longer than 15 minutes' worth of cooking), and lately even thinking about it makes me want to order a pizza.

So I've been fiddling around with using a cast iron grill pan in the oven to get the same kind of char you get from grilling without the grill.  I've had some dud attempts and some successes, and I think I've found a method that makes me happy.

Please note I'm using small whole chickens, 3 to 4 lbs each.  If you've got a bigger bird, or chicken pieces, the cooking times will of course be different.

The trick seems to be preheating the cast iron pan in the oven to a screaming high heat, leaving the heat up for a part of the cooking time, turning it down to a regular roasting temperature for the bulk of the cooking, flipping the chicken halfway through and bumping the temperature back up (to make up for the heat lost by opening the oven door while you flip the bird) and finishing with a quick broil if desired.

It sounds fussy, but it's a kind of fussy that I prefer over the fussy of the grill.

This particular recipe is adapted from Cook's Illustrated.  I'm less and less a fan of sugary, dark barbecue sauces.  This subtly sweet-and-spicy mayonnaise-based sauce is a new one for me and I quite liked it.


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Monday, May 13, 2013

Creole Risotto and How Your Christmas Lights Help You Prep Ahead


Finished dish with chicken and peas
I have a new cookbook (my Mother's Day gift to myself)!  It's a vintage cookbook called Scientific Cooking with Scientific Methods by Sarah E. Woodworth Craig, published in 1911 by Ellis Publishing Co (Battle Creek, MI).

It's chock-full of adverts for Vonnegut Hardware in Indianapolis (yes, *that* Vonnegut, though Vonnegut grandp√®re rather than Vonnegut grand-fils) and "scientific" culinary gems like, "Brain workers want to take easily digested foods, such as eggs, fish, etc. The laborer needs quantity, and can eat of corned beef, cabbage, corn bread and brown bread, and not overtax his digestion..."

As always, I wonder what of our current "known scientific truths" will seem quaint and outmoded in a few decades.

Outmoded though their musings on digestion are, I LOVE recipes from the pre-processed foods era.  In this instance, I'm combining one of the recipes with a previous Mother's Day gift (my rice cooker) and streamlining the recipe.

Rice cooker in foreground,
Christmas lights timer in background
I've been really into using my rice cooker lately as a prep-ahead tool in combination with...wait for it...my Christmas light timer.  Most rice recipes (the vegetarian ones) can sit out at room temp for a few hours before cooking without ill effects, but really can't sit around on "warm" all day without getting burned.  Enter the timer...  Rice cookers will generally cook white rice in 15-20 minutes, plus a few minutes cool-down time or brown rice in about 45 minutes with the same cool-down period.  Count backwards from your preferred meal time, and set your timer to start at the appropriate time.  Don't forget to set the rice cooker itself to "cook" even though it won't be kicking on for awhile.

Now the recipe...the original recipe calls for making a sauce of onions, pepper, mushrooms, sherry and tomatoes separate from the rice.  I sauteed the veg, added a splash of wine and added all this to the rice cooking liquid.  I used all mushrooms rather than a mixture of onion/pepper/mushroom because that's what I had on hand.  Use more veggies, less veggies, whatever works for you.

Also, be sure to use all the liquid called for even if it doesn't seem to jive with the rice cooker's notion of appropriate rice-to-liquid ratio...the volume of the sauteed veggies throws things off.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Pepperoni-spiced seitan & veg packets

This is one post that can be read for 2 distinct recipes...the first is a dinner-in-a-packet recipe that works for both vegetarian and carnivorous proteins, and the second is for a pretty darn tasty (and new to us) vegetarian protein called seitan.

Say what??  Seitan (it's pronounced say-tahn).  It's made from wheat gluten (which is wheat flour with most of the starch removed...I don't know how they do this, but you buy it in "specialty flours" part of your baking aisle) which is the proteiny part of the grain.  You combine it with some flavoring ingredients and liquid, then shape it and simmer it in broth or bake it to make a product that can be used as a vegetarian protein substitute in any number of ways.

I really like it for two reasons...1) the wheat gluten is a little pricey (about $7/lb.) but one bag makes several batches and it winds up being a very inexpensive vegetarian protein (only beans are cheaper), and 2) you can throw it together out of pantry and refrigerator staples (beans are also a good pantry staple, but I know a lot of folks don't care for beans...seitan is a toothy vegetarian protein in the vein of frozen tofu or tempeh).  It is also a soy-free vegetarian protein, if one wants to avoid soy.

Seitan takes some time to make in the first place...you either have to simmer it for an hour or so or bake it (my preferred method) for 60-90 minutes, depending on the exact recipe.  But you can make several batches at once and freeze them for future use.  A good basic (i.e. seitan with a pretty plain, versatile flavor profile) recipe can be found here (there's also a recipe for using vital wheat gluten as an egg-replacement binder in bean burgers on this site...that recipe is good too!)

I've used seitan in stirfries, either just plain cut-up or "velveted".  I've grilled slices of it after basting with barbecue sauce.  And I've made these packets with it.  I've also made the packets with actual sausage and they're good both ways. For the purposes of these packets, I like the following seitan recipe which mashes up this seitan recipe with the seasonings called for in the pepperoni recipe in Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie.

Something that is obvious in hindsight is that wheat gluten is what gives bread its structure as it rises.  I prefer baking seitan to simmering it and you need to make sure to keep the seitan dough compressed by wrapping it very well in foil to keep it dense and chewy.  At least two full wraps around with the ends twisted or folded off.  If you wrap it so the ends of the foil overlap by just a little bit, the seitan will rise (like bread), bust out of the foil, make a mess and lose the dense, toothy texture you're after.  I screw up so you don't have to.

Last note...seitan is often a vegan recipe.  The recipes above call for something called nutritional yeast to provide a salty umami depth of flavor and a hit of vitamin B12 in the absence of all animal-derived products.  I'm not particularly invested in keeping my seitan 100% vegan, so I use parmesan cheese (the kind out of a can) instead of nutritional yeast.  It's been working for me.  Also note, if you are cooking for a vegan, the velveting process uses egg whites and will be not be suitable.

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Gumbo Z'herbes

I saw the original recipe in the May 2013 issue of Food & Wine magazine.  It's a meat 'n' greens stew, and takes advantage of all the tasty spring greens hitting the markets (or coming up in your garden) at this time of year.  As a stew, you can make it in advance very nicely...the first time I tried this recipe, I cooked it fully in the morning and put it in the crockpot to keep warm until we got home that night.  It also freezes beautifully.

Btw, "z'herbes" is shortening of "fines herbes"...a mix of fragrant, flavorful green herbs such as tarragon, rosemary, thyme, parsley, lavender and so on.  It's pronounced "zayrb", if you're a French linguistics nerd like me ;)

The OR calls for particular amounts of particular greens and particular amounts of particular cuts of pork...I think of it more as guidelines ;)  I LOVE that I can throw in that half a head of cabbage that's left after making cabbage 3 different ways for a regular side dish, the rest of the collard greens left over after making sausage-stuffed collards, the nubbin of romaine lettuce left over from 2 salads.  Use turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, chard, kale, spinach, collards, spring mix, romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce...about 3 lbs. of whatever is green in your fridge or garden.

And you can throw in handfuls of oddball greens like carrot tops (if you get carrots with the frondy greens still attached), second-year parsley (oddly, my parsley survived our winter and is coming back up and preparing to bolt as biennial plants do), watercress or arugula that you scavenge out of your early garden.

Clockwise from left: Ham hock, chopped hamsteak
with thyme, andouille
I'm also using up the last of our locally-raised hog.  When you buy a whole animal like that, you wind up with...well...weird bits.  Bacon ends.  Bony sirloin roasts.  Smoked hambones.  Tiny pork chops that are too little to serve by themselves.  I'm throwing all that stuff in this stew.  You can use fresh pork shoulder or loin, smoked pork, sausage links (andouille is traditional, and is the only thing I've bought special for this stew), ham hocks, hamsteak, chopped ham, neck bones...about 3 lbs. total.

When you chop up all those greens, it's a LOT.  You'll need an 8 quart or larger pot.  And then you only add 2 quarts of water to that pile.  It seems like too little.  It's not.  Trust me.  The greens cook down and give off their own liquid to make a flavorful broth that the stew is built on.  You do not want too much water here.  Here's how to tell if your tiny amount of water is boiling when you can't see it under a mess o' greens...put the pot lid on, turn the heat to high, and when there's condensation on the underside of the lid, you're good to go.

Lastly, the OR calls for file powder which I don't keep in my pantry.  File is a flavoring as well as thickening ingredient.  I add extra flour to compensate for the lack of file.  Use 2 tbsp flour instead of 4 tbsp and 1 1/2 tsp file powder if you want.  You can always add some beurre manie at the end if your stew seems too watery.

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