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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Southern Nouveau

 The  most recent cookbook I have been perusing is The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook which is stock full of down home goodness with the twists of the nouveau while remaining loyal to generations of Southern delicacies. Dishes range from novel takes on the humble peanut in the form of Boiled Peanut Soup and Boiled Peanut and Sorghum Swirl Ice Cream to a paean of Dixie classics like red velvet cake, gumbo, fried chicken, and cornbread. This is an excellent offering from Low-country innovators well worth your time. And an added bonus I picked it up at the library, so you might give that a shot.

Reading some of the descriptions and recipes brought me to an adaptation of Carolina Mustard Barbecue Chicken (not barbecued, instead oven braised) and an Airy Jalapeno Cornbread. In the mood for another Southern twist I concocted a Crispy Chickpea Salad with Maple Mustard Dressing.

Faux Carolina Mustard Barbecue Chicken
Sometimes grilling is not an option, but why give up barbecue.

3 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 C white wine (dry riesling would be good)
2 T olive oil
sel gris salt to taste 

1 C yellow mustard 
3 T Roses Lime Juice
1/4 C light brown sugar
2 T ketchup
1 T olive oil (or lard would make a fantastic supplement)
1 T black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
a small pinch of cayenne pepper (or a dash of hot sauce would suffice)

Mix barbecue sauce thoroughly and cook on the stovetop until thickened to your taste. If you are pressed for time the sauce can be heated in the microwave to thicken.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle a fine mist of salt over chicken thighs and place in a heated cast iron skillet with oil skin side down. Baste chicken thoroughly on under side and cook for about 3 minutes on medium heat. Flip chicken and baste thoroughly on skin side and cook until a nice gold-yellow color. Transfer skillet to oven, add wine and cook about 35 minutes, or until you can press on the thighs and they are tender. Serve with a good side of the leftover mustard sauce.

Airy Jalapeno Cornbread
The real fruitiness of the jalapeno pepper shines in this dish wrapped in an airy down home cornbread.

1 T lard (or vegetable shortening)
3/4 C yellow cornmeal (stone ground is good but not essential)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp sel gris salt
1/2 tsp sugar (optional)
1 large egg (free-range preferably)
3/4 C whole or lowfat buttermilk
2 T unsalted butter
1 jalapeno, seeded

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients together in a bowl to remove any clumps. Soften butter, and while it is softening place cast iron skillet on stovetop with lard or shortening to melt for lubrication. Meanwhile add jalapeno, softened butter, egg, buttermilk to food processor and pulse until pureed. Continue until egg is pretty frothy to promote an even lighter cornbread. Fold pureed ingredients into dry ingredients and pour into your 9 inch cast iron skillet that heated lard or shortening has been swiped around with silicon brush. Transfer skillet to oven and bake approximately 28 minutes. (Using a larger skillet, even up to 12 inch, produces a crisper crust while frothing the eggs well still keeps the cornbread light.)

Crispy Chickpea Salad with Maple Mustard Dressing
Texture here really surprises for the best here in the form of nutty crunchy chickpeas complimented by the light crunch of cabbage and sweet tangy dressing.

1- 15 oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans) drained 
2 T English mustard (or dijon will work in a pinch)
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. guajillo chili powder

1 3/4 cup shredded green cabbage (Savoy)
2 T maple syrup
1 tsp English mustard
1 tsp lemon juice
a good dash of salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine first six ingredients and place in one layer in large non stick skillet in the oven to cook for about 35 minutes. Check periodically and shake to give a nice golden crust. They will be crunchy on the outside and almost nutty on the inside.

Toss cabbage with bottom four ingredients for dressing and top with chickpeas. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with an ice cold hefeweisen.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Taste of the Nation Ticket Giveaway (Philadelphia) and Carnitas

I am unsure what the definition of cloud nine is, but you could describe Dawn and my mood as like that description. Dawn is still in apprehensive-worry-mode about her M.A. exams coming up in the near future, but following shortly after we will be attending Taste of the Nation in Philadelphia, being thrown by the Share our Strength organization. Jennifer Carroll, the chef de cuisine at Eric Ripert's 10 Arts Bistro and Lounge and second runner up on Top Chef, will be speaking and cooking, as well as other chef's from around Philadelphia. The event is being held to raise money to alleviate child hunger, and we are heartily grateful for the opportunity Foodbuzz has given us.

Fortunately, we were given three tickets, which not only benefits us, but the extra ticket also benefits you. Everyone who joins our blog or is already a follower and comments on this post will become eligible for a winning ticket valued at $85.00 This is perfect if you live in Philadelphia or within driving distance. We only have one ticket to give away, but we'd love to meet whoever wins and spend some time with you, or,  if you have a loved one or several loved ones you would like to bring along, tickets are still available and the money is going to a great cause. The winner will be announced this weekend.  You've got to eat--might as well be excellent fare cooked by some wonderful chefs with their hearts in the right place.

I read Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris recently and was inspired to make some carnitas, both by him and my next door Mexican grocer. She made my mouth water when she explained that she was preparing carnitas and two varieties of tamales on Sunday when we were at church. That meant I had to whip it up myself. Lebovitz's addition of cinnamon sticks and bay leaves were splendid along with a few of my additional piquant touches of ground guajillo pepper, lime juice, beer, and brining the roast for a day.

Bear & Lime Braised Carnitas
1-2 # Pork Loin Roast
Brine* (Below)
12 oz Lager Beer.
5 Tbsp Rose's Sweetened Lime Juice
1 Tbsp Guajillo Pepper
3/4 Tbsp Ground Cumin
Water for Basting

2 Quarts Water
5 Tbsp Salt
1 Tbsp Ground Pepper
4 Tbsp White vinegar

1. For the brine, heat liquid, salt and pepper to a bowl in microwave safe bowl. Stir to make sure salt is dissolved. Add ice cubes to cool brine at least to room temperature. Add pork, cover and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.
2. Preheat oven to 350.
3. Dry pork off, cut into 1" cubes and salt thoroughly. Brown pork in a heated roasting pan or large oven proof skillet over medium-high heat, 8-10 minutes. Remove pork pieces. Add beer, lime juice, and spices, scraping to remove any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet.
4. When the liquid begins to thicken, add the pork pieces into the sauce. Add water until it almost reaches the top of the pieces. Place into the oven and braise an hour.
5. Check to add more water to same height. Braise for another hour or until pork crumbles when pressed (it will look dark and almost burnt, but trust me, its not).
6. Serve with spiked guacamole, lime quarters for squeezing on tortillas, and finely diced roma tomatoes.

Spiked Guacamole
This guacamole is lively due to the pureed fresh garlic and onions.
1-1/2 Roma Tomatoes
1 Avocado
1/2 Yellow Onion
3 Garlic Cloves
1/4 Tsp Ground Guajillo Pepper
1/2 Tsp Cumin
1/2 Tsp Apple Cider vinegar
3/4 Tsp Salt
Dash of lime juice

Combine all ingredients in container for blender or food processor. Puree ingredients and taste to adjust salt if needed or add additional lime juice as desired.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Just Laying Around

Don't worry, I do realize Easter's over, and no, I wish I was just laying around lately. I've seen recipes for Momofuku's infamous compost cookie lurking around the last year or so. When I saw them originally I was amused at the novelty, but never got around to trying them. I haven't been to New York since I was a sophomore in high school, which is to say it was a little before Mr.David Chang's time, so, although I love the salty sweet combination, I had never experienced said cookie and was just never motivated to try to make them.

But. While taking a break from writing, reading, and staying awake during my own lectures about the joys of business letters, I came across another version of it from one of my favorite bloggers, and thought, wouldn't that be a fun break to take with some Easter candy. Then Easter came and went (hope everyone had a wonderful holiday by the way). No time for said break. A week of half-off stale Peeps and Easter candy passed. No break. And another...

Luckily for me however, I have the sweetest husband who spent the better part of his day off this week proof reading and editing one of my drafts, leaving me time to bake and blog and say hello. As I headed to the store, passing the coffee shop that has become my permanent reading writing space for the month, I remembered wanting to try these, but felt quite certain no gimmicky deeply-discounted Easter treats would be left. To my surprise though, I did indeed find some left over Easter candy. COOKIE TIME!!

But nonetheless, just in case you aren't familiar with the cookie, the idea is that you throw whatever ingredients you have around (half salty, half sweet), into a very sweet dough, half salty ingredients, half sweet. For mine, I grabbed four different "eggs" filled with candies, that conveniently hold about 1/4 a cup each. Two were pastel M&M's, one with Milk Chocolate eggs, and one with Starburst jelly beans. The chocolate was kind of an obvious choice, other than the candy coating on the eggs being ridiculously hard to try to cut in half. I was torn between peeps and jelly beans to highlight the latent Eater status of the cookie. But then I remembered one of my roomates as an undergrad blowing up discounted post-Easter Peeps in the microwave. I realize its probably totally different, but went with jelly beans nonetheless. I'm not a huge jelly bean fan, but I was hoping by choosing the fruity flavored Starburst ones that I remember my grandmother loved, and the absence of the licorice flavored black beans of death would work well. The salty part was a little trickier. We never have chips or snack food in the house. If we want tortilla chips, nine times out of ten we bake some using corn tortillas. I didn't want to buy three bags or boxes and use only half, but I still wanted some variety of textures (most people use a combination of chips, pretzels and cracker). I ended up opting for a bag of Chex Mix and just crushing it all up as best I could. It worked.

We have yet to purchase or check-out David Chang's book yet, so I don't have the actual recipe. Looking through a bunch of blogs, I found a ton of variations; some much more complicated; some for people trying to make a harder/softer version. Our preference is a softer cookie, which is what you'll get following something like this:.

Compost Cookie
3/4 Cup Butter
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup White Sugar
1 Egg
1 Tbsp Vanilla
1-1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1-1/2 Cups Crushed Salty Ingredients
1 Cup Sweet Ingredients
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Cream butter and sugars until pale brown and creamy. Add vanilla and egg, mix well until fluffy. 
3. In a separate bowl, combine flours and baking soda. Add salty and sweet ingredients to flours, mixing lightly to incorporate.
4. Add dry ingredient to wet. Stir to combine. Cover dough and refrigerate 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, line baking sheet with non-stick mat or parchment paper.
5. Remove from fridge, drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheet leaving 1 inch around. 
6. Bake 8-10 minutes until golden brown color. Remove from oven let cool 2-3 minutes. Let cookies cool completely on a cooling rack.

This is probably a much more timid first attempt, and although these are quite honestly the weirdest cookies I've ever made, I already have three much more daring and creative variations in mind to try. Not only should these work as a nice thank you for someone who you are deeply indebted to as I am, but would work well to get rid of any extra snacks or candy you may have laying around. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Golden Surprise

I hope you will forgive me for posting twice in a row in Dawn's absence, as she toils over M.A. exams and teaching, but I hope this post comes with as much happiness and surprise as the beautiful mangoes I received yesterday did. You may have heard me mention the advantages of working next door to a Mexican grocery before, from the fresh homemade chorizo and chicharones to a nice variety of dried peppers, but the surprise came from the kind Mexican gentleman who hails from Chicago driving a delivery truck and happens to have a crush on a coworker of mine. The other day when he came bearing her gifts of chocolate covered strawberries and chocolate cake he asked us if we liked mangoes which followed with our direct approval of the idea if such fruit were offered. About a week after that encounter, he entered the store with a small crate of the luscious golden specimens, which I had never seen before.

My coworker hacked into one and tasted it after he left and set it down, not touching it for a while. I asked her if she didn't like it, and she responded that it was too sour for her taste. As I was heading out the door I asked her if half of the said mangoes, which happened to be the Mexican Ataulfo variety, were mine and she said I could have them all. I envisioned mango chutneys and salsas and a pantheon of other possibilities. After reading up a bit on the mangoes, I found out to my happenstance that she had chosen one that was not ripe. It happened that the majority of the ten that I so graciously received were not ripe either, save for a couple. After cubing the specimen that seemed the ripest out of the bunch, I tasted it in all its citrusy tropical goodness and was amazed at how much different its qualities were from the Kent mangoes I had previously consumed. It contained very little to none of the piney resinous taste, instead reminding me of a mix of less earthy papaya and citrus fruit.

With the aforementioned mangoes, sweet short grained rice, red peppers, sweet corn, onion, and scallops on the counter, I set out to create a meal on the wings of good fortune. Framed in my mind was the idea of how to make the salad, and thanks to an idea from Donald Link's book "Real Cajun," after rinsing my rice to render it less sticky, I added a bay leaf to the salted water in my rice cooker and set it to steam. A favorite spice in repertoire is certainly cumin and that seemed a perfect accompaniment with ground guajillo pepper for the seared scallops. The salad is utterly simple and as surprisingly delicious as the mangoes and can accompany such a variety of spring and summer dishes that you should definitely give it a go whether you are pressed for time or have all afternoon. You can enjoy this meal with a crisp minerally Gascogne white or certainly a margarita as the weather is just getting right for those sorts of things.

Mango Sweet Corn Slaw

1 ataulfo mango in 1/4 inch cubes
1/4 large red pepper finely diced
1/2 yellow onion finely diced
3/4 C sweet corn (frozen or fresh)
2 T shredded coconut
1/4 C cider vinegar
3 T Rose's sweetened lime juice
1 generous pinch sugar
1 T red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 T sel gris salt

Sauté red pepper, onion, sweet corn, coconut and red pepper flakes on medium heat for a couple minutes until onion is softened and flavors begin to meld. Add lime juice, cider vinegar, sugar, cumin, and salt, and cook until liquid is just evaporated. Add mango and extra coconut, if you desire, before serving and enjoy.

On a side note: you can tell a mangoes ripeness by smelling of the fruit near the stem and if it has a fruity aroma it is ripe. If there is no aroma or a green fruit scent, it should wait a bit. 

Bay Infused Sweet Rice

1 C yellow short grained sweet rice
2 C water
1 whole bay leaf
1 T sel gris salt

Rinse rice thoroughly before placing in rice cooker with water, bay leaf, and salt. Cook until water is evaporated and rice is slightly sticky and softened. Check rice once liquid has evaporated to assure it is softened, if not add another quarter cup of water and let it cook until it is evaporated.

Cumin Seared Scallops

6-8 large fresh scallops
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground guajillo pepper
1 tsp sel gris salt

canola oil for sautéing 

Dry scallops well and rub spices over tops and bottoms. Heat stainless steel saute pan over medium heat with enough oil to coat bottom of pan. Place half of scallops in pan and cook approximately 3 minutes until a chestnut crust is formed and turn over cooking other side until the same coloration is achieved about another 2 minutes. Cook second batch in the same fashion and serve while still warm. Sprinkle with a small pich of sel gris and enjoy the simplicity of the cumin's earthiness and the freshness of the sea in the scallops. 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Basque Fare

Spanish cooking is something I am becoming more and more acquainted with as one does a new friend; everything is so fresh and new yet becoming more and more comfortable with each adventure. I scanned through a couple Spanish cookbooks and a Basque cookbook this week. And the largest difference that popped out initially was the way Basque fare offers a more relaxed straightforward approach.

I am no Basque expert but the braised pork loin idea definitely appealed to my sensibility. When I have more time I don't mind pretending I have a French mustache while bones are roasting and stock is simmering away for hours on end. But my sensible alter ego reminds me I grew up on humble honest vittles and that must never be overlooked. My curious nature screams at me to modify as I did with the side dish since moving water always stays fresh.

The Basque milk braised pork recipe is one that crosses lines into Italian cuisine as well, but the spices are most definitely Basque in their approach. I can smell the paprika wafting out of the pot now if I think about it enough and the pseudo- Basque flavors of the the seared celeriac and soybean salad with sherry vinaigrette. May your inner Basque chef feel at home with your cuisine in the near future.

Milk Braised Pork Loin

1 1/2 # pork loin
2 1/2 C whole milk
2 1/2 medium Spanish onions roughly chopped
1 shallot quartered
3 red pimento peppers cored and quartered
2 T lard or shmaltz
1 T Spanish olive oil
4 T white wine such as Gewurztraminer

salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and cinnamon for seasoning the loin.

Season loin liberally and let come to room temperature. Cook in heated large heavy pot with melted schmaltz and oil for about 6 minutes turning often to achieve even sear. Add onions, shallot, peppers, and milk and cover pot. Let cook for about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove pork loin from pot, deglaze pan with wine, and puree contents of pot to make sauce for the loin. Water can be added to the sauce if consistency is too thick.

Seared Celeriac and Soybean Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

1 # celeriac peeled and cut into matchsticks
2/3 C shelled soybeans
1/2 finely diced onion
1 garlic clove finely diced

3 T cream sherry
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 T Spanish olive oil
3 T fine sugar
2-3 T lemon juice
1 T lemon zest

Saute ingredients in extremely hot pan approximatley eight minutes constantly shaking ingredients until you begin to see some browning. Reduce dressing slightly in a pan to thicken and cook off alcohol. Enjoy salad served warm with thoroughly stirred dressing on top.