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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Necessity of Ragù

I suppose my upbringing of Southern hospitality dishes like fried chicken and catfish, mustard greens and black eyed peas with generous cubes of country ham, and a rubbing of lard before pouring cornbread batter into a cast iron pan has left me with the indelible mark of meat as a central commodity. Meat in the South is something like what Marx was seeing when he noticed workers consuming their work with reckless abandon. But, where Marx went wrong, Southern food does it right by showing that when one is caught up in a whirlwind of tradition or work, enjoyment is often the crux of that tradition. You could say the two correlate in the the fact that Southern food has been so greatly influenced by African, Cajun, Creole, Cuban, and Irish customs as well as by necessity that necessity itself is often attributed to the most similar cultural influence that can be found just as day to day work is oftentimes descended from an enjoyment in one's occupation. The notion of meat not being the center of every meal, in my book, is quite a healthy and conscious decision these days and one not too decentralized from the dishes I hold so dear like cornbread utilizing a light coating of vegetable oil for lubrication, creamy cheese grits, and even the glories of buttermilk biscuits.

Buttermilk is a strange concept and one which seems absurd until you think about the innovators who first bottles wine, made cheese, formed tempeh, and realized salt would preserve meat allowing a safe alternative to rancid meat. I researched the roots of buttermilk to find out there is little to no documentation on how the concept of leaving remnants of churned butter to sour momentarily makes the most tangy Southern biscuits, pancakes, gravy, and a pantheon of other Southern delights. And, necessity they say is the mother of invention just like the robust ragù bursting with umami flavors I happened upon the other night.

Mushrooms as you have probably already noticed are a familiar touch to my cuisine and something that adds both texture and rusticity to dishes that make my mouth water. Thoughts of a ragù in all its warming capacity, carrots in all their unappreciated glory, and just a hint of red pepper flakes to liven the senses. The umami flavors, however, do not stop with mushrooms as I was determined to break Dawn's dread of Swiss Chard, which she claims tastes like dirt on its own. Remember, my Southern roots are still attached although separated by a thousand miles, so I had to call upon the help of crispy bacon lardon to rest atop the wilted chard as well as a necessitous quince mustard vinaigrette. In the end, I guess necessity is the mother of selection rather than invention or maybe it's a linear progression. Nonetheless it allows for one heck of a good meal.

Mushroom Ragù

3/4 # white button mushrooms
1 carrot peeled and chopped to 1/4 inch half moons
1/4 C. white and light green leek finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
12 sages leaves julienned
2 large shallots finely diced
1/2 yellow onion coarsely chopped
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 slices thick cut bacon roughly chopped
14 oz. can stewed whole grape tomatoes
4 T. olive oil

1 1/2 C. wheat berries, soaked eight hours

Bring heavy pot to a simmer with two quarts of salted water and simmer wheat berries for an hour and a half or until softened adding water periodically as it evaporates.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Heat four tablespoon olive oil in oven proof pan on medium heat and add bacon to pan, cooking until crispy. Add mushrooms spreading evenly to allow some browning, cooking approximately six minutes. Add shallots, onion, leek, and garlic, cooking for three minutes until vegetables are softened. Add canned tomatoes without juice and crush tomatoes with potato masher. Once flavors have melded about 4 more minute transfer pan to oven with a lid on and cook for about fifteen minutes to reduce some of the juices. Once the ragù is desired thickness, serve over wheat berries with julienned sage on top.

Wilted chard with Lardons and Quince Vinaigrette

1 large bunch rainbow chard, stems removed, cut into 2 inch cubes
2-3 pieces thick cut bacon roughly chopped
3 T. quince jelly
1 tsp. hot English mustard
1-2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Add bacon to pan on medium heat and cook until crisp rendering out the bacon fat then add chard stirring until wilted, approximately three minutes. Remove from heat and drizzle with quince vinaigrette and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Holiday Essence

Just to clarify and make sure you don't think we've became a vegetarian blog (although there are quite a few I read and regularly enjoy) I thought I'd share a dish that perhaps illustrates best the approach that we're taking to what Daniel mentioned in his previous post. I've titled the post just the essence because it shows how little of something we can use and still find a delicious and satisfying tribute to the holidays. 

The idea for the dish was a little bit of an accident. I was making myself dinner one night during the week when Daniel had to work and thought I was thawing some leftover soup. As a finished thawing and warming it up, I realized that what I had accidentally thawed instead was the remnants of the turkey stock we made after Thanksgiving. I decided to keep it in the fridge for a day, hoping to come across a use for it that would provide a veggy heavy tribute to holiday indulgences. While looking across our newest cookbook, Peter Berley's The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, I came across a recipe for an Autumn Quinoa Risotto with Pumpkin and Sage. Obviously, its no longer autumn, but I decided a winter squash or butternut squash might work out okay.

To my delight, not only did the squash substitute work out perfectly, but the addition of the quinoa in the risotto made the dish exceptionally filling without becoming too starchy. The balance between the protein rich quinoa and the arborio rice, combined with the squash, turkey broth, and sage flavors made the dish a satisfying reward for a long January day. 

Quinoa Risotto with Butternut Squash adapted from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

 4-5 Cups Stock
Olive Oil to Coat the Pan
1/2 Cup Leek finely chopped (white part)
2 Cups cubed butternut or winter squash
1/2 Cup Arborio Rice
1/3 Cup Quinoa
2 Tbsp Mirin
4 Finely choopped Sage Leaves
Salt & Pepper
Toasted Pumpkin or Large Squash Seeds

1. In heavy saucepan, bring stock to boil and reduce heat to simmer.
2.In saucepan over medium heat, warm oil and saute leek for 2 minutes. Add squash and saute another 3-4 minutes. Add rice & quinoa grains and suate, stirring for 2 minutes until grains are fragrant.
3. Add mirin and sage and cook until dry. Ladle in broth or sotck 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until the liquid has been absorbed before adding each subsequent 1/2 cup. Repeat until grains are tender and creamy 20-25 minutes.
4. Remove from heat. Add salt & pepper to taste. Plate with toasted pumpkin or squash seeds to garnish.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conscious Curry

It seems like winter is the season to be curry, or to be making curry that is. With more of a renewed effort to purchase smarter, following the viewing of Food Inc., we have eaten considerably more protein filled vegetables and less meat. I can not say I could go fully vegetarian, and vegan is out of the question because of eggs, but we are striving to procure a better environment for our children and grandchildren. The more conscientious eaters there are, the more meat and vegetable monopolies will hopefully collapse. The drastic increase in disease and health problems like diabetes are doubtless caused by the pitiful shape of our eating consciousness. I do not mean to throw everyone under the bus, but there is a reason why there are 12,804 Mcdonalds in the U.S. and 25,663 worldwide all offering cheap food vastly devoid of nutrients. An eating environment submerged in capitalism disregards quality products which are finally emerging as the smart choice, despite the higher price tag. Thinking twice about paying a dollar and a half for the eggs produced by a caged chicken fed who knows what, instead grabbing the cage free vegetarian fed variety for about twice the price will create easier and cheaper availability down the road.

Enough concerning smart consumption and on to the preperation of our hearty green chickpea curry. The idea of a warming mix of vegetables, spices, rice, and naan bread makes me more and more satisfied. I'm all about versatility, and curry is the best way I have found to feel more nourished by solely a rainbow of vegetables and starches. Dried chickpeas are such a rich pantry-stocker and play a significant role in this dish. But, thinking outside the box, I implemented a few dark horse choices including fresh tomatillos and serrano peppers while sticking with several familiar faces. I hope you enjoy the warmth of the chiles, the tanginess of the tomatillos, the richness of the coconut milk, and the complexity of the spices.

And did I mention it does wonders for relaxing a winter cold?

Green Chickpea Curry
2 tomatillos
2 tomatoes
1 Spanish onion finely diced
3 cloves garlic finely diced
1-1/2 C. chickpeas soaked overnight
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
1 small bunch cilantro
1 jalapeno; deseeded and finally chopped
2 serrano peppers (sliced thinly)
1 T. turmeric powder
4 T. green curry powder (such as phuket)
Oil for Sauteing

 Remove chickpeas from soaking bowl and cook in a pot of simmering salted water for approximately fifteen minutes or until just beginning to soften, then drain in cold water. Prick tomatoes and tomatillos once with a knife then blanch in a pot of boiling water until skins become loose. Meanwhile saute onion, garlic, serrano, and jalapeno in large heavy skillet in oil for approximately two minutes. Carefully remove tomatoes and tomatillos from pot and remove skins and remove tough core trying to loose as little juice as possible. Place in pan and smash with tomato masher until sauce begins to form. Add chickpeas and stir together. Add curry powder, turmeric and coconut milk in increments, tasting and adding any salt if necessary. Simmer over low heat for approximately eight minutes or until curry is desired consistency. Enjoy served over white rice.

Naan  Bread
1/2 Package Yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon and 1-1/2 teaspoons milk
1/2 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
2-1/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Salt to taste

1. Combine water, sugar, yeast and proof until foamy. (about 10 minutes)
2. Add egg, milk, salt, and gradually add flour until a soft dough forms. Knead dough 6-8 minutes on floured surface.
3. Place dough in bowl. Allow to rise until doubled in size. (about an hour)
4. Punch dough down. Knead in garlic. Pinch off golf ball sized ball of dough and roll into smooth balls. Place on sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled (about 30 minutes).Meanwhile, begin preparing pan as needed.
5. Heat grill or cast iron skillet to high heat. Once pan is heated, lower heat to medium high, paying careful attention to the temperature. Once dough is ready, flatten as thinly as possible and place on grill pan/skillet. Cook 1-2 minutes and flip to other side. Cook for another 1-2 minutes & remove from pan. Carefully monitor bread and pan heat!
6. While still warm, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Just the Highlights

I feel like I should have so much to say about our trip. Besides suggesting that you voice an objection when someone mocks the culinary experience of London however, I really don’t have much else to say. We definitely did not go hungry. Vegetables and fruits were perhaps less prevalent, but that could have more to do with ordering in an ‘on vacation’ mentality than anything else.

I did decide upon our return that clotted cream should be illegal because of how bad it is for you, but oh how decadent it is on a freshly baked or toasted scone. I wish I could make some at home, but too bad its illegal to purchase the unpasterurized cream needed to make it. Unless I've been mislead about this little fact. Oh please let me have been mislead.

That’s about it as far as insights go. I do have a renewed interest in tea, but perhaps another time. Suffice to say, we had a blast. What I found most impressive though was how stores, even the major chains of grocery stores privileged locally grown, cultivated, butchered, etc., products. This was not just to be found in our trip to Borough Market, but in wondering into small grocery stores and convenience stores near our flat as well. Despite the abundance of fresh ingredients that would have made cooking in our tiny flat fun, we ended up not doing much cooking there because, well 1. All of the walking & sightseeing we did which kept us out and about from morning to evening and then some; and 2. Did I mention the flat was tiny? Really it wasn’t, to be fair, the flat wasn’t that small and had a huge bathroom. I was actually referring to the kitchen. The kitchen was literally big enough for one person to do a 360 in to cook. Not very effective for us.

So, what I have to share with you is not actually a recipe we enjoyed on our trip, although Daniel did have something similar at the Rose & Crown Pub in Oxford served with mash instead of pastry. BUT, the dish does highlight a few decadent things we enjoyed while there. Specifically, butter and beef. I was never impressed by shortbread cookies to be honest. And then I had one in London. Or three. In one day.

Although the dish isn't from our trip directly, I hope you'll enjoy it nonetheless as a dish that holds a special place in our hearts. Inspired by a British pub we tried during our honeymoon in St. Augustine, it seemed an appropriate way to integrate some of things we loved from our trip with our life back home. 

Beef & Guinness Pie
2 LB Cubed Beef Chuck
2 Tbsp Flour
1 Tsp Salt
½ Tsp Pepper
2-4 Tbsp Vegetable Oil (NOT OLIVE OIL)
1 Large Onion
1 Cup Halved Mushrooms (Cremini or whatever you have)
2 Garlic Cloves
3 Tbsp Water
1-1/2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Cup Guinness
1 Cup Beef Stock
1 Tbsp Worcestershire
2 Tbsp Peppercorns
2 Tbsp Thyme

1.Preheat oven to 350. Stir flour salt and pepper together in bowl. Pat cubed meat dry. Toss cubed meat and flour mixture to coat.
2.Heat oil in oven proof pan until hot and almost smoking. Brown beef in three batches turning occasionally. Remove meat and place in bowl.
3.Quickly add mushrooms, chopped onions, chopped garlic and water. Cook until onions are softened (about 5 minutes), and stir using a wooden spoon to scrape the bits from the pan while onions cook.
4.Add tomato paste, cook and stir for one minute. Add beef, beef broth, beer, Worcestershire sauce, peppercorns, and thyme. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat.
5.Cover an transfer to oven. Cook approximately an hour and a half.
6.Remove from oven and cool uncovered for at least thirty minutes.
7.Preheat oven to 425. Divide beef between shallow dishes and cook approximately 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 and cook 5 more minutes.
8.Serve with puff pastry prepared as directed.

Although the pie calls for Guinness, any strong stout would work well, we’ve used a Murphy’s stout that worked well in the past. Typically, if we have time, we try to do steps 1-6 one day, let it cool, and then refrigerate it over night for the final bake and puff pastry the next day. This gives it a little more flavor, and makes it slightly more convenient to have a delicious meal relatively quickly.

For the puff pastry, I used the little bit I had left from my first Daring Bakers Challenge (still as decadent). If you happen to have some homemade in the freezer or already made, use that, otherwise just use what you have.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

We're Back!!!!

Immense apologies for the prolonged silence and with that thought come the memory of a familiar Winston Churchill story that happens to tie well to the fact that Dawn and I have just returned from England. What a long thought but oh well. I am not positive the story is true but it is comical nonetheless. The story goes that Mr. Churchill was attending a party at which he was rather intoxicated and swaying from the libations and a woman approached him and said, “Mr. Churchill, you are extremely inebriated,” to which he replied looking her in the face, “Yes ma’am, but in the morning I will be sober and you will remain ugly.” However, that has nothing to do with plump oven baked eggs in tomato sauce or tender oatmeal bread that Dawn and I cooked just before we crossed the big pond.

The weather is cold in Columbus now and was just as frigid before we left, so a nice loaf of bread just out of the oven sounded warming. With recipes aplenty for amazing bread from James Beard himself, eating anything from the store seems blasphemous. And yes, every one I have tried has been splendid—especially when toasted and buttered as he often suggests. We instead chose to dip the warm bread into the zesty tomato sauce Dawn prepared with the eggs. Each recipe was a simple respite from the bone chilling cold that is sweeping the U.S. all the way down to Atlanta (that surprisingly had tufts of snow on the ground when we flew in from London). As with any bread recipe, patience and good ingredients are as inherently essential as proper measurements.

The bread has a medium crumb with many oats that melt into the loaf adding earthy goodness and substance. The eggs are comfort food in a way that surprises the senses and can be served with angel hair pasta or fresh bread, whichever you prefer.

Oatmeal Bread
Adapted from "Beard on Bread"
1 C. rolled oats
1 C boiling water
2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp.)
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 C. warm milk
1/2 C. warm water
1 T. salt
1/4 C. dark brown sugar
4-5 C. bread flour, approximately
Add oats to glass bowl with boiling water and stir until cooked for three minutes. Pour into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool to lukewarm. Stir the yeast into the warm water and sugar and allow to proof about six minutes. Add the warm milk, salt, brown sugar, and yeast mixture to the oats and stir well, then stir in four cups of sifted flour into the oats one cup at a time. Turn onto a floured surface and knead (ten minutes) into a smooth elastic ball using more flour if necessary. Roll dough in a buttered bowl until covered and allow to rise for an hour and a half in a warm draft free area, covering the bowl with a damp towel. Ball should be doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and tuck sides under to form loaf, scoring diagonally four times on top. Place in large nine by five by three buttered loaf pan and bake in 375 degree preheated oven for forty to fifty minutes or until loaf sounds hollow. Flip onto cooling rack and allow to cool for eight minutes. Toasted with jam or preserves also makes a delectable breakfast snack.

Zesty Oven Baked Eggs

6 free range brown eggs
2 C. homemade tomato sauce
¼ C. fresh grated white cheddar (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pour tomato sauce in oval earthenware dish and gently crack eggs into tomato sauce. Bake in 400 degree oven for approximately fifteen minutes or until eggs just begin to set. Make sure not to over cook as eggs will go from plump and juicy to rubbery very quickly. Top with cheddar, salt, and black pepper after removing from oven.