Friday, December 30, 2016

Creamy Polenta with wild mushrooms

Copied from the LA Times.

1 pint heavy cream
1 quart milk
1 1/2 cups polenta, preferably from Grist & Toll
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (grated using a microplane and loosely packed)
Kosher sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Creamy Polenta with wild mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
1 pound mixed mushrooms, such as cremini, shiitake, oyster and chanterelles
Kosher sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon thinly sliced garlic
Pinch red chile flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, preferably Pedro Ximénez
Prepared polenta

In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, combine the cream and milk and bring to a simmer. Slowly whisk in the polenta and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring every few minutes or so, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so the polenta does not burn. Cook the polenta until it is creamy, about 30 minutes, adding additional milk if the polenta thickens too quickly before it is tender. Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes.

Whisk in the butter and grated cheese, then taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

Creamy Polenta with wild mushrooms
In a large saute pan, heat the oil, butter and herbs over medium heat, cooking until the herbs are crisp and the butter begins to brown, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and season with 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper, or to taste. Toss, coating the mushrooms with the fat and increase the heat to high, cooking until the mushrooms brown a little, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium.

Make a well in the center of the pan and add the garlic and chile flakes. Stir the garlic until it is cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes, then combine it with the mushrooms. Add the wine and broth, then remove from heat and add the vinegar. Taste, adjusting the seasonings as desired.

To serve, fill a serving dish with polenta, then top with the mushrooms.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Porchetta (third time's a charm)

This is my third entry for a porchetta, this time basing it on a recipe from Honestly Yum for this past Thanksgiving. (I'm posting this here mainly to document the tweaks I made to the recipe, feel free to follow the link to see the original.) I paired a Becker Lane pork belly with a pork loin from Berkeley Bowl. Fantastic results, will definitely be doing this again soon.

1 rectangular slab of pork belly with skin on and 1 center-cut pork loin
2 tablespoons of fennel seeds
1 teaspoon of black pepper corns
2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary leaves, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
zest of one lemon
sea or kosher salt

Arugula-Parsley Gremolata:
2 cups of flat leaf parsley, packed
2 cups of arugula, packed
4 cloves of garlic, minced
zest of 1/2 a lemon
juice of one lemon
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea or kosher salt

The night prior to serving, marinate the meat. Toast the fennels seeds, peppercorns and red pepper flakes in a pan on medium-high heat until they are toasted and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Keep them moving constantly to prevent them from burning. Allow the spices to cool and crush in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Mix in the garlic, rosemary and lemon zest.
Prep the meat by placing the skin side of the belly down on a large roasting pan or baking sheet. Prick the meat all over about 1/4 inch deep so the spices penetrate the meat. Flip the meat and score the skin by making cross marks. Don’t cut too deep, only slice the skin.
Using the smooth side of a meat mallet, tenderize the skin all over for about 3 minutes. Flip the belly, and spread 2/3 of the rosemary fennel seasoning all over. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of kosher or sea salt on this side.
Season the surface of the loin likewise and place it in the center of the belly then wrap the belly around the loin. Tie tightly with butcher’s twine in 1/2 inch intervals. Season the outside of the rolled meat with the remaining 1/3 of the rosemary-fennel seasoning. Place on a large plate and refrigerate uncovered overnight or up to 24 hours.

The next day take the porchetta out two hours before roasting. Leave it uncovered at room temperature for two hours blotting the roast with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. Season the outside liberally with salt right before roasting. Preheat oven to 500 degrees, place the roast on a roasting rack and roast for 30 minutes. (Make sure your oven is very clean because at such high temps any food will leave your kitchen smokey!) Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and roast for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the meat registers to 145 degrees in the center. Remove the roast and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing.
Remove the string and carve into thin slices. Serve with arugula-parsley gremolata.

To make the gremolata, place garlic, parsley and arugula in a food processor and process until finely chopped.  Alternatively, you can mince all the ingredients with a knife. Transfer to a bowl and add lemon juice to the parsley arugula mixture. Add olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe made for an absolutely fabulous feast and left plenty of leftovers for sandwiches. Definitely a keeper in our kitchen!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Pan-fried Steak a la Pépin

This dish is based on an old Jacques Pépin recipe I've been using for a long time now, it's our go-to when grilling outside is not feasible for one reason or another. Typically we pair it with a baked potato and add a veggie like broccoli. It's very good and since I almost always use a grass-fed rib-eye cut, takes very little time to cook. I learned quite a while ago to take grass-fed off the heat earlier than I would grain-fed as it can dry out much quicker. Since learning that, though, I much prefer it as it has a much 'beefier' flavor and apparently has much more omega3s which I guess is a good thing.
For this dish I used a couple of nice looking rib-eyes from Stemple Creek Ranch which is sold in Berkeley Bowl. Not cheap but man they were good! Also I used a cast-iron pan which, IMO, is the only kind to use for an indoor steak.

2 rib-eye cut steaks, preferablye grass-fed and finished
Kosher salt
fresh cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons Bourbon, Cognac, or good brandy
1/2 cup homemade stock - beef or chicken

Bring the steaks out of frig to warm up a bit to room temperature about 30-60 minutes before cooking. Cut each into equal sizes halves then salt and pepper the steaks generously.
Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat. Once it is hot, add the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Place the steaks into the pan and leave them to cook for 2 minutes without disturbing them. Carefully turn each steak over and allow to continue cooking for about 60-90 seconds. Remove steaks to a warm plate, leaving the fat in the pan, and cover them while you make the sauce.
Add the minced shallots to the fat in the pan and cook until soft. At a high heat this should only take about 30-60 seconds. Carefully add the liquor to the hot pan. (If you're nervous about a flame-up, and you probably should be, turn the flame off momentarily - the pan will stay hot enough to continue for a minute or so). Once the liquor has almost evaporated, turn the heat on again if you've turned it off, then add the stock. Once the stock has reduced by half, add the remaining tablespoon of butter to finish the sauce. Remove the pan from heat and pour the sauce over the resting steaks.
Probably best to allow the steaks to rest another few minutes before serving.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fried Chickpeas with Chorizo and Spinach

I was having a hankering for chickpeas and since we still had some Dona Juana chorizo Bilbao in the freezer, Mark Bittman's New York Times Cooking recipe that combined them with spinach quickly came to mind. I've been meaning to try it for some time now so here was my chance. The video that accompanies the recipe on the page proved helpful to me so I'd recommend watching it if you decide to try it yourself. This is my take on the dish.
First I'll just mention one of my pet peeves with recipes that call for chorizo; I rarely if ever see a distinction made between the Mexican and Spanish versions in listed ingredients. Of course they are closely related but there are important differences both in the spices and flavorings used and in how they should be prepared. This article from thekitchn web site may help to alleviate confusion. Chickpeas and garbanzo beans are interchangeable terms, however. I rarely used them canned: I can taste the can 'flavor', there are sodium issues to consider, I love the resulting broth from when I cook soaked dry ones, and I've gotten into the habit of always having either soaked or cooked ones zip-locked and ready in the freezer to use. Check out this earlier post for a good chickpea recipe if you've never cooked them yourself.

Dicing the chorizo

Chickpeas frying

Chickpeas w chorizo

I always make my own bread crumbs using whatever bread I have, stale or fresh.

Fresh chopped spinach

With the bread crumbs before broiling

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possible
Fresh-cracked black pepper
2 links Spanish chorizo, casings removed and diced
1 pound fresh spinach - stemmed, washed, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Amontillado sherry, or one that isn't too dry
1-2 cups bread crumbs

If you are using canned chickpeas, make sure to thoroughly wash and drain them. For either canned or cooked, get them as dry as possible, even patting with paper towels to make sure they aren't retaining any moisture. This will help the chickpeas to get a good amount of crispness.

Heat the broiler.
Put three tablespoons of the oil in a skillet large enough to hold chickpeas in one layer over medium-high heat. I used my 14" cast-iron skillet. When it’s hot, add chickpeas and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown, about 10 minutes, then add chorizo. Continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes, or until chickpeas are crisp; use a slotted spoon to remove chickpeas and chorizo from pan and set aside.
Add the remainder of the 1/4 cup of oil to the pan; when it’s hot, add spinach and sherry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook spinach over medium heat until very soft and any liquid has evaporated. Add chickpeas and chorizo back to the pan and toss quickly to combine.
Top with bread crumbs, drizzle with a bit more oil and run pan under the broiler, about 3-4 minutes, to lightly brown the top.
Serve hot or at room temperature.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

White Bean Stew (Alubias Blancas)

We had a small cooking class in my home kitchen this past week that was more or less a get together to learn knife skills and techniques. In order to fill out the lunch we shared, I'd prepared a stew from a wonderful cookbook I picked up at Powell's last winter - The Basque Table. The recipes are amazingly simple and prepares dishes differently than I've seen from other sources but each dish I've made so far has been nothing less than wonderful. I've tailored this recipe just a touch for a smaller crowd.
Note: I'd recommend using Spanish pimentón if you can get it as it lends a wonderful smoky flavor to the stew that paprika doesn't have. But paprika will do fine if that's what you can get or prefer.

1 pound dried navy beans (any white beans will do)
1 leek, white part only, cleaned well and halved lengthwise
2 bell peppers, seeded and sliced lengthwise into quarters
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon pimentón dulce (sweet/mild) or sweet paprika

Soak the beans overnight in a large bowl covered by 1-2 inches of cold water. Drain the beans in a colander or strainer and discard the soaking water.
Put the drained beans in a large pot and add the leek and peppers along with enough cold water to cover everything by 2-3 inches. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil over high heat and cook rapidly for 2-3 minutes carefully skimming any foam from the surface as it appears over the next several minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 2 hours or until the beans are fork tender. You can add about 1/4 cup of cold water to the pot every 30 minutes or so while cooking to help promote softness in the beans.
About 15 minutes before the beans are done, heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onion and sauté for about 10 minutes or until the onion is soft but before it colors. Add the pimentón (or paprika) to the skillet and cook, stirring to fully incorporate it into the onion, and allow to cook for about 2 minutes. Take the skillet off the heat and add the contents to the pot with the cooking beans.
Once you have stirred in the onion mix into the pot, remove it from heat. At this point, you can decide to either leave the cooked leek and pepper or fish them out of the pot before serving. Allowing the stew to sit for an hour or two in order to marry the flavors is ideal but you can also serve right away. This is also a great dish to cool and reheat to serve at a later time.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Potaje de Garbanzos y Calamares

I'm currently enrolled in a class with 18 Reasons to become a health promoter certified to run Cooking Matter classes as a chef instructor. This week we were in a store tour where we teach/learn about how markets are laid out and how to make the most of purchases in terms of value and nutrition. Once we've been through a tour of a store and have gained some knowledge of how to make the most of our money when shopping, we take on a $10 challenge i.e. select ingredients to create a meal for 4 people to incorporate with whatever we happen to have in our home pantry.
I decided to make a Spanish stew of squid, chickpeas, and potatoes as local squid tends to be rather inexpensive, has lots of protein without much saturated fat, and chickpeas contain lots of fiber and flavor. I also included a side dish of sautéed spinach with raisins and pine nuts.

NOTE: When cooking squid, you either want to cook it quickly - a couple of minutes on a hot grill or in a hot pan - or cook it for a good length of time - stewing it for 45-60 minutes. Anything in between will result in a very rubbery substance.

I got this recipe from a wonderful cookbook with which I've been consulting since our recent trip to Spain, Penelope Casas' La Cocina de Mamá. The printed recipe uses cuttlefish but I substituted squid which is much easier to find in these parts.

In the fish display

The $10 purchase

Chickpeas, garlic, parsley, onion, and tomato stewing

The raw uncleaned squid

Squid post-cleaning

1 pound dried chickpeas
1 pound uncleaned squid
1 whole unpeeled head garlic
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Bunch of fresh parsley branches
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet pimentón
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1 small whole onion, peeled
1-inch piece guajillo pepper
2 bay leaves
3/4 pound new, Yukon, or fingerling potatoes cut into 1-inch chunks
Kosher salt

Soak the chickpeas overnight.
Clean the squid, separating the body and tentacles. Cut the body crosswise into 1 inch widths.
In a large saucepan or pot the chickpeas, 5 cups cold water, the garlic, oil, parsley, 1 teaspoon of the pimentón, the tomato, onion, guajillo, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
Add the squid and potatoes, season with salt, and continue cooking for another 30 minutes, or until the chickpeas, potatoes, and squid are tender. Squeeze the garlic flesh into the stew and discard the skin. Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon pimentón. Cover and let site for 15 minutes before serving, reheating if necessary.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Working as a chef instructor with 18 Reasons in Oakland and Berkeley, we tend to lean on oatmeal as a healthy go-to for breakfast ideas when teaching classes. Invariably I'll come upon the cookie recipe inside the cap for Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats so decided to make it a few times. The only tweak I've made to the recipe is replacing the 1/2 cup of butter with 45% leaf lard and 55% butter to get a slightly richer mouth feel to the cookies. I've heard that lard actually contains *less* saturated fat than does butter so I suppose that's a win, right? Also note that I add the sugar into the fat gradually rather than all at once and combine the dry ingredients separately prior to adding into the wet.

Silpats are great if you plan to bake a lot but parchment works fine too

Softened butter and leaf lard

'creaming' the fats and sugars

Brown and white sugars

Rolled oats and raisins

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
6 tablespoons leaf lard softened (or substitute butter completely)
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350°F.
In a large standing mixing bowl, beat butter (and leaf lard if using) at medium-high speed. Once it is soft, gradually add in the sugars while still beating until incorporated and creamed - i.e. the consistency of wet sand.
Reduce mixing speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt through a sifter or sieve then whisk together to combine.
Add the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients then stir in the oats and the raisins. Lay out parchment paper or a silpat onto cookie sheets then drop the batter by rounded tablespoons onto them.

Put the sheets into the pre-heated oven and bake 8-12 minutes, until light golden brown. Remove from oven to cool for about 5 minutes then cool completely on a wire rack. Store tightly covered. This should make about 4 dozen cookies.