Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pasta All'aglio e olio

This is just about one of my favorite meals. Every couple of months or so I just get a real hankering for it. My wife really doesn't like it so I usually save it for when she's either not around for dinner or we have one of our 'get your own' dinner nights.

From what I understand this is a big dish in Roman trattorias and there are many versions. I was introduced to it in an 'Italian' restaurant owned and run by Chinese in San Francisco's Tenderloin district many years ago. The cooks had a huge canister of sliced garlic that they would dip into with a ladle in order to prepare this dish and stir fry it with cooked spaghetti and olive oil. I was crazy for it and would eat it about once a week when I lived in the City.

This is my take on the dish. Like I said my wife won't eat it as it really has a bit too much garlic for normal palettes but if you've read much of this blog you know by now my palette is quirky. But if you like garlic too, check this out.

This is the first clove I've harvested this year from the garlic I grew over the winter. You can see all of that on my gardening blog.

I peel and thinly slice a few cloves.

I start a pot of water to boil for spaghetti.

I add the slices to a cold pan with about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon pepperoncini (red pepper flakes). I put the heat on low and allow the garlic to turn translucent without burning or any dark color.

This particular time I decided to add some fresh thyme twigs for a bit of seasoning towards the end of the garlic. It only takes about 5 minutes or so the get the garlic done.

I just started harvesting the first batch of green beans from the garden so there was my veggie dish. I cleaned them and boiled for 2 minutes in salted water and dressed them with salt, fresh black pepper and olive oil right after pulling them from the water. I then emptied the water used the cook the beans into the pot of the boiling pasta to add just a bit of the bean flavor.

When the pasta was about a minute short of done, I saved off a cup of the pasta water and drained the pasta into a colander. I then mixed the pasta into the pan with the garlic with a little bit of the pasta water to loosen the garlic that was now starting to stick a bit to the pan.

After cooking the pasta for the last minute, I served in a bowl with a side of the beans and a few olives. Yum!


Mexican Dinner

I'm going to be holding a cooking class for fellow employees in my department next month. The class will be putting together a typical Mexican dinner together from scratch as much as possible.

I cooked this dinner last weekend to prepare. Much of this was based on recipes from a variety of sources; books by Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy, and some online.

First up was a roasted tomatillo salsa.

6 large tomatillos
3 serrano chiles
A handful of cilantro
1/2 diced white onion rinsed in a strainer under running water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Peal off the husk from the tomatillos and rinse them under running water rubbing off the stickiness. Dry them and place them on a pan lined with foil with the serranos and put 4-6 inches under a hot broiler. As the tops of the tomatillos and serranos scorch and darken, about 5 minutes, turn them over to cook on the other side. Remove from the broiler and allow to cool.

Put the cooked tomatillos and serrano into a blender and add any juices left on the foil along with the cilantro and salt. Blend to liquify then add about 1/4 cup of water and blend again. Pour into a bowl and mix in the onion.

Next up was my own guacamole.

A note that you should try to only use avocados at the peak of ripeness. That is, when you squeeze the avocado it should give a little bit but not be mushy. I'm lucky in California in summer as this is pretty easy to find in the right markets. If you can only find hard avocados, purchase them and allow to ripen a few days on a counter or in a basket. You don't want to refrigerate them.

4 large Haas avocados
2 serrano chiles
2 large whole cloves garlic unpeeled
1 fresh roma tomato chopped
1/2 diced white onion rinsed in a strainer under running water
Several sprigs fresh cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime

Heat a small iron skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add the serranos and garlic cloves to darken evenly on all sides. Remove and once cooled, remove the peels from the garlic cloves.
Use a knife to half each of the avocados and remove the large stone pits. Use a spoon to scoop out all of the green meat from the cut avocados into a bowl then use a potato masher to make a paste of it.
Add half of the diced onion with the cilantro along with the cooked serranos and garlic and some salt into a large mortar and pound into a paste. You can also use a blender for this if you don't have a mortar but the mortar is far and away my preference for this step.
Once you have a paste add it to the bowl with the avocado mixing well. Stir the remaining onion with the chopped tomato into the bowl. Then mix in the lime juice and perhaps use a few sprigs of cilantro as a garnish. Please let me know if you've had a better guacamole as I don't think you have. But if I'm wrong I'd love to get that recipe!

The main part of the meal were rajas with grilled white onions sliced at 1/4" with roasted poblano peppers and arracherra. Arrachera is Mexican sliced skirt steak. I get mine at a Mi Tierra, a Mexican market in Berkeley where the butchers are experts in thinly slicing the meat so that it can be cooked quickly. I guess flank steak could be used a substitute but it would take a bit for me to do so myself. If you want to do this right, try to find a good Mexican butcher if you can.

As skirt steak has a fair amount of muscle, it's a good idea to marinate it with some acid to break down the tissue as the cooking time is very short and the meat is sliced very thinly.

1/2 white onion
3 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon salt

In a mortar, pound the cumin almost into a powder. Add the salt, onion, garlic, and lime juice and pound into a wet paste. In a casserole dish, lay the meat out flat and pour the marinade over it, making sure to coat completely. Roll the meat up and put into a large Ziplock then put that into a frig for at least an hour and up to all day.

I use the Big Green Egg to grill everything. I first roast the peppers, place them into a bag to steam, then after grilling the onions, peel the skins off of the peppers and cut into strips.
I then increase the heat to very hot, remove the meat from the marinade bag rubbing off the marinade, and put the meat onto the grill cooking about a minute a side. I remove the meat, cover in foil and allow to rest a few minutes before slicing into small pieces.

To serve, I prepared some refried beans and Mexican rice and served with the rajas, salsa, guacamole and fresh tortillas. I'll blog about the preparation for the beans, rice and tortillas on a later post.

Served with my favorite bottled beer, Negro Modelo.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 4 BBQ

We had some friends over for a July 4 BBQ.

I smoked 2 racks of Becker Lane pork ribs in the XL Big Green Egg at about 220-230 for about four hours over some charcoal wood and several large chunks of hickory.

I stripped of the membrane from the back and soaked them in lemon and apple juice for an hour then marinated them with a dry rub for another hour plus. It took the time of the marinade to start the fire and get smoothly to the cooking heat.

We served the ribs with a tomato-molasses sauce I made in the morning.

I also made a large pot of pork and beans using onion, navy beans, bacon grease, salt pork, tomatoes and a fair amount of the usual spices.

I started them the night before and let them sit over night before heating them up again in the morning.

Once some of the smaller parts of the rib meat was cooked I chopped them up and added them in for the last hour or two. You can see how much the liquid had reduced in the time they cooked.

We started the meal with some grilled octopus. I bought the octopus on a whim when I saw some arai tako at Tokyo Fish a few days prior. I boiled it then marinaded it in the frig for a couple of days before taking it out to grill.

Before grilling:

Isn't the typical appetizer for an American BBQ but I knew that others than myself would like the treat so why not?

We added some hot links and Andouille sausages, corn on the cob and a dessert of grilled peaches served with Amaretto and toasted sliced almonds. Mimi brought an amazing cole slaw she'd made that afternoon with raisins, yum, yum and yum!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Soft-Shelled Crabs with Chard and Cilantro

A friend of mine who play cards (a LOT) would always brag the day after a night he won big and never talk after other nights. That's kind of what I find myself doing with this blog. Some nights I hit big, other nights, well let's just say they can be learning experiences.
This was one of the good nights. Laura's been suggesting we have soft-shelled crabs since we've returned back from our trip back East in May and today when I was at Tokyo Fish getting some King salmon and octopus I saw some soft-shelled blue crabs from Maryland in the window so impulsively bought a few.
I used a very simple recipe I saw on Eric Ripert's PBS show a while back. Basically you clean the crabs, dip them in flour and fry them in a mix of canola oil and butter 45 seconds a side. Delicious.
As for cleaning them, once you've done it, it's very simple. The critters were slow but alive when I brought them out of the frig. I used some kitchen shears to cut the faces off parallel to the body, removed the apron from the back, lifted the soft shells and pulled out the lungs and rinsed them under water. Dipped them in the flour then cooked them.
Since we have a shitload of chard in the garden now ready to eat, I used a Deborah Madison recipe of Chard with Cilantro. Intuitively the recipe didn't quite make sense to me when I first looked at it but it worked out great. One thing I liked was that there was something to do with the chard stalks.

2 bunches fresh chard
1 onion finely diced
1/2 cup cilantro chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
2 cloves garlic crushed with salt
Salt and pepper for seasoning.

Strip the leaves off the chard and slice into 1-inch wide ribbons, dice the remaining stalks. Combine with the rest of the ingredients in a large pot and add a 1/4 cup water. Put over low heat, cover and allow to cook for 45 minutes, checking to add water if it ever dries. Season before serving. Very sweet and tangy, went great with brown rice.