Monday, October 31, 2011

Salmon and Asparagus with Basil Aioli

No recipe on this only a note and a photo. We had wild coho salmon and asparagus grilled on the Big Green Egg on what is probably going to be the last beautiful weekend of the year and topped with homemade basil aioli. Served with grilled Acme sweet baguette, mix of brown and wild rice, and a salad of greens with grapes, persimmon, and roasted home-grown beets. Wine was a chardonnay from Chile.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Roasted Garlic and Acorn Squash Soup

It's getting to be Autumn so time to break out the recipes that make use of the winter squashes and root vegetables. I saw a post online about a butternut squash soup that looked good but then wondered what approach James Peterson would take in his book Splendid Soups, which for me has been a real educational resource to learning how to make soups.

I think I might have actually made this recipe before due to the fact that it looked rather familiar once I started in on it and that the page was already stained (:-)). This turned out to be a fairly involved recipe but if you have the time, it's worth it. Also you better love garlic as it is a very prominent feature of the overall flavor and aroma of the soup.

This is pretty much the printed recipe except for the fact that I made my own vegetable stock for the broth rather than the chicken broth called for in the book.

3 acorn squash (3 pounds)
4 heads of garlic
2 red onions, peeled and halved (north to south)
3 carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
Several fresh thyme sprigs
4 cups vegetable stock
Black pepper

Preheat the over to 375 degrees.

Cut the squash crosswise in half and scoop out the seeds. I used a Chinese cleaver and even with that it took some effort so be careful as the squash tends to be pretty hard to cut. I also sliced the ends evenly so that the cut squash would sit level in the pan while roasting.

Break the garlic into cloves but don't peel yet. Toss the cut onions, carrots, and garlic in a bowl with the olive oil. 

Put them with the cut squash into a heavy roasting pan with the squash cut-side up.

Roast for about an hour and a half occasionally stirring the vegetables surrounding the squash in order to cook evenly. About 10 minutes before the end of cooking, add the thyme sprigs. When the squash is soft (easily penetrated with a knife), remove to cool.

Scoop out the flesh from the squash into a bowl and discard the peels. Remove the garlic flesh from their peels as well.
Combine the squash with the other vegetables then puree until smooth in a blender along with the vegetable stock in batches.
For me, this turned out to take a while as even with the broth each mix was pretty thick and I had to keep opening the blender to re-adjust it with a rubber spatula often during the processing of each batch.
As each batch is blended, add it to a food mill over another bowl to process further then resume until all of the vegetables and the broth are done. Once you've processed all of the vegetables and broth, add more broth if you would like a thinner consistency as you reheat it for serving. Season with salt and black pepper to taste prior to serving.

I added a little parsley as a garnish. Very tasty soup with a real autumn flavor!

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Sausage and Lentils with Fennel

Wife was in the mood for sausages, and as we already had fennel she did a Google search and came up with this recipe on Epicurious site. We'd just eaten at a wonderful French bistro (the Rende-Vous Cafe in Albany CA) and were still in the mood for something a bit French and rustic. This was a great idea and turned out to be a delicious meal.

1 cup French green lentils
4 1/2 cups cold water
bulb and fronds of 1 medium fennel
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil/pork fat
1 medium onion diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausages left whole
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped
black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Rinse the lentils and add to a saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil then let simmer until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the fennel bulb by cutting in half through the root (vertically) and removing the hard core then dicing along with about 2 tablespoons of the fronds. Prepare and dice the onion and carrot. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil and/or pork fat to a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. When hot add the cut fennel, carrot, onion with the fennel seeds and a pinch of salt to the pan and cook covered until the vegetables are soft, about 10-15 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking, prick the sausages with a pin. Heat a small skillet over medium high heat with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil then add the sausages, cooking until well-browned and cooked through, about 15 minutes.

When the lentils are cooked, drain in a strainer over a bowl reserving the cooking water.  Stir the lentils into the pan with the vegetables with just enough of the cooking water to keep wet, about 1/2 cup, and cook until heated through. Season with the chopped parsley, salt, black pepper, red wine vinegar and another 1 tablespoon of the fronds.

When the sausages are cooked, remove from heat allowing them to cool for a couple of minutes then slice diagonally into 1/2 inch thick. Serve the lentils topped with the sausage and sprinkled with more chopped fennel fronds as a garnish and drizzle with olive oil.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Zucchini Gratin with Tomato and Oregano

We had this as a side dish served with the porcetta a couple of weeks ago. We had some tomatoes left to harvest and zucchini so this was a nice end-of-summer recipe to go with and complemented the pork nicely. The recipe was based specifically on a Marcella Hazan dish but with liberal interpretations of my own.

1 1/2 pounds zucchini sliced thinly into disks
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic crushed in a mortar
1/2 onion diced
2 cups fresh tomatoes peeled
a couple of fresh oregano branches
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
fresh cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat oven to 400 with a rack in the next to uppermost position. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and cook until colored, about a minute. Add the zucchini and heat until limp and cooked through. Remove from heat.
Heat a small saucepan over medium heat, add the remaining oil and the onion. Heat until translucent then add in the peeled tomatoes and their juices along with chopped leaves from the oregano. Cook gently for about 20 minutes then remove from heat. Add in the parsley, salt and pepper.

Smear the bottom of a baking dish with some of the cooked tomatoes.

Layer in half of the zucchini discs, cover with half of the tomato sauce, then grate with half of the cheese with a pinch of salt.


Add another layer with the remaining zucchini, then tomato sauce, then a final grating of cheese and a sprizzle of olive oil and another pinch of salt and some pepper.

Place the dish in the next to uppermost rack of the oven positioned when you preheat the oven and bake for about 15 minutes uncovered, or until the cheese is melted and somewhat colored.

Remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chicken Stock

I finally got myself a real stockpot a few years ago, a pot significantly taller than it is wide, about 12 quarts, as I found myself making stock on a regular basis, storing it in our freezer in small plastic containers to have available anytime for a recipe. I've never liked either the canned broth nor the cubes with all of the inevitable salt they contain, especially since with just a bit of diligence I can maintain a steady supply. Here is an amalgamation of recipes I've tried for basic clear chicken stock.

You can use any chicken bones for this, raw or from a cooked chicken. The flavor comes from the bones and the meat so you can even use a whole chicken for it. I keep backs and necks from chickens that I've cut up for recipes and freeze them. When I get a few pounds of them, I can make stock from them. You can also go to a butcher and ask for necks and backs, very cheap to purchase. Many markets also keep necks and backs packaged as well. My big preference for anything to do with chicken is to purchase free-range, antibiotic and hormone-free, so would probably eat vegetarian if I cannot find them rather than eat from factory farms. 

3 pounds chicken bones/meat
1 onion peeled and quartered
2 carrots cut into chunks
2 celery ribs cut into chunks
1 bunch parsley
3 bay leaves
Several whole black peppercorns
4 quarts water

Add the chicken, vegetables and herbs to a large stockpot and add the water. Over medium-high heat bring to a boil then immediately reduce to a simmer. Once the water is close to boiling you will notice a fair amount of impurities starting to float up to the surface. Use a large spoon to skim them off as this will continue to occur for the first several minutes of the simmer. Between the skimming and the reduction of the heat, you will be preventing the impurities from being drawn back into the stock which at the end of the cooking will give you a clear broth.

Besides having a superior flavor, the clarity of the stock will allow you the option to further reduce the broth once you've strained out the ingredients. Sometimes I find it beneficial to concentrate the flavors of a stock for some recipes.

Allow the stock to simmer for about 3 hours partially covered keeping an occasional eye on it as it cooks. At the end, turn off the heat and when it's cooled somewhat, remove the ingredients with tongs and dispose of them as they are no longer useful. Strain the stock into a strainer over another large pot or bowl and then strain again. If you are going to be using the stock right away, make sure it is hot before incorporating it into a dish.

To store, cool the stock completely and skim off fat that floats to the top before freezing for long term storage or refrigerating for use within a week.

Vegetable Stock

I got the basics of this recipe from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone but have made it my own as a staple since. Since it is fairly quick and easy to make, I tend not to store it but just make as needed, for soups or a vegetarian dish.
Vegetables prepared for the stock

Stockpot with oil

Just after adding the vegetables to the pot

Halfway through the cooking

Caramelized just prior to adding the water

Stock simmering after the straining

Even though the recipe calls for a stockpot, you can make it in any large pot but make sure it has a thick heavy bottom. 
I don't see many recipes for vegetable stocks call for this, but I try to get a caramelization from the vegetables prior to adding the water, almost but not quite to the point of scorching them. I find that this imparts quite a bit more flavor to the stock. Just be careful not to burn the vegetables.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion peeled and quartered
2 carrots cut into chunks
2 celery ribs cut into chunks
1 leek (optional) - roots and all cut into chunks
1 bunch parsley whole
3 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
Handful thyme twigs whole
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
3 bay leaves

2 quarts cold water

Put a large stockpot over high heat and add the oil.

When the oil is hot, add all of the vegetables and spices, stirring to get them all coated with the oil.

Keep an eye on the pot as the vegetables heat up and stir occasionally to distribute the heat evenly among them. I look for some browning on the vegetables and for them to shrink fairly significantly, the idea being to release the water in them allowing the inherent sugars to remain. I find this takes about 10-15 minutes.

Once I've gotten them to a caramelized state, I add the cold water and bring to a boil then reduce to a steady simmer, leaving the top partially on. Allow to cook at this rate for about 25-30 minutes but no longer as this is just about enough time to infuse the water with all of the flavors that the vegetables can impart to the stock.

Remove from heat and remove the vegetables from the stock. I tend to use tongs to lift out as many as possible then drain the remaining contents of the pot into a colander over another large pot. I then put a strainer over the original pot and drain the contents of the second pot back in that one.

If you are going to be using it right away for a soup or a recipe, keep the pot on the stove and bring it back up to just short of boiling before adding to whatever you're making. 

This also freezes very well. I'd recommend storing in amounts that you're likely to need for a recipe, like 1 or 2 cup plastic containers that can be put into a microwave to thaw and empty into a pot to bring back to a simmer.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Quinoa with Mushrooms

After last night's feast, wife wanted to go light. I'd purchased some mushrooms for a planned frittata this morning but we bailed on that. Wife then said 'quinoa! how about quinoa with the mushrooms for dinner?'. We had the mushrooms and some quinoa in the pantry so went with this dish the base of which I found online but definitively made my own. This is supposedly a side dish, but with a grating of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano it was more than enough as an entree.

12 oz mix chanterelle and crimini mushrooms chopped
1 clove garlic pounded into a paste
1 large onion diced
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/12 cups quinoa soaked and drained
3 twigs fresh chopped thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Grating of Parmigiano Reggiano over the top

In a deep skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the garlic with the onion to the skillet and heat to almost browned. Remove into a bowl then add 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet and raise the heat to high. Saute the mushrooms in the skillet and heat until they've released their liquid, about 5-7 minutes. Season well with salt and plenty of fresh cracked pepper, then remove into another bowl.

In a saucepan, heat the stock to a simmer. In the skillet reduce the heat to medium-high, add the last tablespoon of butter then the quinoa, cooking to browned, about 3 minutes. Add the stock to the skillet with the quinoa, and once it is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover until the liquid is mostly absorbed, about 10 minutes. This would be a good time to loosen any caramelized bits that have stuck to the skillet surface. Combine the onion and mushrooms into the skillet with the quinoa, season with the thyme, and cook for a couple of minutes to allow the flavors to combine. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the parsley, and serve.

Porchetta (again)

I made this last night - an earlier take from last winter is here.

This time I went to Marin Sun in Oakland and got a shoulder (skin-on) from an organic heritage pig. Not cheap, but I really don't like to skimp when we're doing a feast and I'm not sure one can make a porchetta and not have it be a feast. Porchetta really refers to a whole suckling pig but for a small dinner party, this cut will more than suffice, but you do need to have the skin be part of the deal.

This is an amalgamation of several recipes and works very well. Marinate the shoulder overnight with the herbs and spices prepared as described below.

6 pound pork shoulder with skin on butterflied
1/4 cups fennel seeds toasted
2 tablespoons whole back peppercorns
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3 cloves garlic
Branch of rosemary 
6-8 carrots peeled
1 cup dry red wine

The shoulder butterflied and spread out.

Toast the fennel seeds by putting them in a small iron skillet over a medium heat, moving them around until they started to get aromatic and color.

Combine the seeds with the salt and pepper in the mortar and pound them into a coarse powder. Use this as a rub on the shoulder both inside and out.

Strip the leaves off of the rosemary branch and combine them with the peeled garlic cloves and a pinch of salt in the mortar, pounding it all into a paste. Rub on the inside of the shoulder.

Tie the shoulder and marinate in the frig overnight.

Preheat the oven to its highest temperature, typically 550.
In a roasting pan lay the carrots out for the pork to sit on. Add the wine with enough water to a 1 inch depth in the pan. Place the tied pork on the carrots with the skin side up.

Put the pork into the preheated oven and lower the heat to 350. A 6 pounder should take about 3 hours to heat the internal temperature to 150.

Here's the pork after an hour -

and after 2 hours -

and at the end.

Remove the pan from the ove and allow the pork to rest for about 15 minutes covered in foil.

Remove the pork from the pan to slice. By this point the fat in the liquid in the pan should have floated to the top enough so that you can remove it. Reduce the remainder of the liquid to a syrupy consistency to use as gravy.

Here's the pork plated. I also made roasted potatoes with garlic and rosemary and a side of zucchini baked with tomatoes, each of which I'll blog about soon. The potatoes are a standard for me but the zucchini dish was a new one I picked up from a Marcella Hazan book which was really really yummy.

Spaghetti with Fresh Pesto

I was lucky that the first rains this past week didn't do the summer basil in so thought I should make use of the diminishing opportunity to finally make some pesto.

This is a simple and very easy version that I first learned many years ago. There are dozens of other good takes on pesto, including various alternate ingredients such as walnuts, spinach, sans cheese, etc., but this is the one I consider to be comfort food.
I use to make it with way too much garlic but have since calmed it down as no one else could tolerate the sharp flavors. This one seems to work for everyone.

2 cups packed basil leaves
2 tablespoons parsley leaves
2 tablespoons raw pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano grated
1 pound spaghetti
Salt as needed

A couple of caveats on my part here: use only the freshest of the herbs. I've tried toasting the pine nuts but raw yields the better flavor overall. Use only real Parmigiano Reggiano - don't ever use the stuff pre-grated in cans - I'd even avoid both domestic versions and certainly anything else pre-grated. The real stuff is a bit expensive but if it's kept well-wrapped and refrigerated, it will last a long time, and the flavor is so good, a little will go a long way. And of course, the better the quality of the olive oil, the better the final results. As with everything, the quality of the ingredients is key.

Remove the leaves from the basil.

Add the leaves with the pine nuts, garlic cloves, cheese and half of the olive oil into a food processor. Close the processor and turn it on full. In the opening at the top, slowly pour the remainder of the olive oil as the processor continues; you're ultimately looking for a paste with creamy consistency. Add more olive oil little by little if necessary to get the consistency you like.

This is the consistency I personally like. Season with salt to taste.

Boil 4 quarts of salted water in a large pot and add the pasta.

Drain the pasta and portion out to separate bowls. Add enough of the pesto to each bowl to cover the pasta when it is stirred in.

For this meal, we had a salad of fennel slices, orange slices, beet slices, and grapes dressed with a combination of saba syrup and olive oil, seasoned with kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper.