Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner

Laura and I are usually responsible for the Thanksgiving feast - others handle Christmas and Christmas Eve dinners. Like the past few years we stayed pretty traditional - turkey, potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc. No recipes on this post but if anyone is interested I can add later. They're basically slightly altered versions of recipes from sources like Martha Stewart, Giada DeLaurentis, Ina Garten and others whose books and videos I've learned lots from, and they all came out very good. It was a lot of work but nothing I minded doing, in fact I get a big kick out of handling these big dinners.

Ice Cream

First up was the ice cream. A couple of days ahead of time I made a basic custard and steeped a split vanilla bean in it while it cooled. Usually I'll strain the flavoring but thought it would be nice to leave the bits in the cream this time. Added a little visual hint that the flavor came from a bean and not from extract.

I chilled the custard overnight and put it into the ice cream maker to turn for about a half hour. Once firmed I put it in the freezer for another night to freeze up for the dinner's dessert which also included a pear-apple-cranberry crisp.

Turkey Brine

As I've done the past two years, I brined the turkey overnight in a flavored salt, wine, water solution in a brining bag left in the cooler with ice at a constant 40 degrees. I pulled it out about an hour and a half prior to putting it in the oven and washed it thoroughly patting it dry to warm up a bit.
The past couple of years I hadn't much luck with cooking the stuffing in the bird so decided to just bake it separately. I got a great idea from somewhere to fill the turkey with fruits and herbs instead. I got three small lemons from our tree, cut up an apple, and added some thyme twigs, a branch of oregano, and several juniper berries, along with a generous sprinkling of salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

I then sewed the cavity shut with a paper clip running butcher twine on the edges, pulled the wings up under the body and tied the legs together to get everything into one package.

Turkey Roast

I draped a cheesecloth soaked in butter and riesling to cover the bird for the first half of the cooking - about 30 minutes at 450, the next hour at 350, removed the cheesecloth to cook for another hour and a half at which point the internal temperature was roughly 165-170. I turned off the heat, tented foil around the bird to rest in the warm oven for about an hour.

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce was a simple concoction of dried cranberries with sliced onions, orange zest, seasoned with curry, mace and sugar.

Italian Sausage and Sage Stuffing

The stuffing was a base of Italian sausage, onion, butter and sage mixed with a whole loaf of Acme whole wheat with the crusts removed and chicken broth and cooked at 350 for about 30-40 minutes.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

A simple Brussels sprouts dish sauteed in olive oil, crushed garlic and bacon bits, with chicken broth to moisten.


Here's the cooked turkey prior to opening and carving.


I had made a broth from the turkey gizzards, heart and lungs with onions, celery and leek. I used this for gravy by preparing a small slurry with a bit of the broth, the drippings stuck in the pan from the turkey loosened with some Madeira wine and the remainder of the broth. I de-fattened the drippings liquid and added them at the end. It was all reduced and seasoned with some salt and pepper prior to serving.
Plate of turkey after some damage had been done to it. (Didn't have a chance to get the camera out fast enough!)
Bowl of cranberry sauce.
Plate served with one of the legs, sprouts, stuffing, roasted potatoes/garlic, and cranberry.

Pear-Apple-Cranberry Crisp

This was the pear, apple, cranberry crisp. I had spent a few hours early in the week to make what seemed to be an interesting take on an apple and cranberry pie that resulted in a complete disaster but was rescued by this really nice and fairly easy-to-prepare crisp from an online Ina Garten recipe. Mucho gracias to her for it!
And it went perfectly with the ice cream, which was where it all started.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Poached Halibut with Potatoes

We had a couple of Yukon Gold potatoes left over from a dish last week and wanted a fish dinner after the beef delight the night before. As there was rain predicted and the sun is basically setting as early as it ever does in the year for the next few weeks, the Big Green Eggs are more or less out of commission until the spring so no outside grilling of the fish.

I had the basics of this recipe hanging around from somewhere a couple of years ago so I resurrected what I had of it and fill in the missing pieces.

Mise en place:

1 onion diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 Yukon Gold potatoes sliced very thinly
1 cup white wine (I used a Urano from Eral Bravo in Argentina)
1 cup chicken broth
several twigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
black pepper
1 pound fillet halibut (East Coast fluke)
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped

Heat a saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the diced onion and cook until limp and translucent.

Add the sliced potatoes, wine, broth, and seasonings and gently bring to a boil, then cover to cook for about 15 minutes.

Add the fish and top off the liquid with more broth or water so that the fish is just submerged. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes with liquid just at a simmer.
Remove the cover and raise the heat a little to maintain the simmer, allowing the liquid to reduce until the fish is done, about 5-7 minutes.

The ability to determine when a fish is done and not either under- or overdone is one of the two weakest links in cooking fish for most novice (and some not-so-novice) cooks, the other being the ability to select a fresh fish. It took me a while to develop this skill and still can be a bit tricky. In this case, I checked that the fish meat was starting to flake and that there was no red in the fold of the fillet. Eric Ripert also recommends using a metal skewer to pierce the meat and then bring its tip to the tongue - if the tip is not warm, the fish is not yet done. In addition to checking for the flaking, I used a crab picker for the 'tongue test'. Indeed I was tempted to remove the fish from the heat just a little too early but resisted based on both tests and very glad I did.

Use a spatula to remove the fish and potatoes onto a platter. If there is still a fair amount of liquid remaining in the pan, raise the heat a touch and reduce the liquid a bit more until it is the consistency of a nice sauce for the dish. Season the dish to taste with salt and pepper and sprinkle on the chopped parsley to serve.
We served this with a side of kale and olives, the same dish I blogged about last month.

This dish was probably one of my better in-the-house fish dinners as the broth was amazing which I think may have been from the wine I used. All in all this one is now a keeper for us. 
Let me know if you try this and how it turns out and/or if you have any questions about preparing it.
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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Anniversary Rib-Eye Steak Dinner

We usually save this dinner for New Year's Eve but I'll be working with the band that night this year so decided to use it for our wedding anniversary dinner instead. (Our actual celebration will be going out to Kokkari in SF on Sunday - we haven't dined there yet and are very much looking forward to it). The meal is steak, baked potatoes, and steamed broccoli with a dressing of homemade mayonnaise.

The recipe is based on one from Jacques Pepin that I picked up a long time ago and have since made my go-to 'in-the-house' steak dish. I've tailored the recipe a bit to accommodate grass-fed steak which I find takes a different handling than grain-fed beef in that grass-fed has quite a bit less fat and can be overcooked quite easily. Now that I've learned how to prepare it, the taste of grass-fed has me hooked as it's much less dense and I find that it contains a much more 'beefy' flavor.

2 1/2 pound grass-fed rib-eye steaks
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons shallots minced
2 tablespoons cognac
1 cup beef stock

Cut each of the two rib-eyes in half. Grind up the salt and peppers in a large mortar until well-ground but less fine than a powder. Rub the salt-pepper mix generously over the cut meat.

Heat a 12-inch iron skillet over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the butter with the canola oil. Once the butter ceases to foam, add the steak halves and allow to cook about 2 minute on one side without disturbing them. Flip the steaks over to the other side to cook for about 1-2 minutes or until using a 'touch' method to determine they are at medium-rare. Remove from the pan to a platter, cover with foil and allow to rest as you prepare the sauce.

Although meat thermometers are a blessing when cooking a large piece of meat, like a whole chicken, a pork roast, or a large chuck, I find it much better to use the touch method to determine the doneness of a steak or other smaller cuts like pork chops. I try not to overdo it during cooking as there is a risk of pushing out juices from the meat, hence flavor, but once I can determine from sight that the meat is getting close, then I'll use touch to support my sense of doneness. It took me a while and plenty of trial and error to get accurate readings from the touch method, but now it rarely fails me.

Reduce the heat of the pan to medium then add the minced shallots to the pan, adding an extra bit of oil if the pan seems too dry, and allow to cook for about a minute, until the shallots are limp. Add the cognac (be careful here as the liquor might catch a brief flame - whatever you do, don't freak on it) and allow it to reduce a little before adding the remaining tablespoon of butter and the beef stock. Allow the contents of the pan to reduce over medium heat to a gravy, about 3-4 minutes. When it is done, pour over the steaks and serve.
To give you an idea of what I consider to be a perfect medium-rare on a grass-fed rib-eye:
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Braised Lamb Shanks with Honey

This meal was from 3 recipes, two of which were new to me and the other that I had only cooked once a few years ago. What they have in common is that they really were a lovely combination on a chilly damp night in November and they were all from one of the basic books in my cooks library - Nancy Harmon Jenkins' The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. If you don't have this one in your library, I strongly recommend getting it and experimenting with the dishes in it.

Andalusian Braised Lamb Shanks with Honey

As usual I put my own spin on this using whole shanks, hot pimenton, using cognac as the brandy, and re-using the oil in which the shanks had cooked to cook the remaining ingredients for the braise.

1/4 cup olive oil
3 meaty lamb shanks (2 1/2 pounds)
2 medium onions diced
1 medium green bell pepper diced
1 1/2 teaspoons saffron thread dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons smoked pimenton
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup brandy
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Black pepper

In a large Dutch oven or casserole, heat olive oil over a medium-high heat. Add the shanks and turn to brown on all sides. Remove the shanks from the heat, lower the flame to medium and add the diced onion and bell pepper. Cook until the veggies have softened but before they color, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the pimenton on the vegetables and stir to combine well. Add the saffron water, brandy, and wine and cook until about half of the liquid is reduced.
Return the shanks to the pot and add enough water to cover them about halfway. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover the pot allowing the braise to cook for about 2 1/2 hours. Keep an occasional eye on it to make sure the liquid doesn't burn off.
After the cooking time, the meat on the shanks should practically be falling off the bone. Remove them to rest under foil and make the gravy with the remaining liquid.
Add the honey, sherry vinegar, and seasonings then increase the heat and bring to a boil so that the liquid can reduce uncovered. You're looking to get the gravy to a thicker consistency so that it can dress the meat. This took me about 15 minutes.
Once the gravy is as you like it, remove from the heat and pour over the shanks to serve immediately.

Tuscan Beans with Olive Oil and Aromatics

This was a nice revelation for me as it finally got into my head how to make a nice, tasty, simple bean dish that could be tweaked in many different directions.

1 1/2 cups dried cannellini beans soaked overnight (or by a quick-soak method)
3 1/2 cups cold water

1 onion peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic crushed slightly
4-5 sage leaves
2 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns
1 small red hot chili pepper

1/4 cup high quality olive oil
1 clove thinly sliced garlic
juice of 1/2 lemon
minced herbs like basil, parsley, sage
black pepper

Basically this calls for cooking the beans in water that will also result in a nice stock for the final dish. Add the beans to a medium saucepan with the water and the Aromatics. Bring the water to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Allow the beans to cook for at least 30 minutes. Depending upon how fresh the beans are, they make take longer up to 1 1/2 hours to soften without breaking down. Once the beans are cooked, remove from the heat and remove the beans without the aromatics to a separate bowl saving the cooking water separately. You can crush some of the beans if you like and smooth with a bit of the water.
Add the oil to the beans and flavor with the sliced garlic, lemon juice, herbs, and salt and pepper. This can be served immediately or once cooled to room temperature.

Steamed Squash with a Chermoula Sauce

This is a nice alternative to the usual preparation of roasting squash in the oven. It was kind of a bitch to peel the raw squash, especially since I used a left over acorn squash from a recipe I made last week and the ribbed edges took a time to work on, but well worth it. The chermoula sauce also works very well with cooked carrots.

1 1/2 pounds acorn squash (butternut or kabocha would also work well)

Chermoula Sauce:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cilantro
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon sweet pimenton
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

You can prepare the chermoula by finely mincing the ingredients but I just pound them in a mortar into a paste.

To make the chermoula:
Add the cumin seeds to the mortar and grind well. Add the salt and the garlic cloves and pound to a paste. Add the cilantro, parsley, and pimenton and pound that into the paste as well. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and combine to complete the sauce. Leave aside to marinate while you prepare the squash.

To cook the squash:
Peel the skin off of the squash. Cut the squash meat into roughly 2-inch chunks. Prepare a pot with a steamer basket and add water to bring to a boil. Add the cut squash to the steamer and cook over rapidly boiling water for at least 10 minutes or until the squash is soft but not falling apart.
Remove the squash to a mixing bowl and gently combine the chermoula to coat but not to break up the squash.
Serve hot or at room temperature.

Chicken Hash Redux

I made the dish again this past Monday from the post I had added a few months ago.  This time I took a few photos.

Funny how I completely forgot all about having made this dish until I had left over chicken from a few days before and wanted to use for a quick weeknight meal with pantry ingredients. I wound up replacing the bell pepper in the original recipe with chopped celery that we had in the frig.
And that's really why I started this blog.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ground Pork with Tofu and Eggplant

We had a recipe for this that we found online but completely made it over in our own style. The only things that remains from the original are the main ingredients.

1 large eggplant cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cloves garlic pounded into a paste
2 tablespoons grated ginger root
4 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 pound ground pork
8 oz firm tofu drained of packing water cut into 1 inch cubes
2 green onions

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese hot bean sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons corn starch thoroughly mixed in 1/4 cup water

Combine the four sauce ingredients into a bowl and set aside.
Heat a wok over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil. When hot, add the cubed eggplant and stir-fry until the eggplant is soft and colored. Note that the eggplant will quickly soak up the oil and then reduce in size as it is cooked. Remove from the wok and drain in a bowl lined with a paper towel.
Add the remaining two tablespoons of peanut oil, then the garlic and ginger to cook until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the ground pork and stir to break it up. Stir-fry the pork as it cooks. When the pork is well cooked and colored, about 5-6 minutes, add the cubed tofu to heat up and color a bit, stir-frying it about a minute as it is combined with the pork. Add back the eggplant into the wok with the pork and tofu to heat it up again.
Stir the cornstarch-water mixture to make sure it is well combined then stir into the sauce. Pour the sauce into the wok and stir to combine with the pork, tofu, eggplant until heated.
Remove from heat and serve.

Grilled Pork Chop with Kale and Olives

I was going to try a new recipe of a Greek dish with pork shoulder but the butcher happened to be out of shoulder so we went with some fine-looking pork chops. We got ones with bone-in from a heritage pig, so plenty of fat on them. The last time I made pork chops I had trouble with the medium Big Green Egg that I would usually grill it on (still learning it as it's pretty different than the XL BGE I'm much more used to) so went with cooking it indoors by pan-frying it then finishing it in the oven. However I mis-timed everything and was a bit disappointed with the results so I was happy to get another try with the BGE again.

The meal was grilled pork chops served with sides of kale with olives and roasted potatoes.

Grilled Pork Chops

2 bone-in pork chops (from organic source of a heritage pig)

1 large garlic clove
2 tablespoons olive oil

On the fatty end of the chops, cut a couple of vertical slits (perpendicular to the chop) to prevent them from curling up on the grill. Pound the garlic with a pinch of salt in a mortar then add the olive oil to combine. Add fresh-cracked black pepper. With a rubber spatula, scoop up the marinade and slather onto the chops. Put the chops into a ziploc bag with marinade and put into the frig for at least an hour.
Fire up the grill. Once very hot, clean the grate and then oil it. Remove the chops from the bag and put over direct heat to sear. On the BGE I find it takes only a couple of minutes to get a good set of grill marks on the first side before turning over. Let it sear on the other side for a few minutes then shut down the openings to continue cooking without the flame. This took only a couple of minutes as the temperature was about 500 at this point. Once the touch method lets you know it is about medium done, remove from the grill and cover with foil to allow it to rest about 10 minutes.

Kale with Olives

This was from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone.
1 large bunch kale, stems removed, leaves washed and chopped coarsely
1/2 cup marinated olives pitted and chopped coarsely
3 tablespoons olive oil
Red Pepper flakes

Best to make this just prior to serving. Boil kale leaves in salted water for about 10 minutes. Drain well and combine in a bowl with the olives, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt and serve.

Roasted Potatoes

2 pounds Yukon Gold or Fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 head of garlic, cloves separated but left unpeeled
1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat an oven for roasting at 425.
Put 4 quarts water in a large pot and over high heat to boil. While waiting for the water to boil, chop the potatoes into 1-inch pieces. When the water is boiling, add the chopped potatoes to parboil for about 2-3 minutes. Drain in a colander.
Move the potatoes to a large bowl with the olive oil, rosemary and garlic to combine and season well with the salt and pepper. Prepare a baking pan by smearing olive oil on the surface, then emptying the potatoes from the bowl onto the pan in a single layer. I usually line a flat baking pan with foil and rub the oil on the foil to prevent the potatoes from sticking while cooking.
Put the pan in the preheated oven on the middle rack and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the potatoes have browned well, stirring them occasionally during the cooking.
Remove from the oven and cover with foil until serving.