Thursday, September 8, 2011
We had some beautiful sweet potatoes in our mystery basket. We really just wanted to stare at them, but that would have made for some lousy radio. Fortunately I had made chili a few days earlier and thought to bring along the leftover chipotles so I could deploy one of my favorite flavor combinations.
MASHED SWEET POTATOES WITH CHIPOTLE
Chipotles in adobo sauce
Cream (milk, heavy cream, 1/2 and 1/2, even plain yogurt would be good)
Trim sweet potatoes, slice thick, and boil until soft. Drain and mash gently. Stir in some honey and a couple of chipotles, chopped, with plenty of the adobo hanging on them. Add a little cream, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust.
1.) Chipotles are pantry magic! The secret is that ridiculously tasty adobo sauce that they pack them in--far tastier than anything from a can should be. If you puree the peppers and the sauce up in a blender or food processor you can keep it covered in the fridge pretty much forever (hat tip to Bobby Flay). Start with a little of the chipotle and taste as you go; you're going for more smoky than hot.
2.) As with all potatoes, you want to mash them gently so you don't activate the gluten in them. Mash them just until they're mashed and then stir in the other ingredients.
3.) Despite the "sweet" moniker, sweet potatoes usually benefit from a little sweetening up. Honey worked well here; maple syrup would also be spectacular.
4.) You need very little cream here. If you just left it out it would probably be OK, but it will help take the hot edge off the chipotles (leaving more tangy and smoky flavor).
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed last night's show with the folks from Grow Appalachia and their stunning mystery basket of produce. Seriously, it was so beautiful that we didn't even want to cut it up and cook it. If anything the bounty of produce led us to overreach and try to do far too much, but it wouldn't be WCN! if we didn't overdo something.
Maggie brought some lovely green tomatoes; she wasn't sure of the variety, but they apparently stay green. They were tart and delicious, so Jenny suggested pickling them. Recipes from this show are VERY rough since we were cooking on the fly, but I'll do my best.
QUICK PICKLED GREEN TOMATO CAPRESE
Rice wine vinegar
Herbs, assorted (parsley worked well)
Slice green tomatoes as thinly as possible. (A mandoline is excellent for this.) Make a brine with rice vinegar and salt--you want about a 5% brine for pickles, and a cup of liquid to a tablespoon of salt will get you pretty close. Add a big dollop of honey--more than you think, since you have a lot of sour to counteract. Add a little black pepper. Taste and make sure it's tasty.
Submerge the tomatoes in the brine. Toss them around occasionally. In 30-45 minutes they should be nice and pickly. Arrange them on a plate with chunks of fresh mozzarella and sprinkle some herbs on top.
1.) This would be excellent with a fresh goat cheese, feta, cojita, or any sort of young cheese.
2.) A little red pepper flake might be nice in the pickle brine as well.
3.) DO NOT use quick pickle recipes for canning! Always use tested recipes for preserving.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
While Jonathan fired up the grill on the back deck (charcoal, newspaper, and a chimney starter eliminate the need for spraying the coals with nasty-tasting petroleum products), I prepped my vegetables. I had an eggplant, some yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, a red onion, some pretty red and yellow and orange bell peppers, and of course, some romaine lettuce. I was going for color and flavor--but you could put anything you want on this salad. I made it again a few nights later and added asparagus.
If you're going to grill eggplant, you need to salt it first to draw out the water so it will retain its shape. I cut mine longways into planks, about a half-inch thick, then sprinkled them liberally with kosher salt and layered them in a colander to drain. This really needs to be done about an hour before you grill, although I fudged and only had about a half hour, and mine came out okay. I cut the squash and zucchini into long planks, too, and sliced the onion into half-inch slices. I cut the peppers in half, removed the seeds and stems, and smashed them flat. I wanted everything big enough to not fall through the grate--you can always cut things up after you grill them.
The easiest way to do this is to throw everything (except the onion--it'll fall apart) into a big bowl and drizzle it with olive oil, then lay it on a hot oiled grill (use a grill brush to clean the grate, and a paper towel dipped in oil and held with tongs to oil the grill), sprinkle with salt (I like to use Goya Adobo), and grill until you get some char on the edges. At that point, if the vegetables aren't tender enough for you, you can lay them on the cooler side of the grill, or wrap them loosely in foil, where they'll steam a bit and soften.
While you're grilling the vegetables, you can make the dressing. Mash one or two anchovies (and if you think you don't like anchovies, please, just try this--they're delicious) and a few cloves of garlic (I think I used three) together with about four tablespoons of olive oil. An immersion blender makes quick work of this and produces a nice creamy dressing. Add the juice of one lemon. Place an egg, in the shell, on the grill for about four minutes, turning it with tongs halfway through. This will coddle the egg--since it won't be cooked through, you may want to use a pasteurized egg. Break the egg into the dressing and blend it until it emulsifies.
Now char the lettuce. If you're serving this with a nice steak, a good time to do this is while the meat rests after it comes off the grill. Cut the romaine heads lengthwise into halves or quarters, depending on how big it is. You want a nice flat surface to char. Brush the lettuce with olive oil. This should be done over fairly high heat, since you want to char the lettuce quickly--it will wilt a bit, but should remain crunchy. Turn it with tongs to char both sides. Remove the lettuce to a large platter, top with the chopped, grilled vegetables, and drizzle with the dressing. Oh, and croutons are nice here--I used some ciabatta rolls, cut into cubes and skewered, then brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and grilled a bit until they were crunchy.
As is the case with most salads, there are endless variations on this recipe. Add potatoes and sliced steak, or garbanzo beans and parmesan cheese. Use only the small inner cores of the lettuce and make little individual salads. Add some herbs to the dressing--it's your call. Happy grilling!
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Mofongo is considered the national dish of Puerto Rico, and is the best example of criolla cuisine. It is sometimes served on its own as a side dish, but it's usually stuffed or filled with pork, beef, or seafood, or topped with a seafood stew. (Jenny suggested after the show that it would be awesome filled with a ceviche, and as usual, she's right.)
The key technique here is the low-temperature frying of the plantains, low enough that you soften them but don't brown them. They will get greasy this way, but that's kind of a feature of the dish. Make sure you let them get good and soft.
8 green plantains, peeled and sliced into 1" chunks
4 oz pork rinds (chicharrones)
6 cloves garlic
salt, pepper, oil
Soak plantain chunks in salt water for 15 minutes. Dry thoroughly and fry in 325 degree oil for 10-15 minutes or until very soft. Remove to a colander and let drain until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, mash up garlic and pork rinds in a mortar and pestle or pilon. Add salt and pepper. (This dish requires more salt than you'd think. Most versions I had in PR were good but way underseasoned, IMO.) Add plantains and mash until it all comes together.
Roll into a ball and serve, or make a well in the ball and fill with tasty roasted meat or stew.
This is one of several Puerto Rican side dishes that can be described as "rice with stuff in it". In particular, this one is served alongside the pork at the lechoneras in Guavate. One of my favorite bites we had in PR was the takeout container of this we brought with us to the airport to eat before our flight home.
I don't have a whole lot of specific measurements here, but whatever you do will probably work.
Pigeon peas can be found among the Mexican/Hispanic ingredients at your local well-stocked megamart. So can annatto seeds; to make achiote oil, combine 1/4 cup of the seeds with 1/2 cup of corn or canola oil, simmer for 10 minutes, then strain when it cools. It will look like yellow food coloring, and will impart a beautiful yellow color to whatever you cook in it along with a subtle flavor. (It's known as the "poor man's saffron".) You can buy a sazon that's mostly achiote and coriander that's more traditional, but since coriander is generally frowned upon in my household, I use the regular Goya adobo seasoning.
Arroz con Gandules
1 pound medium-grain rice
2 cans green pigeon peas (gandules)
2 onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup olives, chopped
1-16 oz can tomatoes, drained
roast pork, diced (however much you have)
Heat the achiote oil in a skillet over medium-low heat and add all of the ingredients except for the rice, pork, and gandules. Saute slowly for about 30 minutes, until it all sort of collapses into a cohesive mass (known as a sofrito).
Meanwhile, rinse your rice until the rinsing water is clear. Put in a pot and cover with water to a depth of one knuckle over the rice. Bring to a boil, then add the sofrito, pork, and pigeon peas. Cover, reduce to the lowest possible heat, and let sit for about 20 minutes or until it's done. Stir and add more adobo if it needs it.
The Caribbean is full of unforgettable seafood dishes, but when I think of where island cuisine really shines, I think of pork. Puerto Rico is particularly known for its pig, as we found out when we were there in November, from the slow-roasted whole beasts of the lechoneras of Guavate to the smaller roasts you find at lunch counters all over, known as pernil.
This starts with a skin-on pork shoulder roast, the same cut my great-grandmother in Owsley County used to serve up every Sunday after church, with little potatoes roasted golden brown in the drippings. So this dish reminds me not only of my recent travels, but of those Sundays when I was a kid at Granny Eunice's. Isn't cooking awesome?
1 8-10 pound pork shoulder roast, skin-on
1 quart orange juice
2 sprigs oregano
2 heads garlic
salt, pepper, oil
Place a sprig of oregano and a head of garlic in a 2-gallon Ziploc and smash it up with a hammer. In a bowl, whisk up 1/2 cup of salt, some pepper, and the orange juice. Pour into the bag and massage the garlic and oregano into the mix.
Using a sharp knife, score the skin and the meat of the pork in a diamond pattern, like so:
Place in the bag and brine overnight, for up to 24 hours. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and put a rack on it. Take out the roast, dry it thoroughly with paper towels, and let it sit out to air dry for a couple of hours.
Peel the other head of garlic, pluck the leaves off the oregano, and mash them up to a paste with some salt, pepper, and a little oil of some kind. (A food procesor would work, but a mortar and pestle or pilon is perfect.) Spread this over the entire roast, making sure to get it down in the cracks.
Roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then at 325 degrees until it hits 180 degrees in the middle. Take it out and let it rest for 30 minutes. Don't even try to avoid picking at it.
Tiki drinks are a whole geeky subcategory of bartending nerddom, with their own obscure hardware and software. The ingredients themselves aren't hard to find (for the most part), but they're combined in ways that create a lot of complexity.
One of those ingredients is orgeat (or-zhat) syrup, which originated in France based on barley but is now usually an almond syrup flavored with orange flower and rose water. You can buy some commercial versions, but if there are any good ones they're hard to find and it's really easy to make at home. Kaiser Penguin's recipe was the basis for this one--I haven't changed it much.
(makes about two quarts)
1/2 lb almonds
2 1/2 pounds sugar
8 cups water
orange flower water (you can find these at the hippie grocery, or at a Middle Eastern or Indian grocery)
Grind almonds as finely as possible in the food processor. (You can use almond flour if you can find it, but it's more expensive that way.) Toast the ground almonds briefly in a dry saucepan, being careful not to burn them. (It happens fast.) Add the water and a pound of the sugar and bring it all to a boil. Simmer for about ten minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let it sit overnight.
The next day, strain the syrup through some cheesecloth and return it to the saucepan. Bring to a boil and then stir in the rest of the sugar. Turn it off, let it cool, then add drops of rose and orange flower water to taste (a little goes a long way).
Store in jars in the fridge. There will still be a lot of solid in it that rises to the top; just shake it before you use it. Aside from the Mai Tai (below), you can use it in the Japanese Cocktail--1/2 oz orgeat, 2 oz brandy or cognac, and 3 dashes Angostura bitters, shaken with ice and served up with a lemon twist. Outside the cocktail world, it's awesome in a Cafe Au Lait, and great with soda water.
The Mai Tai is a tiki classic, one of the drinks that put Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber on the map. These days it has become almost a generic term for anything fruity and rummy with an umbrella in it, which is a real shame. Cocktails like this one with so many ingredients usually blend together into noise, but the different flavors in this one play off one another so well that the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts.
I've expressed the recipe as a ratio. As always, I suggest using a kitchen scale for cocktails. Using 1/2 oz as your "one part" will make enough for two powerful drinks.
1 part simple syrup
2 parts lime juice
3 parts orange curacao
3 parts orgeat
6 parts white rum
6 parts dark rum (I like Cruzan blackstrap--it's not traditional, but it's tasty)
Shake all ingredients except the dark rum with ice. Pour over clean ice in a rocks glass. Using a bar spoon or just a really careful pour, pour the dark rum on top so that it forms a layer on top. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and a pineapple chunk on a toothpick and a little umbrella if you have one. Add a neon-colored bendy straw. (The straw is imperative, as it needs to be drunk from the bottom.)