Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hoisin-Grilled Spatchcocked Chicken with Asparagus and Shitake Stir-Fry

How weird, anal, and obsessive is my recipe collecting? You don’t really want to know. I’ll just say that for years I’ve been cutting photos and recipes out of magazines and filing them by category. One of those magazines is Living, and its recipes get their own filing system. Recipes from other food publications have a separate system of their own. Too much information? You don’t want to see the files or how they’re overflowing at this point. The important thing is that I do actually, eventually thumb through them for inspiration.

In Living, there’s a section each month called What’s for Dinner, and four recipe cards are included with photos on the front sides. They get their own file folder. Well, at long last, a What’s for Dinner dating from March 2003 made it to our table last Sunday. As it appeared on the recipe cards, it was
Hoisin-Roasted Game Hens with Asparagus and Shitake Stir-Fry.

I revised the meal a little by using a whole chicken instead of game hens, and the chicken was spatchcocked and grilled instead of roasted. The chicken was prepared as follows:
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T minced fresh ginger
2 fresh red Fresno chiles, seeded and finely chopped
3 T chopped fresh cilantro
1 T lime juice
1 t soy sauce
¼ c canola oil
½ c hoisin sauce
-remove backbone from chicken and flatten it with wings tucked back
-mix all ingredients except hoisin together and spoon mixture over both sides of chicken and rub under skin; refrigerate until ready to grill
-grill over high heat for seven to ten minutes per side, then move chicken to a cooler side of the grill; baste with hoisin sauce and cook for ten minutes; turn and baste other side and cook until juices run clear when pierced, about another ten minutes

Note about hoisin sauce: Some brands list sugar as the first ingredient and contain astronomical amounts of sodium. I chose
House of Tsang brand because the first ingredient listed is fermented soybean paste, it contains no msg, and it is much lower in sodium and sugar than others.

For the asparagus and shitake stir-fry, my only change was adding red bell pepper. The plated chicken and vegetables were sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds and chopped cilantro. I’m glad I kept these recipes. Hoisin makes a great barbeque sauce, and this was another really easy meal.

What will I do if I ever make it through all of my files? What if they’re left empty with nothing remaining to cook? I’ll just keep reading so that never happens.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Grits, Cheese, Corn, and Onion Souffles

Last weekend, I tried a few new and different dishes, and all of them had one thing in common. Everything I prepared was incredibly simple and shockingly good given the scant active time involved. Souffles, so dramatic in appearance but simple to create, clearly fit this description. This recipe from Bon Appetit’s June issue was the main dish of our Sunday brunch.

After making corn cream and macque choux the night before, I had some remaining fresh corn. It just seemed like a perfect fit to include it in the grits soufflés. And, it was. The airy egg texture was contrasted by a fresh burst of corn. I didn’t have any leeks, but the 3/4 c yellow onion plus green onions provided enough flavor from the allium family. The pepper Monterey Jack was a nice addition, and more heat from fresh jalapenos would be a consideration in the future. I garnished the finished soufflés with chopped cilantro.

When dishes require a lot of chopping, marinating, blanching, basting, waiting, mixing, turning, slicing, etc., you feel like you really earned the right to a delicious meal. As you gladly get to finally sit and taste, you think, yes, this was worth all of that. Last weekend, I felt almost guilty that I wasn’t even a little fatigued after preparing these meals. It was like some magic happened that made amazing meals come out of nowhere. I sat, ate, and was delighted to enjoy really great, nearly effortless food.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Seared Scallops with Corn Cream and Macque Choux

Last Thursday evening, we attended Crescent City Cooking with a Focus on Seafood at Central Market cooking school. The class was taught by Susan Spicer who is Chef of Bayonna and Herbsaint in New Orleans. Her self-described style of French-inspired, eclectic cooking was demonstrated in four courses. Spinach salad with pan-sauteed Gulf oysters, a soup and sandwich course of shrimp and tomato bisque with a seared tuna muffaletta, a duo of fish course of cornmeal crusted catfish over a red bean puree and a pecan crusted red snapper with a citrus butter sauce, and last, mint julep ice cream. I left the class very happy and inspired. Bean puree as a sauce for fish! Keep the shrimp flavor subtle in bisque and add just a hint of anise from Herbsaint or Pernod! Cook over lower heat when using a nut crust on fish fillets so it doesn’t burn!

Armed with a signed copy of Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans and the desire to keep eating food like what we sampled in the class, I set out to create one of her dishes at home over the weekend. That dish was Seared Scallops with Corn Cream and Macque Choux. Spicer explains that macque choux is a Cajun version of Yankee succotash made with corn kernels, diced tomatoes, and green onion.

Now, Kurt likes to point out that, due to my Illinois upbringing, I’m a sucker for fresh corn. He’s from Illinois too, but I really love fresh corn (and popcorn and cornmeal and polenta and grits). I can tell good fresh corn from so-so fresh corn and several levels of ok-ness in the middle. Small-kerneled, crunchy white corn can be the very best there is, but big, juicy yellow kernels are undeniably addictive. But, even if you only moderately like corn, like normal people, you will really like this dish. It was in the category of I can’t believe I made this it’s so good.

Corn freshly cut from the cob is briefly cooked in butter and a small amount of water. Then, it’s pureed in a blender and should be poured through a sieve into simmering cream. I didn’t sieve it because I wanted all the corn goodness I could get. The texture was still very smooth and silky despite having skipped the sieving. The corn cream is pooled on a plate, the macque choux is piled in the center, the scallops are nestled about the center pile, and pan drippings from the searing are dribbled about the composition. It was unbelievable how simple this preparation was in relation to its deliciousness. 1:5,000. I think this new book and I are going to be spending a lot of time together in the kitchen.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Yucatecan-Style Grilled Mahi Mahi and Rice with Roasted Poblanos, Spinach, and Goat Cheese

Following the Tuna Tostadas and wheat beer tasting, the meal continued with marinated and grilled mahi mahi with habañero-tomato salsa and a poblano and spinach rice dish. I have to brag a little about some backyard harvesting for this meal. Even though our banana plants aren’t doing so great in the drought this year, I stole one leaf for wrapping the fish. I was rather proud to put an ornamental plant to use for culinary purposes. I follow organic gardening practices throughout my yard whether the plants are edible or not, so the leaf was not only fresh but also free from any chemical sprays or fertilizers. I also have a small, sad-looking, heat-abused Mexican oregano plant, and I used a few fresh leaves from it rather than buying the dried herb.

The fish fillets were marinated, then packed into banana leaf cozies, with bay leaves from my very own tree, and secured with kitchen twine. The grilling time depends on the thickness of the fillets and the temperature of the grill. We left the packets on for about 12 minutes and turned them over for a minute or two at the end.

The mahi mahi was very pretty presented in the banana leaf, and the marinade delivered great flavor. But. Now, let me take a moment to attempt an explanation. I’m pretty sure that I like every kind of fish and shellfish out there. There really isn’t one that I dislike. Although, I’ve never actually tried eel, and there’s a good chance I’d hate it. That being said, I don’t dislike mahi mahi, but it’s just not my favorite fish. Mahi mahi can be very dry when overcooked, but this was cooked perfectly. I believe my issue with it could have something to do with the flake. Other fish flakes better, maybe? The meal overall was so fantastic, that this is really nitpicking, but I couldn’t give this dish more than four out of five stars simply because it was mahi mahi. If you feel the same, choose halibut or possibly swordfish and enjoy a five star dish.

The habañero-tomato salsa was very good. How could it not be? When I see these ingredients together in a bowl, I know it’s going to be good. The salsa and the earthy yet acidic marinade flavors made this a very good mahi mahi experience. The bright colors, the red from the achiote and tomatoes and the green of the banana leaf and lime, and the bold flavors produced such a spectacle it’s hard to believe a humble, little rice dish on the side could even be noticed.

The rice was not only noticed, it deserved a blue ribbon. It may be the most successful rice dish I’ve ever made to date. This was taken from Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless. After the rice had cooked and then sat for 15 minutes, I turned it out into a large mixing bowl to fold in the goat cheese. This allowed the moisture at the bottom of the saucepan to evaporate. The texture of the rice was perfect, and the poblanos and spinach were delicious additions. The poblanos were roasted on the grill before the fish was cooked, and I used goat cheese that was already in my refrigerator instead of queso fresco. I expected it to be a perfectly fine rice side, but it was far more than fine.

We chose a 2006 Albariño by Bodegas Viña Nora from Galicia, Spain for the main course, and it was just right for this meal. The meal was light yet very fully flavored and kind of thrilling. The simple, white rice rested calmly next to the exuberant mahi mahi and held its own with the flavor of mild poblano chiles and the tangy bliss of goat cheese. This Latin American cooking challenge was a definite success.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tuna Tostadas and Beer Tasting

Every once in a rare while, Kurt will make a suggestion as to a type of food or a particular dish that I should attempt. Once, it was a request for potato leek soup. Another time, it was something Argentinean. Often, it’s mac and cheese. Last week, perhaps inspired by Tony’s visit to Colombia given that it came up while watching that episode, he issued a Latin American cooking challenge. There were no specifics; the meal was not required to be Colombian. This was just a general hankering for Latin American or Mexican flavors. I, of course, was delighted to comply.

In an effort to further complicate the meal, we also conducted a beer tasting during the hors d'oeurves course. To explain, we have become enamored with wheat beers (or weisse, wit, white, hefeweissen, etc.). We taste, take notes, compare, and contrast, and we have our favorites. This week, the tasting included
Allagash White and Schneider Weisse. The Allagash White was light and refreshing although low on carbonation. The mild flavor was mostly of yeast, and it was the better pairing with the tostadas. The Schneider Weisse was on the darker end of the wheat beer spectrum but also mildly flavored. Both were good but neither changed the top three slots on our scorecard. Our current top three continue to be:

1. Mothership Wit by New Belgium
Nothing touches it. This is hands down our favorite wheat beer with its crispness and slight citrus flavor.
2. White Rascal by Avery Brewing Co.
An excellent summer beer with a unique but subtle acidity.
3. Dog in Heat Hefeweissen by Flying Dog
This is also darker than most wheat beers and therefore more full-flavored and pleasantly so.

I should note that Live Oak HefeWeizen is a favorite of ours, but it is not sold bottled. We’re always pleased when we find it on tap.
Now, back to the food. I noticed these tostadas on Epicurious and thought they would be perfect for an antojito/beer tasting. I wasn’t able to purchase fresh corn tortillas on Saturday, so I used fresh whole wheat tortillas. Other than that, and skipping the scant amount of sugar listed, I followed the recipe exactly. And, wow, these were good. They were exciting to eat because they were so right. When a bit of chipotle was noticed while chewing, it was a happy moment. More chipotle would be welcome. However, the pumpkin seeds left us a little ambivalent. They were fine but didn’t really bring anything noteworthy to the mix. Definitely skippable. Everything else about these tostadas was excellent. Get the best tuna you can find, compose these quick little bites, and enjoy them as much as we did.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Roasted Beets with Horseradish Vinaigrette

Thank you to Michael Symon for this dish, and thank you to Michael Ruhlman for including it in The Soul of a Chef. While I’m at it, I should thank Central Market for selling both golden and red beets in bulk. No longer does the shopper have to purchase entire bunches of beets; one can now select individual beets of preferred color and size. So, why the gushing gratitude? This dish was fantastic.

I recently read The Soul of a Chef, which is great, and which includes recipes in the back. This one inspired near-immediate action. The ingredients just seemed right. In fact, horseradish, orange juice, and truffle oil come together in the vinaigrette to form a perfect accompaniment for the roasted beets. It’s really an ideal combination. These flavors were meant to co-exist.

I wasn’t able to locate fresh horseradish last weekend. I know I’ve bought it in early spring before, so I assume it’s out of season. For this dish, I purchased Vavel which is a prepared horseradish with no high-fructose corn syrup. It is preserved with vinegar, so I held back a little on the recipe’s specified amount of rice vinegar. Then, although watercress was to top the arrangement of sliced beets, I used sunflower sprouts. Once again,
watercress was unavailable. Central Market loses one point for never having watercress.
Grilled ruby trout alongside the salad completed the meal. Not only was it delicious, the look of the salad is very striking on the plate. The only negative note is that those red beets will stain your cutting board, but they’re worth it. And, they’re good for you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Figs with Rosemary Goat Cheese

Last week at the farmers’ market, the first figs of the season appeared. They were small and cute, and I couldn’t resist. I had a couple of ideas for how I would use them. First, I knew I had seen a photo of figs in meringue somewhere, and the image had stuck with me. When I finally found the recipe, I gave it a try. This was a very simple and nice-looking dessert, but in the end it wasn’t one for the permanent file. Kurt’s not a big fan of meringue, and it just wasn’t stellar enough for me to crave it again at a later date.

What I wanted for the remaining figs was something a little more savory. I decided on a goat cheese spread with rosemary. The photos may not look like much, but this was very delicious. It’s Mediterranean in every way: simple, fresh, a perfect mingling of flavors. And, all the ingredients came from right outside my door. Or, pretty close anyway. The figs were of course locally grown, the goat cheese was Texas-made, the honey was local, and I grew the rosemary myself. This recipe has been filed, and I’ll definitely make this again.
5 oz goat cheese at room temperature
1-2 T sour cream
1 t fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
2 t honey
Fresh figs

In a medium bowl, stir goat cheese to soften texture. Add 1 T sour cream, rosemary, and honey, and stir to combine. If mixture is very thick, add additional 1 T sour cream and stir to achieve a spreadable consistency.

Monday, July 14, 2008

World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie

Yes, I too read the David Leite article in The NY Times, and of course had to test the recipe. Then, today, I read on The Motley Fool that in these troubling economic times we need comfort food, and that’s why this was the most emailed article from that day. I wasn’t really pondering the state of the stock market when I decided to bake these cookies, but maybe it was a subliminal influence. I know I was thinking that these had to be better than the vegan cookie I bought with my lunch last Thursday. There’s nothing wrong with a vegan cookie in general, and maybe that one just wasn’t the best of the batch, but sometimes a classic is in order.
I followed the Jacques Torres recipe. But, if you would prefer to stick to your favorite recipe, the most important tips here are chilling the dough for 36 hours and using excellent chocolate disks instead of chips. I used Colombian chocolate disks with 65% cacao. A third intriguing tip is sprinkling the shaped cookie dough with sea salt just before placing in the oven. Since I’m a freak for sweets accented by sea salt, of course I did that as well.
Result? Kurt is the chocolate chip cookie connoisseur in our house, so the judgment was up to him. Being the logical sort, he felt that to make an adequate decision he needed to compare samples of all his favorite chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever made. That didn’t happen, so his best guess was this was one of the finest he’s had. Definitely very good. Highly recommended. Those chocolate disks or feves are a bit pricier than standard chocolate chips, but they make for a wonderful cookie.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lonestar Blueberry Tart

The 4th of July inspired a bit of festive, all-American cooking. I created a cocktail, tried a new mac and cheese recipe (that failed in my opinion), grilled chicken sausages, and baked a blueberry tart. I’m skipping right past that mac and cheese because if it’s not spectacular, I don’t need to remember it. The blueberry tart, however, deserves some attention.

The July issue of Bon Appetit included a blueberry pie with cornmeal crust which caught my eye. I made use of the crust recipe with a couple of changes. I’m not a fan of vegetable shortening non-hydrogenated or otherwise, so I used all butter. And, I thought 1/4 cup of medium ground cornmeal wasn’t enough to really affect the flavor and texture. I increased it to 1/2 cup and reduced the amount of flour accordingly. The crust was delicious with just enough cornmeal taste and a slight added crunch.

For the filling, I used two pints of fresh, Texas blueberries, some zest and juice of one lemon, about 1/4 cup of cornstarch, and four tablespoons or so of local wildflower honey. Stimulated as I was by the American-ness of the weekend, I placed shooting star pastry cut-outs on top. They were brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with turbinado sugar. I couldn’t help taking the local, Texas theme one step farther. For serving, Texas peaches were cut into slices to gild the whipped, heavy cream, and all together it was delicious. Summer in Texas isn’t bad.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Strawberry Sparkler

Crisp, cold, fruity, and refreshing. This was a perfect cocktail for the 4th of July holiday. I perused some cocktail recipes here and there online but didn’t find quite exactly what I wanted. So, with inspiration from several sources, I created this light and lovely strawberry sparkler which proved to be a delightful thirst quencher in the July heat. The fresh strawberries were steeped in lime juice and simple syrup and were then pureed with ice and rum. Sparkling mineral water topped it off and gave the drink its effervescence. I left these cocktails a little light in the sugar department, but the simple syrup can be added to taste. The important thing here is to use fresh, organic strawberries and fresh lime juice. I specify organic strawberries because when grown conventionally, they are a very heavily pesticide-covered fruit. Also, I’ve been using organic sugar lately and find it has a warmer or rounder flavor than bleached, granulated sugar. One more tip: turbinado sugar makes a nice crunchy coating on the top of the glass.

3/4 c organic sugar
1 c water
2 1/2 c organic strawberries, hulled and halved
16 oz fresh lime juice
1 c your favorite summer rum
4 T turbinado sugar
Sparkling mineral water, chilled

-place sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves; remove from heat and let simple syrup cool to room temperature
-place strawberries in a medium bowl and cover with lime juice; add 3/4 c cooled simple syrup and let sit for 20 minutes or longer; save remaining simple syrup for another use or add more to taste
-fill blender pitcher 1/3 full with ice; add half of the strawberry mixture and steeping liquid; add 1/2 c rum (or more to taste); blend until smooth
-place turbinado sugar on a small plate; dip tops of four tall glasses in water or steeping liquid and then press into turbinado sugar; fill glasses 3/4 full with blended strawberry mixture and top with sparkling mineral water
-repeat blending and serving for four more cocktails or refills

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Eggs with Chiles and Tomatoes

A few weeks ago when I was picking up my CSA share, I found myself in a conversation about cooking. Strange, huh? Ok, I find myself in such conversations all the time. When someone at the grocery store is buying a lot of one vegetable, I have to know how he or she is planning to use it. On that particular day, I was going on about what I’d been making with my fresh veggies and what I had planned for that week. My friend from WCOF said “here’s what you have to try: eggs with chiles and tomatoes.” He described to me in general terms how the dish comes together. I had an immediate, happy flashback to a brunch at Fonda San Miguel and their eggs poached in stewed poblanos. I enjoy eggs just about any which way, but eggs with hot chiles are outstanding. The delicate, subtle egg is never lost; its flavor just gets sidled right up to by the chiles’ earthy heat. One of my favorite frittatas is one with green chiles and monterey jack cheese. As 'eggs with chiles and tomatoes' was described to me, it also reminded me of a Martha recipe for poached eggs in tomato sauce. This would be a little different since the sauce would be pretty chunky from fresh tomatoes and lots of chiles. Here’s how I threw it together.

2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1/4 c finely chopped red onion
2 anaheim chiles, seeded and roughly chopped
2 mild chiles such as hungarian wax or cubanelle, seeded and roughly chopped
3 jalapenos, roughly chopped with or without seeds and membranes
1 jalapeno, not seeded, sliced for garnish
2 serrano chiles, seeded and roughly chopped
1 large heirloom tomato, chopped into 1” chunks
5 eggs
1/2 c shredded monterey jack cheese
2 green onions, sliced for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

-pre-heat broiler; in a medium sauté pan over medium heat, heat oil and melt butter; add onion and chiles, season to taste, and sauté until just softened; add tomato chunks and cook until starting to break apart and juices escape, about seven minutes
-break eggs into stewed tomatoes and chiles and cook for two minutes; sprinkle monterey jack on top and place under broiler for about five minutes or until eggs are just set and cheese has browned slightly
-garnish with sliced green onion and sliced jalapeno and serve in bowls
The eggs don’t exactly poach since there isn’t room for them to be completely immersed. Instead, they’re sort of soft fried. The spicy chiles, the melted cheese, and the crunchy garnishes make this dish a satisfying morning meal. Next time, I’ll have some warm corn tortillas ready as an accompaniment. In fact, now that I’ve thought of that, I can’t wait to make it again.

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