Tuesday, July 22, 2014

lamb, peach, olive. CHARCOAL.

I have not cooked in three months.  This is true.  How did this happen!? I'm quite ashamed of myself. It's been way too long.  I'm in a different place, new kitchen, and new goods.  Quite frankly, it took me a hot second to figure out how to navigate the kitchen...I'm still not used to it! But hey...everyone needs to get used to new surroundings.  On the bright side, I now have a PORCH.  A GRILL (albeit mini).  AND a mini garden!! Some items that were used today....and tomatoes to come.  I can't tell you how excited I am.  

It's a whole new stainless steel.  Green thumb may actually be a part of my life now if I find I have a knack for it!  Sadly, I don't have as much access to all of the fun stuff that I had in the city (you don't know what you got til it's gone...thanks Joni), so now I have to be REALLY creative.  

Regardless, it's good to be back in the kitchen.  I can't remember the last time I grilled...let alone on a charcoal grill.  Oh wait, yes I do.  College.  Burgers and beer bongs.  Clearly shouldn't use that as a barometer of cooking.  So let's just say this was a first!

First thing I saw at the store...yes, the store. No more markets. So sad! I digress....first thing I saw - PEACHES.  So good.  I love peaches and haven't gotten my fair share of them at all.  And what is better to grill than peaches? Lots of things, but that's not the point.  I was on the hunt for duck, although this lovely establishment had no duck...so I opted for lamb.  Of course, I befriended to butcher, Mr. Caputo, who promised he would give me a butchering lesson.  I'll believe it when I see it!

Lamb, peaches...olives?! Sure!! Why not! I figured I could do something with it.  And we all know I have enough spices in my life to come up with something. But I didn't want to go too heavy handed on the spices...I wanted to let the grill flavor shine on it's own. So that's what I did.  

Sidebar: I have a wood porch. And a charcoal grill. And I live in a wood home.  This was a very exhilarating experience for me to say the least! 

On we go!

Rack of Lamb, Grilled Peach & Olive, Szechuan Peppercorn
Serves 4
2 racks of lamb, trimmed of fat
2 peaches, halved and pitted
1/4 cup chopped olives, preferably castelvetrano
1 serrano pepper, minced
1 t szechuan peppercorns, crushed
1 t apple cider vinegar
2 sprigs fresh mint
Olive oil
Kosher Salt
Fresh ground pepper

Alright.  This is super easy.  But delicious!! I'd suggest cutting your racks in half just for ease of cooking.  They can be served whole, but slicing leads to a better presentation.  On we go! Season heavily with salt and pepper, and allow the racks to come almost to room temperature.

While that is happening, light you're grill! If you have a gas grill, you're lucky.  Put that 'isn on medium.  If not, light that charcoal up! I'd say you want it to be about 400F, but I have no thermometer with my little grill.  Looks like this blog is taking a turn for the worst....moving on! With charcoal, light and let the fire die down.  It's better to cook with dry heat than anything else.  Once that happen, place the lamb fat side down on the grill.  Allow the fat to render (it will flare up), and get a nice crispy exterior.  About 6 minutes.  Flip and get a nice char on the remaining side.

Cook for about 5 more minutes and remove from heat - allow to rest.  While resting, cook the peaches!!  Season with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Place cut side down on the grill and allow to caramelize a little bit.  Cook until there are some nice char marks, flip and cook for about a minute more.

Once the peaches are finished, prepare the olive and peach salad.  For presentation, you can sliver off the charred side of the peach, but it's not necessary.  Chop the peaches into nicely sized chunks, and toss in with the olives.  Drizzle with about 1 T of olive oil, and toss with a pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper, the serrano, vinegar and the mint.  Place in the fridge to chill for a bit!

PLATE!!! Slice each individual rib to serve.  Sprinkle all of the ribs with a tad bit of szechuan peppercorn.  Divide the peach salad atop each plate.  Prepare and devour.

Such a fun dish! Lamb had a great charcoal char on it (not lighter fluid mind you) but paired very well with the peach and olive salad.  Both are ingredients that would play well with lamb on it's own, so I figured, why not test it out together?! The chill on the salad was a nice place with the warm lamb and the "warmness" of the dish in general, especially with the grilling aspect.  The mint brightened up the whole dish as well.  Overall success!!

Cooking, it's good to see you again. It's been too long.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Short Hiatus!

Hello readers!

Just wanted to drop a quick note - I have some new developments, and have obviously had to take some time off from the blog. I will be back up and running soon!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

nothing says springtime like lamb

FULL DISCLOSURE: bon appétit magazine had this recipe a long time ago...and I REALLY wanted to make it but sadly, never did so.  Until today.  HOLY MACKEREL! This dish, when I first saw it, made me SO excited....it sounds delicious, looks beautiful, and has amazing ingredients. What can go wrong? Generally a lot of things.  Our eyes ARE always bigger than our stomachs. In this case, I wish my eyes were a BIT bigger...this dish is so delicious, that the portions I offered to myself were way too small.   The ingredients are pretty standard of North African dishes - the spices, the pistachios, and the pomegranates.  All things that add a certain "je ne sais quoi" to dishes.  Beyond that, we all know that I have a strong affinity towards North African cuisine - Tunisian, Moroccan, Algerian, you name it.  I can imagine this "stir-fry" would make a stellar partner to couscous!

On to the recipe - fortunately, it's that time of year where lamb is king.  Springtime, Easter-time-ish, all that fun stuff.  I know, Easter is a month away, but us cooks have to practice and prepare!  Acquiring pomegranate is questionable since it is more of a seasonal item, but these days you shouldn't have trouble - especially just the seeds.  This recipe is EXTREMELY easy, and quite frankly foolproof.  You don't even have to be a lamb lover to get excited about this dish!

Cumin-Spiced Lamb with Pomegranate, Pistachios, and Aromatic Herbs
Serves 4
2 t cumin seeds
1 t coriander seeds
1.5# boneless lamb leg, thinly sliced
1 t paprika
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T red wine vinegar
4 T olive oil
Salt & fresh ground pepper
1/2 C Greek yogurt
1 red onion, cut into 8 wedges
1/4 c pomegranate seeds
2 T pistachios, toasted and chopped
Fresh herbs - I used chervil, cilantro, and mint, picked from the stem

First, prepare the spice rub.  Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a small pan until fragrant - be careful not to let them burn, which happens quickly! Once they are nicely toasted, place them in a mortar and pestle and grind away.  It doesn't have to be the finest powder, but fine enough to stick and coat the lamb pieces.  In a large bowl, combine the lamb, cumin, coriander, paprika, garlic, vinegar, and 2 T of oil.  Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Toss to combine and let chill for at least 15 minutes, if not longer.  The longer the better!

When you're ready to cook, heat 2 T oil in a large cast iron pan until hot.  Depending how big your pan is, you may have to cook in batches, but if you have a behemoth of a cast iron pan, you can do it all in one fell swoop.  Cook the lamb, stirring occasionally, until browned - about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a plate/or bowl and set aside.  Add the red onion to the skillet and cook, stirring often, until they become just tender.  Add 1/2 C water, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and cook until the water is evaporated.  Be sure to stir often and scrape up any bits that were left on the pan from the lamb.  When the water has just evaporated, add the lamb back in and toss to combine.  Heat through, and season to taste.

While the onions/lamb are cooking, stir the Greek yogurt with about 2 T water, and season with salt and pepper.

To plate, divide the stir-fry mixture amongst 4 plates or bowls.  Scatter the pomegranate seeds and pistachios all around (don't be light handed here!), and finish with a scattering of all the herbs and a dollop of yogurt.  Grab a fork and dig in!

Although there are seemingly a lot of components to this dish, they all combine harmoniously.  The pomegranate seeds add a nice refreshing pop, along with the fresh flavor of the herbs and yogurt - they really play well with the deep spices of the lamb.  All together, they are DELICIOUS!  This dish was devoured by friends, employees, and significant others within about a millisecond.  Sadly, I did not have an entire lamb to cook, but it's so popular that that may have to be the case! Definitely a recipe for the ages!

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Well, well...I am back in the kitchen indeed! At least for now.  It's been a while, but things have been cooking outside the kitchen and in my real professional world - all for the better!  Either way, I finally had a full day to myself and wanted to do nothing more than to go grocery shopping and to cook.  I wasn't even sure what I wanted to make, but I knew I had to do something!  Of course, I went on my merry way with not an idea of what I would be making later that night, but instead let what the store had on hand guide me towards what the final product would be.  It was a nice day out today - a little balmy (considering), and even sunny! I felt like I wanted something light and refreshing, but still being warm and hearty.  Sound impossible? This worked out pretty well!  The fishmonger had a beautiful filet of halibut, and I realized how long it'd been since I've even eaten halibut, so the choice was clear!  Picked up a few other goodies, and I was on my way back to the kitchen!  Shiitake mushrooms, rosso de treviso radicchio, and of course the halibut.  I also picked up some chives, tarragon, and chervil (tarragon's quieter, more reserved little cousin) - because..why not!

Halibut with Sauteed Treviso Radicchio and Shiitake Vinaigrette
2 1/2 lb halibut filets, skin removed
Olive oil
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms
2 T finely minced shallot
2 T finely minced garlic
1 cup chicken stock
1 head treviso radicchio, root remove and "fingers" separated
2 t sherry vinegar
1 t aged balsamic vinegar or saba
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Chives, finely minced
Chervil, picked
Tarragon, chopped

When you start to cook, remove the halibut from the refrigerator and generously salt.  Leave out at room temperature.  Start with the mushrooms - in a sauté pan, heat up about 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat.  While the oil is coming to temperature, remove the stems from the shiitakes, and thickly slice.  When the oil is hot, toss in the mushrooms and cook until semi-soft, about 5 minutes.   Pour in chicken stock and bring to a bowl.  Reduce to a simmer, and allow to cook for another 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft but not mushy.  When the mushrooms are done, remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm.  Set aside.  You should have about 6 T left of cooking liquid - if there is more, reduce it down to that quantity.  Pour out in a small jar and let come to room temperature.  

And now for the radicchio.  In the same pan, heat up another 2 T of olive oil over medium heat.  When hot, toss in the radicchio and sauté, stirring often.  Don't let the radicchio burn, but make sure to cook out some of the bitterness.  When just fork tender at the rib, pour in 1 t of sherry vinegar and toss.  Taste for seasoning and add both salt and pepper.  Set aside.  When the cooking liquid from before has cooled, add in 1 T onion, 1 T garlic, 1 t sherry vinegar, 1 t balsamic vinegar, 3 T olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Screw the lid on and shake the jar to emulsify the vinaigrette.  Set aside.

Now for the halibut!  Heat 3 T of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  When the oil is shimmering, place the halibut flesh side down in the pan and let cook.  Cook for 5-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of your halibut - either way, ensure that you get a crispy, golden crust before you flip the fish.  When the fish "let's go" of the pan, flip and cook on the other side.  I like my fish just cooked through - to the point that you can flake the flesh, but that it's still super tender and moist.  As soon as you can easily stick a spatula through the flesh, it's finished! Remove from heat and get ready to plate.  

First, divide the radicchio between two wide plates.  Toss the mushrooms with 1/4C of the vinaigrette, and plate the mushrooms atop the radicchio - reserve the liquid!   Next, top the mushrooms with a piece of halibut and sprinkle with herbs.   Finish with a few spoonfuls of the vinaigrette and a bit of salt and pepper.  Dig in and enjoy!

So tasty! Halibut is one of my favorite fishes (fish? whatever), so I'm biased regardless of what the other components of the dish were.  But that doesn't matter one bit, because the other components went together perfectly with the halibut.  The mushrooms gave a great earthiness, but weren't too heavy for the dish, while a nice, slight bitterness came out of the sautéed radicchio.  The fresh herbs and vinaigrette brightened up the whole dish to bring it all together.   Quite tasty!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Pronto Pesto! Escarole, Walnut, Red Onion, Lemon

We all know my love for Pesto Genovese, but who's to say I discriminate against other pestos? I had a hankering for an escarole and walnut combination (a salad initially), and then decided to just go ahead and make some kind of sauce.  Mind you, this pesto is not made in a pestle as per usual, but instead in a food processor.  Easy enough, right!? This recipe is super healthy, super easy, and everyone will love the flavor combination!

Escarole & Walnut Pesto
1 head escarole
3/4 cup toasted walnuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 T walnut oil
1/4 c olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

The pesto can be made well in advance - this recipe does make extra, so you can save it for another time.  To start, roughly chop the dark greens of the escarole.  You can chop a bit of the heart of the escarole, but you don't want very much as it's extremely bitter.  Wash and dry the greens, and set aside - you should have about 4.5 cups worth.  Bring 4 qts of salted water to a boil.  When boiling, toss in the escarole greens.  Allow the water to come back to a boil, and cook for about 20 seconds longer.  Drain and throw into an ice bath to stop the cooking, or rinse with cold water.  Drain again, squeezing the greens a bit to get most of the water out and place inside a food processor.   Add the toasted walnuts and pulse to combine.  When it is roughly pureed, add in the remaining ingredients and pulse until just combined.  You don't want to over-process the pesto!  Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper if you think necessary. Your pesto is now good to go - transfer to another container and reserve until you're ready to cook.

For the whole shebang
Some kind of spaghetti-esque pasta
Pecorino Romano cheese
Thinly sliced red onion
1 lemon

Alright, so I decided against actually making my own pasta because I didn't think I had enough time! A sad moment indeed.  But I did think it'd be a good idea to be an ancient Aztec and use quinoa pasta.  Either way, get whatever your favorite kind of pasta is and cook per their particular instructions.  While the pasta is cooking, start heating a sauté pan over low heat.  Heat up 2 T olive oil, and stir in ~2 T of the pesto per  each portion of pasta.  When the pasta is just al dente, drain it and add to the sauté pan.  If you're using wheat flour pasta, spoon in a tad of the pasta water to help make a sauce.  Stir to ensure the pasta is coated with the pesto, and plate! Divide the portions of pasta evenly.  To finish, generously zest the lemon over each dish, as well as grating some pecorino romano over each. Scatter the red onions, and serve.

This pesto is so simple, so quick to make, and so good! The escarole and walnuts give the dish a heartiness that's brightened up by the lemon zest and red onion that finishes the dish.  The colors are beautiful, and the flavors won't let anyone down.  Not too mention, this dish is ridiculously healthy, especially if you use the quinoa noodles!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nopales? No problem.

Nopales tacos - definitely seasonally appropriate, no?! Maybe not, but these tacos are so good, they should definitely be eaten year round.   I really did think about doing something more holiday-esque, or seasonal, but when I saw the cactus paddles at the market, I really couldn't resist buying them.  I've never cooked them, and I've only eaten them a handful of times.  So, why not? I figured I'd give it a shot and see what these nopales had in store for me!

Having never cooked them before, I scoured my cookbooks for recipes and ideas - the usual route I take for inspiration. I couldv'e made a sauté or vegetable side, but I had all the fixings for tacos...so that was the road I was headed down! Cactus paddles can be cooked in a variety of ways - sautéed, grilled, roasted, and even sous vide.  I don't have any sous vide contraptions in my house, but there is still a way to semi-sous vide ingredients, and that's exactly what I did!  If you ever find yourself in the presence of cactus paddles, pick some up and make these tacos - you won't be disappointed.

Nopales Tacos with Escabeche
2 cactus paddles, thorns removed
2 T olive oil
3 T sliced, pickled jalapeños
1/2 cup pickled jalapeño juice, reserved from above
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 T toasted coriander seeds, crushed
1 t dried tarragon
1 t dried thyme
1 t kosher salt
2 T lemon juice

In a large freezer bag, combine all of the ingredients.  Remove as much air as possible, and seal shut. Bring a pot of water to a simmer - around 165F - and place the bag inside.  If there is too much air and it's floating, put a weight or something heavy on top to submerge it.  Allow to cook for 30 minutes.  Remove from water, and let marinate for at least an hour. After marinating, remove the paddles from the liquid and slice into strips. Reserve.  The smell emanating from the cooked cactus paddles is AMAZING!

1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
1 fresno chili, julienned
1 jalapeño, julienned
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 T nigella seeds

While the cactus is cooking, prepare the escabeche.  Sweat the onions in bait of olive oil until translucent.  Keep warm, but don't allow to brown.  In a small sauce pot, boil the vinegar and sugar, stirring until dissolved.  Place the chills and onion in the vinegar, and allow to cook for 5 minutes.  Remove form heat and let marinade for 20 minutes.  Strain the pickling liquid from the vegetables and discard.  Toss the escabeche in nigella seeds and reserve.  I don't know what it is about nigella seeds, but they are downright amazing.  There is no flavor like them, and not to mention they add an amazing crunch and visual appeal to any dish.  Technically "black caraway" seeds, these are something you should have in your spice cabinet if you can find it.

To Plate!
Fresh cilantro
Thinly sliced fresno chilis
Tortillas, warmed (I used sprouted grain tortillas - if you have time, make your own!)
Queso Fresco
Tomatillo Salsa (again something you can make)

Before platings, prepare the filling.   Toss the cactus slices with the escabeche - taste for seasoning.  It should have a bit of a kick to it. Heat up the filling, whether it's in a skillet or in the oven.   Plate three small tortillas on a plate, and spoon a bit of the filling onto each - ensuring to get a good amount of both the cactus and escabeche components.  Top with any accoutrements you'd like! All of the above makes for quite a delicious taco.  If you're looking to kick it up another notch, definitely add a few dashes of Cholula or Valentina hot sauce!

These tacos were super better than I ever expected.  Cactus I've had in the past probably just wasn't prepared as best as it could've been! They have a great texture to them - albeit they look a tad slimy - but have a nice toothiness to them, almost like a green bean! All of the flavors from the 'sous vide' marinade really infused the paddles and came through - it was a nice combination of sweet, spicy, and sour from the pickling liquid.  The salsa, cheese, and avocado help round out the entire dish - they help add a nice creaminess and freshness to the overall flavor profile, and finishing with fresh cilantro just brightens it all up.  This was super easy to make, and a surefire hit with anyone that tries it - it will make everyone think twice about cactus!!

Monday, December 9, 2013

What up Wonka

It's finally the holiday season! Which, to me, means lots of food, lots of drink, and spreading holiday cheer.  Cornucopias of things.  Overflowing chalices.  Literally all of the good parts of A Christmas Carol.

Basically this:

And this: 

For the entire season.  I pretty much end up dressing like male characters from Charles Dickens novels for winter everyday anyway, so it all really comes together.  But I digress....holiday season for me also means BAKING.  Desserts. Sweets. Cookies. Stuff.  Which is basically the worst because baking involves measurements, and despite how OCD and Type-A I am, precise measurements in cooking just ain't my thang.  Pinch of this, a little bit of that, cook it 'til it's done.  That kind of stuff.    So, holiday season essentially = CHALLENGE.  Game on, pastry geeks! 

My most recent challenge was to make some candy bars.  Tempering chocolate? Probably the most stressful thing I've done, besides the time I made this cake for my mom:

Yeah, having to wait almost 3 hours to see if my GIANT HALF-SPHERE CAKE will actually come out of the bowl properly cooked and unscathed sounds like my idea of a great time. NEGATIVE.  But back to the candy bars.  Why not? I've never made candy bars, so I may as well check it out...and it gave me a proper excuse to spend entirely too much time inside NY Cake & Bake Supply Store.  I picked up some dark chocolate disks, some molds, and was OFF!   Now, what to put in the candy bar? Definitely the components of a s'more. How could you go wrong, seriously? 

*insert that time i felt superbly awkward purchasing only marshmallow fluff and graham crackers at food emporium*

Yes.  This is also true.  Checking out with solely marshmallow fluff (with dust on the lid, mind you) and a pack of graham crackers is sufficiently awkward.  Judging eyes from all directions. Do people put together that I'm probably making s'mores? Do people think that I eat fluffernutter sandwiches?  Am I just a fat kid with a serious sweet tooth? I'll never know.  But the results of this concoction were well worth the mental anxiety I experienced over the course of a day.  On to the candy bars!  

This is what you'll need to make some candy bars!
1 lb of dark chocolate
Marshmallow Fluff
3 Graham crackers, crushed up
Chocolate molds - whatever design you want! Make sure it's deep enough to make a candy bar with fillings.

So first, you need to start with what eventually will be the top of the candy bar.  Time to temper some chocolate!! Ok, if you aren't concerned about the chocolate having a nice sheen to it, you can just melt the chocolate and be on your merry way.  If you want it to have a shiny exterior with no milk blooms, you gotta hop to some tempering.  Apparently you can do so in a microwave, but sadly I do not have said contraption and can't vouch for that method.  So the only other option is the double-boiler jam.  Also, I don't have a proper double-boiler - so the set-up consists of a sauce pot of simmering water, and a large bowl that can fit semi-snuggly on top.   

Chop up 1/2 pound of the chocolate into shards.  You can pulse the chocolate in a food processor, but you have to be extra careful as the chocolate will melt quickly from all the commotion.  Put about 9/10s of the chopped chocolate into the double-boiler bowl and stir.  The chocolate will start melting immediately.  Stir and cook the chocolate, and bring up to 110F (thermometer time!).  As soon as it hits 110, remove from heat, pour in the remaining chocolate chunks, and vigorously stir with a spatula.  For a while.  Get crazy with it.  You want the chocolate to reduce down to about 90F, and the quickest way to do that is to seriously agitate the chocolate.  And, if you don't agitate it enough, the chocolate will not temper properly.  

Sidenote: I will be making a series of cartoons about the chocolate that lost his temper. *rim shot*

Once you have lost all feeling in your stirring arm, pour the chocolate into the molds.  Ensure the molds are fully covered in chocolate, then pour the the excess chocolate back into the bowl.  Use a pastry scraper to help you out.  Place the molds in the fridge and allow to cool completely.  

Chocolate everywhere.


Once the chocolate is fully chilled, you can assemble and get ready for round TWO of chocolate tempering.  There are two routes you can take here (¡¡¡choose your own adventure cooking!!!) - either use the marshmallow fluff straight up, or toast it a bit to get that legit s'more flavor profile.  Kitchen torch time! Spread a good amount of fluff out on a sheet tray.  Light the torch.   Toast the marshmallow until it's golden brown.  Your kitchen now smells amazing - you're welcome.   Also, admire the beauty that is torched marshmallow fluff:

Stir it around and spread a thin layer evenly over the chocolate.  Be very careful here!! The fluff is obviously very sticky, so it can easily tug away at the chocolate, breaking it.   Be gentle.  When all the candy bars are sufficiently 'mallowed,  sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs.  Already looking good! 

Final step - temper the remaining chocolate, same way as above.  Pour of candy bars, gently scrape off excess chocolate - be careful here also - and place into the fridge to cool again.

And now the moment of truth.  When the chocolate is fully chilled, it's time to pop those bad boys out of the molds.  Current level of stress: a billion.  Did I temper the chocolate properly? Is it going to be shiny? Are these things even going to come out of the molds? IS IT EVEN GOING TO STICK TOGETHER?!  I don't know how pastry chefs do it.  Literally, I am having a mental chocolate meltdown (pun intended). 

But guess what? Those bars came out perfect. Popped out on cue.  Nice and shiny.  Actually looking amazing.  Want to eat all of them.  Obviously, before you wrap these up all nice to give to your pals, you need to give it a try.  

OH MY.  So good. SO good.  How can it not be? But seriously.  I don't have to explain to you why because...s'mores.  Now, have fun with arts and crafts!  Wrap these up in some aluminum foil like a present, and if you are absurd enough as me, make a label and wrap it around.

I figured if I was going to make a label, I may as well be honest about the contents.

Take that Willy Wonka!