Monday, September 7, 2015

Holé Molé

Alright. Let’s get back in action.  It’s been over a year and I, along with some others, find/found it highly unacceptable that this site became basically defunct.  ‘Twas a function of many components, and among MANY things, the lack of capability to acquire FABULOUS ingredients was truly not helpful.   Fortunately, cooking for me is like riding a bike, although I sometimes thought I needed to bring the training wheels back out.  But I decided to rock with the Big Wheels instead…nay, rock a vintage Triumph (that’s for you Gizzo) and get myself back in the game.  But enough with bikes, let’s talk food.  Football season is upon us (GO GREEN), I’m in Northern Michigan, it is MAD CHILLY outside, and there was some magical, wild venison loin in the freezer.  Yes, the freezer, because that’s what you do when you’re a hunter and have to process entire animals. (I’m not the hunter, but luckily for me my NEIGHBOR IS!) Also, store-bought venison generally costs a trillion dollars AND is farmed, which ain’t nobody got time for.  For general cooking purposes though, this dish could probably be done with a duck breast, or even a not-too-gamey-lamb…but if you can get your hands on some deer, I highly recommend t his!

So let’s talk venison for a minute.  1) it’s delicious.  2) it generally gets a flavor combination of fruit and/or some type of sweet factor.  So, naturally my mind wandered to chocolate.  And naturally, chocolate thoughts led me to MOLE THOUGHTS!  Mole negro to be exact.  The problem with legitimate mole, though, is that it also takes nine thousand hours to make and quite frankly, is a pain in the behind, BUT it is well worth the wait.  Plan of action: all of the general components of mole, but NONE of the time.

So let’s hop to it!

Mole Spiced Venison
Serves 2

2 venison loins

Spice Rub
1 T brown sugar
1 T ancho chili powder
1 t dried oregano
1 t cinnamon
1 t kosher salt
1 t fresh ground black pepper

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes
10 tomatoes, on the vine
2 T olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

Chocolate Sauce
2 oz dark chocolate (I used 74%)
1 t adobo sauce (from canned chipotles, more or less depending on your spice tolerance)

2 T white sesame seeds, toasted
2 T sliced almonds, toasted
Fresh oregano leaves
Fresh cilantro leaves
Cotija Cheese

First step: preheat your oven to 250F (for your tomatoes!).  Forewarning, the tomatoes take about an hour to cook.

This recipe makes mole flavoring look easy! It takes about 1/16th of the time.  Alright, while I know that a perfect mole calls for a few different dried chiles, reconstituted, pureed (ancho, guajillo, etc.), it’s a bit unnecessary for the spice rub, and the ancho chili powder manages to get the job done!  Mix together the spices in a bowl and rub the spice onto each loin.  Place the loins, covered, into the fridge.  When I cook, I generally like to have my meats come to room temperature but venison is SO lean, and so tiny that you wouldn’t be able to get a nice crust, while still having the protein itself come out to a nice, seared rare temp without keeping it refrigerated.  

ONTO THE TOMATOES! Again. Easiest thing ever. And good for a multitude of other uses! Ready? Place tomatoes on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place in oven. Done. The tomatoes will be done once they start to split.  If done ahead, these can be reheated as well! Set aside until ready to plate.

While the tomatoes are cooking, get started on your chocolate sauce.  In a double boiler, makeshift or legitimate, get your chocolate to melting.  You really don’t need much water in the bottom, just enough to ensure that it doesn’t evaporate completely!  Bring the water to a boil, and place the chocolate into the top portion of your double boiler - stir until completely melted.  Mix in the adobo sauce – again, you can use less than 1 T if you’re not too keen on spice, but taste as you go along.  You definitely don’t want to cover up the flavor of the chocolate here!  This can be made ahead of time and reheated to melt, but if you’re doing everything simultaneously, you can just lower the heat to ensure the sauce doesn’t firm up.

Onto the cooking!!! I used a cast iron pan, but if you don’t have that available and sauté pan will work out. Heat that bad boy up!!!! You’re going to want your pan hot enough that you can really get that aforementioned crust on it without overcooking the meat itself.  Once your pan is SMOKIN’ hot, place those bad boys in.  I cooked mine for 2 minutes a side, until that crust formed.  Immediately remove from the pan, and let rest about 7 minutes or so.  

While the loins are resting, get ready to plate! You don’t want to overwhelm the venison too much with the chocolate sauce.   Take a basting brush and make a nice clean stroke on the bottom of your plate.  It should still be thick enough that it leaves a pretty solid amount of sauce.   Next, slice the venison loins – I cut mine about 1 cm thick.  Again, since it is such a thin loin and quite heavily spiced, you wont want to cut it really any thicker – the rub will overwhelm the flavor of the loin itself.   Sprinkle each dish with sesame seeds, almonds, cilantro, oregano, and cotija cheese and DINE AWAY!!!!

I figured this dish would be tasty, but it turned out better than expected.  And it really did taste like mole!!! The flavors are pretty deep, and definitely appropriate for fall weather.  It warms you up from the inside out!  The “deconstruction” aspect of this dish really is what makes it shine.  I love mole negro, but it is quite the heavy sauce, to say the least.  This representation really allows the flavors to single themselves out and shine, yet still work together.   The tomatoes bring a perfect acidity to the dish to balance out the depth of flavor that comes with the chocolate/adobo sauce, and that sweetness from the chocolate helps to balance out the spice from the rub, and the smokiness from the adobo sauce.  The addition of the fresh herbs and cotija help create a nice hot/cold juxtaposition and really brighten the dish up in general.  Overall a DELICIOUS dish! I shared with my hunter neighbor (from whom the venison was from) and he couldn’t stop raving about it for days.  That being said, I suggest you go ahead and make this! The fact that it is SO easy really makes it unbeatable!

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 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 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 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!!