Sunday, March 27, 2011

inspiration from julia

Seriously, sometimes I wonder where my head's at.  I get these grand visions of dishes to make that are so ridiculously random that it's me at least! The other night, I had the urge to track down some episodes of The French Chef.  Fortunately, PBS has a mini-compendium (among other sites) of straight-up vintage French Chef episodes, along with some episodes of Cooking with Master Chefs - each one as equally entertaining (and hunger-inducing) as the next! Check it out!

Julia Child is one of my cooking idols - her journey from being a regular spy (true!) to becoming one of the foremost authorities on classic French cooking is more than inspiring! Anyone who can claim, “I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.” is okay in my book.  I even threw a party on her birthday a couple years back, recreating some of her great, timeless dishes from The Art of French Cooking.  Watching her old black and white videos really showed what a character she was as well! A great sense of humor, and someone who just would not put up with anyone who was eating "health food" or on a diet.  Good for you! She was down to earth, and knew what she was talking about - that's for sure.

But moving on from that, I was watching an old episode titled "Elegance with Eggs", where Julia proceeded to cook eggs in a variety of ways, showcasing just how easy each method is - and delicious.  Oeufs en Cocotte, shirred eggs, omelets, you name it.  Of course, that got me thinking about eggs - and we all know I love them! But I wanted to try something different than my standard chicken egg. Naturally, that led me to...quail eggs! Quail eggs en cocotte? Deviled quail eggs? Salmon roe topped with a quail egg yolk? WHY NOT!?

And I found no answer to that question - so quail eggs it was! All of the above in fact.  I woke myself up early in the morning to get ingredients and supplies - i.e. a variety of perfect mini baking dishes to make quail eggs en cocotte, clearly a necessity in anyone's home kitchen. 

Now, when I finally returned home from my far-away journey (read: West side), I wanted to spice up this oeuf en cocotte situation a little bit, as opposed to just making a standard-type recipe...that generally involves butter, cream, and cheese and then maybe a little ham or greenery (shrubbery?) on top. So, I proceeded to make a toastless version of Kaya toast, the true recipe being one which you all will be seeing here in the very near future! Kaya toast is an odd sounding dish at first, but is a popular street food and snack in Malaysia and Singapore.  It's white toast with a thick coconut jam spread in the middle, dipped in a sunny-side up egg. SO GOOD!
a rather grainy picture of real Kaya toast at Street - yum!!
For my mini dish, I tried to utilize the same flavors but in a lighter form.  Instead of cream, I simmered some light coconut milk with pandan leaves, reducing it just enough to thicken it up a bit.  It wasn't quite the consistency of the coconut jam used inside Kaya toast, but it had the flavor.  The quail egg was simmered in its adorable little dish, and the coconut milk/jam and a dark soy sauce was drizzled on top, with a sprinkling of minced chives and a crack of white pepper.  Delicious!  From there, I just started getting aggressive with the egg situation. Lots of eggs...all kinds of them. A progression of eggs if you will. Quail egg en cocotte a la Kaya.  Salmon roe nigiri with a quail yolk.  Soft boiled quail eggs with said salmon roe. Soft-boiled quail egg with caviar and typical accompaniments. Deviled quail egg - made with Greek yogurt, sprinkled with cayenne pepper. Thank god quail eggs are tiny, otherwise I may have overdosed!

All cute, because anything tinier than normal is cute, and all delicious.  I've never really put any focus on quail eggs because frankly, they're kind of random, and you don't really get many chances to use them (unless you're me and go crazy on one Friday afternoon).  But they really are great - even though they are so small, they are packed with a lot of flavor.  If you ever see quail eggs, don't be intimidated by them! They cook up in a flash, and would be great hors d'oeuvres at any party!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

who needs street carts when you can make this?

Oh falafel.  You are one of those little bites of deliciousness that I tend to forget about time to time until something musters up memories - this time around, one of my Egyptian employees.  While carting around, taking care of business, he randomly asked, "Do you like falafel??". Of course, I had a momentary memory lapse, then remembered that YES I do in fact like them, and I actually LOVE them! I proceeded to state the claim that anyone who DOESN'T like falafel must be crazy - to which he promptly responded, "I don't!" Well, well kind sir.  He at least offered to give me his share of the batch his wife was going to make in the near future. 

Just thinking about falafel made me think of summer art fairs in Birmingham while growing up, getting a delicious falafel pita from The Phoenicia, or any of the thousands of Middle Eastern restaurants throughout Metro Detroit - we do have the one of  the largest populations of Arabic people outside of the Middle East, you know! Or those delicious bright green patties from Jerusalem Garden in Ann Arbor. Simple, and delicious! 

Needless to say, I couldn't wait for a batch to arrive in a bundle, so I of course had to whip up my own batch.  I was longing for a falafel super crispy on the outside, yet moist on the inside - not to mention bright green.  (It was close to St. Patrick's Day so....) Throw a little tahini sauce and some pickles into the mix, and life is good!  Just a pre-thought though - you have to used DRIED chickpeas, not the pre-cooked canned ones that you usually use, otherwise your patties will be entirely too moist, won't form into balls, and will be impossible to eat! 

(Erin Go Bragh) Falafel
1 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/3 cup each mint, cilantro, and parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t baking powder
1 T salt
1 t fresh ground black pepper
1 c canola oil, for frying

Soak the dried chickpeas in water for at least 12 hours, but no more than 24 hours.  The chickpeas will almost double in size! Even though they're raw, they are great to throw into salads at this point - you'll have some extras, so go for it.

Place rinsed and strained chickpeas into a food processor or blender, and blend until it's coarsely pureed.  From here, add in the onion, garlic, herbs, spices, and the baking powder.  Whirl this together until it's a nice green paste!  You can place the mixture into another bowl for later, or even form them into little balls/patties so they'll be even quicker to make when you're ready with the sauce and pickles!

When you're ready to cook the falafel, you can do it many ways - full-fledge fry, pan-fry, or bake.  I baked AND pan-fried.  To bake, heat the oven up to 375F - cook for about 20 minutes until golden brown.  To pan-fry, heat up about 1/2 inch of canola oil in a shallow pan over medium-high heat.  Canola oil has a higher smoke point than olive oil, but still don't let it get too hot! When the oil gets hot - I generally put a drop of water, and if it sizzles, you're good to go - place the falafel patties in the pan, not touching one another.  Cook until golden brown on one side, flip and cook until golden brown on the second side.  Remove to a paper towel to drain a bit.

Pickled Vegetables
*I used these vegetables - you can use whatever you want!*
3 mini cucumbers
5 radishes
1/2 red onion
2 cups rice vinegar, unseasoned
1/2 cup sugar
2 bay leaves
2 T salt
1 T mustard seeds

As we know, I love my little handheld mandolin, so I clearly used it for the pickles! Not necessary though, but slice all of your vegetables as thin as possible. Once those are ready, heat up the rice vinegar and remaining ingredients, stirring until the granules have dissolved.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Once it has reached (about) room temperature, place the vegetables in a large, seal-able container and pour the mixture over top - make sure the vegetables are covered with the liquid.  Place in the fridge, and give it at least an hour - but these can last for a long time!

Tahini Sauce
1/2 cup tahini
3 garlic cloves
1/2 t salt
2 T olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Blend together the tahini, garlic and salt until smooth and pureed together.  Remove to a mixing bowl, and stir in the olive oil and lemon juice.  If you would like it a bit thinner, you can add some water to the mix - taste for seasoning, and you're ready to go!

Onto assembly!

Have fun with your components! Heck, even grab some pita, warm it up, and make a little pocket of deliciousness.  I ate mine just dipped in tahini and topped with the vegetables...and you can even use hummus and some fresh vegetables as well! 

The falafel were DELICIOUS! They definitely satisfied my craving for the little nuggets of goodness, and they interior turned out just the color I wanted them to be.  You know when you see those sad, kind of yellow inside ones? Those depress me. I want vibrant, and I sure got it! The tahini sauce was fresh from the lemon juice, and a nice creamy component, while the pickled gave a nice crunch.  The baked falafel were good, but just not AS good as the pan-fried ones, so I recommend cooking them that way. Epically delicious.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

wonderland soup

I’ve been meaning to tackle this recipe for quite some time.  Since I met Heston Blumenthal actually…and for multiple reasons.  1) It sounds outrageously delicious/mind boggling/fun. 2) I was sure it would turn out absolutely gorgeous. I mean – it involves one of my favorite color combinations – royal purple and green.  And 3) It’s probably one of the few recipes of Heston’s that doesn’t involve chemicals that I a) don’t have on hand or b) gadgets and trinkets that only a chemistry lab would have.  And I have a great juicer! Clearly, this recipe was meant for me. Right? Of course! So tackle it I did. And it sure did result in something just as beautiful as it was delicious.
I must say, this was a whole lot of fun to make.  For one, I am superbly entertained by juicing things – why, I’m not exactly sure, but most likely because I’m so visually stimulated and whenever you juice a variety of things, it results in a literal RAINBOW of liquids. And a rainbow of pulp.  And a rainbow mess.  Kind of like you accidentally smooshed Rainbow Brite all over the kitchen.  My juicer is pretty powerful, so anytime I open up the “chute” (?) little pieces generally go flying out.  But that’s alright – cooking is about making organized messes then tidying it all up!

I also loved the thought of Pommery Mustard ice cream.  Savory ice cream is a hit in general when it’s made properly, but there was something about the idea of the mustardy bite juxtaposed and subdued by a creamy, custard base – especially when whole mustard seeds are included in the mix.  

Double fun – telling people what I was making.  You had fun doing what? You’re making WHAT kind of ice cream? Looks of concern and confusion ensued, and I was the one that seemed like some crazy scientist.  It must be fun to be Heston! But luckily, he’s at that point where people don’t question a random dish anymore.  I’ll get there – eventually.

One more note.  Heston Blumenthal = British.  Measurements = grams.  I do not have a scale.  Mathematics abound!  Who even knows what I  was doing.  I formulated my own quasi conversions and made it happen.  On we go!  The ice cream should be made first – it was to sit in the freezer for minimally 8 hours!  I don’t own an ice cream machine to churn it, but it turned out just fine freezing it in a jar – otherwise, just follow your ice cream machines instructions and churn away!

Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
85 grams egg yolks (5 egg yolks)
40 g unrefined caster sugar (3 T)
500 g whole milk (2 cups)
25 g skimmed milk powder (2 T)
70 g Pommery grain mustard (1/4 cup)

To start, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar for about five minutes, until the mixture is light yellow and fluffy. Go ahead and overbeat this – the eggs won’t get mad at you this time!

Once you’ve reached a nice Easter yellow/unannounced baby gender yellow, set this aside and create an ice bath to quickly chill your mixture once it’s heated.  A little ice, salt, and cold water in a large bowl topped with a smaller bowl (big enough to hold all the milk and eggs!)  Start heating up the whole milk and powdered milk. – that is, if you have it – I completely omitted the powdered milk, with no problems. Slowly heat this mixture in a heavy bottomed saucepan on a low, medium-low flame until it reaches about 140F – and be careful! You  don’t want to curdle the milk - so stir often.   This shouldn’t take too long either.  Once it’s reached temperature, temper the egg yolks by pouring a bit of the warm milk mixture over them and whisking away.  Slowly add in the remaining milk and continue whisking.  Pour this back into your saucepan and slowly warm back up over a low flame until the mixture reaches about 160F, being sure to stir CONSTANTLY – you don’t want to turn up the heat otherwise your eggs might scramble – not cool.   This should take no longer than ten minutes.  Once it has reached temperature, pour the mixture into your ice-bathing bowl and stir until chilled completely.  Once this point has been reached, whisk in the mustard!  If you don’t have an ice cream machine, place this in a jar and place in the freezer for a minimum of 8 hours.  If you are lucky enough to have an ice cream machine, follow the instructions and have a blast!

Next, make the red wine mayonnaise.  Apparently this is a typical type of mayonnaise used in England for holiday suppers.  It’s very easy to make as well – and it’s fun to say you’ve made your own mayonnaise! Not only that, it just helps to prove that REAL legitimate mayonnaise really isn’t anything to cry about if you’re putting it on your BLT.

Red Wine Mayonnaise
36 g egg yolks (2 yolks)
15 g Dijon (1 T)
180 g grapeseed oil (~3/4 cup)
15g Red wine vinegar (1 T)
30 g red wine (2 T)

Whisk together the egg yolks and Dijon mustard.    When it’s reached this point, whisk in the red wine vinegar and red wine, and voila! Easy, right?

Now for the fun part: CABBAGE JUICE! If you’ve already made the ice cream and let it set, make sure you have at least 2.5 hours before serving for this part.

Red Cabbage Gazpacho
450 g red cabbage juice (a little less than 2 cups)
30 g white sandwich bread (I used about 1/4 cup)
40 g red wine mayonnaise (6 T)
60 g red wine vinegar (~4 T)
15 g table salt (1 T - to taste)

fresh cabbage juice and foam
With a juicer, juice an entire head of cabbage. (PURPLE!)  Be careful not to stain every/anything. If you don’t have a juicer, you can use a high powered blender and then strain the pulp out through cheesecloth.  Break apart the sandwich bread, and soak it in the cabbage juice for two hours.  Strain the bread out, pressing and squishing the pieces to get as much juice out as possible.  Mix together with the red wine mayonnaise, and season with red wine vinegar and salt. Refrigerate until needed.

Cucumber Brunoise
1 cucumber, preferably seedless

Ok, so I do not have a vacuum sealer. If you do, you’re lucky and I’m mad at you! Anyway, to really properly do this, slice the cucumber on a mandolin about 2 mm thick.  Place the strips in one layer in a bag and vacuum seal it under high pressure (SOUS VIDE!).  Twice.  This is where the truth of sous vide comes out.  It’s not TRULY cooking in a vacuum-sealed bag in a lowly heated water bath.  It’s really about cooking under pressure – period.   Just sealing the back with the cucumbers twice draws out the moisture and essentially pressure-cooks the cucumbers.  If you don’t own a vacuum sealer, just do as I do – skip that step and make a regular brunoise. Cut your aforementioned strips into 2mm cubes, discarding the skin and seeds. And you’re set!

To serve
½ red cabbage, juiced.
Reserved gazpacho
Cucumber brunoise
Mustard Ice Cream

Before serving, ensure that your ice cream is soft enough to form into quenelles – or at least scoopable if you don’t want to go into the quenelle-making process.  Take the reserved gazpacho mixture and stir in some fresh-juiced cabbage.

In a small bowl, place a little mound of the cucumber brunoise – this will be the base for your ice cream.  My brunoise-ice cream ratio was about 2-to-1 tablespoons for one serving.  The cucumber adds a nice crunch to the gazpacho, so the more the merrier!  So, make a small quenelle/take a small scoop of mustard ice cream and place it atop the brunoise.   Next, gently pour in about ½ to ¾ cup of the gazpacho.  And dig in!

This really was one of the most vibrant dishes I’ve ever created – I absolutely love the color of this gazpacho.  The cabbage juice itself was an amazing royal purple, and the addition of the mayonnaise to finalize the gazpacho gave it a beautiful bright fuchsia color – almost like an orchid.  Once you get beyond the beauty of the dish, your brain remembers that you’re actually eating something! We do eat with our eyes, so this is a true gem, but really – the flavors are outrageous.  The gazpacho is just slightly creamy because of the mayonnaise but still has this really intense cabbage flavor.  Any time I make cabbage, generally cooked, I add either red wine or persimmon vinegar, so it's a natural pairing.  It just adds a really nice acidity.  Then, you get hit will a nice little crunch and refreshing lightness of the cucumber, and then you're cooled down with the ice cream.  After a few spoonfuls, the ice cream melts into the gazpacho, and all of the flavors meld together PERFECTLY. I was literally drinking out of the bowl.  Absolutely delicious!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

thai curry mussels


Yeah, so I'm excited.  What is it about mussels? I feel like they get so much grief in the world - people are always trying to hate on them because they're "weird" and have a "funny texture" and are "slimy". What?! People, seriously, none of those are true.  Give 'em a chance! The great thing about mussels ALSO is that they are just a nice little canvas for greatness - a mollusk of many masks if you will.  Moules marinieres - steamed in white wine with shallots and garlic. (Why this is "sailor style" is of interest to me - I suppose sailors like shallots, garlic and wine...but who doesn't?).  A la Lily's Seafood in Royal Oak, Michigan - cooked sailor style, but with Huntsman Cheese melted in the broth.  Sounds odd? Yes. Tastes epic? Double yes! Or how about cooked with tomato and chorizo? Or breaded and broiled on a half shell? OR - Thai Red Curry mussels? Yes, please. And that is exactly what I cooked today.

The great thing about mussels - among many things - is that they are really inexpensive and SO simple and quick to cook! They literally take only a few minutes to steam into tender goodness. So go pick up a bag of mussels, sling it over your shoulder, and get cooking!

Thai Red Curry Mussels
2 lbs. mussels - Prince Edward Island, New Zealand, whichever!
1 stalk lemongrass, hard outer leaves removed and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 T olive oil
2 or more T red curry paste (depending how spicy you want them!)
1 14-oz can coconut milk - I use light
A few tablespoons each of mint, basil, and cilantro chiffonade for garnish
1/2 lime
Fresh ground pepper

How easy is this? Before you start anything, be sure to clean your mussels. Most of the time, this is already done  - they've been purged of sandy water, and the beards have been taken off.  Either way, be sure to inspect them just in case! Discard any mussels with broken shells.

Heat up a saute pan large enough to hold all of your mussels over medium heat, and swirl in the olive oil.  When it's shimmering, toss in the lemongrass, garlic, and shallot and sweat - be careful not to burn anything! After a few minutes, pour in the coconut milk and the red curry paste - whisking together until they're combined - the color of this broth is beautiful!  Taste the broth for seasoning, and add and salt or pepper if you deem it necessary.

Bring this mixture to a boil, and slowly place the mussels into the broth and cover.  Steam the mussels for a few minutes until they open up - don't cook them any longer or else the meat will start to get tough! Right when they open, they are perfectly done.  Remove the mussels from heat, place in a bowl, and sprinkle with basil, mint, and cilantro!  Squeeze a bit of lime juice over top, and serve with a nice crusty baguette - the best part is sopping up the delicious broth!

Simple - one, two punch!  Better yet - if you end up not finishing your mussels, you can remove the meat from the shells and you're left with a wonderful Thai curry soup as leftovers.

This is a pretty standard, go to mussel recipe for me - it's super simple, and super flavorful! It's got a nice subtle kick from the curry paste - but it also has a great, refreshing taste from the coconut milk and the fresh herbs. Tasty delicious.  This broth is SO good!! I'm already looking forward to eating this for lunch tomorrow!

Friday, March 4, 2011

comfort in the remaining days of winter

I was feeling in the mood for something a little home-y today - good, savory comfort food - but still healthy! And apparently, I subconsciously am having a thing for tapas these days.  So what was the dish of the day? Meatballs! 

Meatballs? Tapas you say? But of course! They don't always have to be associated with Italian cuisine - or Lady and the Tramp, although I'm okay with that connection. I'm talking about albondigas al azafran! A specialty of La Mancha - an area famed for growing phenomenal saffron (hello paella!) - meatballs in saffron sauce.  Saffron is such a great ingredient - it's so light, but you can always taste it as a whisper whenever it's in a dish - and it gives such a beautiful color to anything it's used in! Ah yes, saffron - the most expensive spice in the world. Worth it's weight in gold! Saffron is the stigma from the violet Crocus sativus - and it can take up to 75,000 flowers to get just a pound of it! Talk about a pain in the behind.  But well worth it no less.But seriously, who would really use a pound? You only need a pinch to make a difference!

Back to the meatballs! They are made in typical meatball fashion, but its the sauce they are cooked in that really makes the dish pop - unlike any taste you've had before! The meatballs are simmered in a delicious saffron broth, keeping them moist, and imparting that delicious flavor - that broth is then thickened up a bit and used as a delicious sauce to accompany the meatballs.  Heaven in a bowl!

Saffron Broth
2  t olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 medium tomato, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 t saffron threads, soaked in a small bit of boiling water, at least an hour
6 cups chicken broth
Sea salt

First, start with the saffron broth - be sure to leave the saffron stigmas in the water for at least an hour or more, preferably.  When you're ready to start making the broth, heat up the olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan - sweat the onions and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes, being careful not to caramelize them.  Stir in the tomatoes, saffron, and saffron water, cooking for about one minute.  Finally, add in the chicken broth, bring to a boil, and simmer (partially covered) for at least 45 minutes until the flavors have melded.  Add salt to taste - not too much though! You'll cook the sauce down a little bit with the meatballs, so make sure not to over-salt.  Strain through a fine sieve and throw away all the solids - or find something to do with them - either way!  You'll have extra of this, and it would be equally as delicious used in a risotto or even paella - that may be the next recipe!
liquid gold!

Albondigas al Azafran (this can make about 18 small-ish meatballs)
1 pound equal parts ground pork, beef, and veal
1/2 cup bread crumbs 
1/2 cup onion, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped (plus extra for garnish)
2/4 t sea salt
1 t fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup plus 2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large egg
3 cups Saffron Chicken Broth (above!)
3 T flour

First, make your breadcrumbs.  Preheat the oven to about 200 degrees, break up a roll, baguette, or whatever you have into chunks, and let the bread dry out - make sure not to actually toast the bread!  Once it's dry, throw the pieces into a food processor and whiz up until it becomes a fine bread crumb consistency.  If you want, you can use panko or store bought, but fresh made is always better, and it really doesn't take long.

In a large bowl, combine the ground meats, bread crumbs, onion, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, 1/4 cup Olive oil, and the egg.  DIG IN - but be gentle. Get in their with your hands - raw meat doesn't bite. Make sure that everything is well combined, but don't get too aggressive with it.  Form the mixture into small meatballs, about an inch and a half diameter - or whatever size you like really!

Bring the broth to a boil in a separate saucepan.  Next, in a large skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the meatballs - as many as can fit in the pan without touching each other - and brown on all sides, about 10-15 minutes.  Repeat with the remaining meatballs until all of them are browned nicely.

Place the meatballs back into the skillet and pour the boiling broth over them - let this simmer for about 25 minutes.  Remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon and place to the side on a plate or in a bowl.  In a small bowl, mix about a cup of the broth with the flour and whisk together to create a paste (a roux!). Stir this paste back into the remaining broth and simmer, stirring until thickened, about 5 minutes.  

simmer away!
Serve the meatballs with this deliciousness of a sauce, garnish with parsley, and enjoy!

Hey-o! I was expecting this to be delicious, but not THIS delicious.  Truly outstanding.  Savory, sweet, moist and tender.  And super flavorful at that, but not heavy at all!  The saffron sauce was absolutely outstanding, and a perfect consistency to hold up to the meatballs themselves.  The first browning give them a beautiful crunchy exterior, while simmering them in the broth keep the interior super moist and flavorful!

Fortunately, I have many of these left over - I may actually stroll over to Donatella's down the street and hawk them from outside, because mine are WAY better than hers!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


What I cook really depends on my mood, but I imagine that's only typical (or is it not...).  I suppose it also depends on the season or where I am, but a lot of times the weather that day really is what gets me.  And for some reason, sunshine always makes me resort to dishes either influenced by, or frankly just 100% based on Cuban, Caribbean, Latin, or Spanish cuisine.  Like today for example! Yes, it is in fact March in Manhattan, it's not all that hot out, but that SUNSHINE! Granted, my little apartment gets warmer than most, so maybe that's part of it.  Fresh air, sunshine, the hint of Spring in the near future - yeah, that'll do it.

I've had a hankering for some GOOD gambas al ajillo. This is one of the simplest, quickest, and delicious dishes to make, and if you've never had it - MAKE IT!  The first amazing version of Gambas al Ajillo I ever had was at La Columbia restaurant in Ybor City - a gem of a restaurant, over a century old, serving authentic, flavorful Cuban cuisine, with a few other dishes sprinkled in. And that means outstanding paella, luscious Sangria, tender ropa vieja, and of course - those gambas.  Although gambas al ajillo is a typical Spanish tapa, it can be found throughout the general Caribbean area, as well as Central and South America.  I guess that goes to show you delicious flavors really have no cultural boundaries!

So, throw in some Buena Vista Social Club, Ibrahim Ferrer, and Gipsy Kings, put on your salsa shoes, and fire up the stove!

Gambas al Ajillo
1/2 pound shrimp, cleaned - I used U-20 this time
1/4 c olive oil
10 garlic cloves, minced
1 large dried red chili, or crushed red pepper - amount depends on the heat you want!
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 T chopped parsley
1/2 lemon
Crusty bread for sopping up the spicy deliciousness!

A few notes before you begin: You can really use any size shrimp for this dish, and you can even use frozen - no discrimination here. It will still be delicious! Take the shells and tails off, and de-vein if necessary. For smaller shrimp, this isn't exactly necessary, but it is the digestive tract and may be gritty in larger shrimp.  
thank you Pisacane for these lovelies
 As far as the chili goes - I used a pretty big ancho chili with the majority of the seeds.  You can absolutely use any chili you want for this! I've used crushed red pepper in the past, but I wanted to switch it up this time around - I just love the flavor of ancho chilies! Even though it is a dried poblano, it gave a great spice to the dish.  Use whichever, and however much you'd like!

Shrimp cooks fast, so ensure that you have mise en place - everything ready to go!

(ps thank you for the new toy!)
Heat a saute pan over relatively high heat, but not so hot that the olive oil will end up burning and smoking! Heat the olive oil until shimmering, and toss in the minced garlic.  Shake around for about a minute until the garlic is golden.  Toss the crushed chili in and allow the oil to take on a nice orange color - about 20 seconds really.

Next, toss in the shrimp! This will really only a minute or two, depending on the size of the shrimp.  Cook on one side until pink, then flip and add in the white wine. Stir around a bit, and remove the shrimp once both sides are nice and pink. You don't want to over cook the shrimp - a mistake many people make! They become gummy and chewy, as opposed to staying tender and sweet as they should be.

Most recipes don't call for this, but I let the remaining pan sauce cook down until the wine is almost evaporated.  Once it's at this point, throw in the chopped parsley, toss the shrimp with the sauce, and plate! (Typically, a cazuela is used for plating and cooking even, but I do not have one in my possession) Finally, squeeze the lemon all over top, and enjoy while it's still hot!

This really did hit the spot - and was as delicious as I remembered! It seems like a lot of garlic and chili, but all the flavors really come together and balance out.  Spicy, savory, sweet, fresh, acidic, and with a bite! How can you get better than that? And it literally takes less than ten minutes to make (and eat...).  Sop up all the remaining sauce with some nice, crusty bread, kick back, and sigh.

Ahh sunshine, you make me do great things.

Dig in!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

chasing the white rabbit

I think I'm getting carried away with this whole pick-an-ingredient-and-cook-it-two-ways situation. But you know what? It's fantastic! Dueling pots, and it's always a win-win situation - I suggest you give it a go!

Ingredient this time around? Rabbit.  As much as I like to show pictures of breaking down various main ingredients, I'll spare you all by not getting into that - I know...chicken, fish, fine - cottontail? Not so much. Although I will show the final break down - a necessity.

First let's talk about this rabbit though! It's from my good friend John Fazio from upstate New York.  I met him the first time at Union Square last Spring and stop by to see him almost every week - it takes a lot of will power not to have rabbit every week because it is JUST that good. As fresh as can be, tender as ever with an absolutely heavenly taste.  And that is epic because most of the time, rabbit is pretty gamey and uber tough - not my idea of a good time! 

do not resist the rabbit.
Needless to say, I was hoodwinked into purchasing an entire rabbit. In the past, I usually stick to a more French-inspired preparation with a little dijon and thyme - j'aime lapin in this preparation, but why not go with something new? And Greek! And stewed! And with that, the rabbit competition was on.  

P.S. It is March. Spring is around the corner. That means more natural light during the day - not quite yet though! Photographers unite!

The stew was off to the races first since overall, stewing takes a bit longer than simply baking rabbit. Allez cuisine!!

Rabbit Stifado
1/2 rabbit - saddle, hind leg, foreleg
3 T olive oil
3 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 cinnaom stick, broken up (I used canela)
1 whole allspice berry
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 cups dry red wine
One can stewed tomatoes
1 1/2 cup water or stock
Parsley for garnish
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Heads up - You'll need cheesecloth to make a nice little sachet for this stew! Place the whole spices and bay leaf in the cheesecloth and tie the bundle together. Save this flavor bomb for later.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees - while it's heating up, season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper and all sides.  Next, heat the olive oil in a pot or casserole large enough to hold the remaining ingredients and sear the rabbit pieces until golden brown on all sides.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

Turn the heat to low and add the sliced onions and a pinch of salt.  Sweat the onions for about 10 minutes until translucent, stirring occasionally and adding the garlic for the final minute.  Pour in the wine, scraping up the browned bits from the rabbit on the bottom.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cooking until almost all of the wine has reduced. Add the stewed tomatoes, stir to combine, and cook for about five minutes until the tomatoes have come up to temperature.

Add the water/stock, the flavor bundle, and bring to a boil.  Gently place your seared rabbit pieces into the liquid, stirring a tad so they're almost covered with the braising liquid.  Cover the pot, place in the oven, and braise for about 45-50 minutes, until the meat is fork tender.  Once the rabbit is done, taste for seasoning - it may not need any salt or pepper at all.  Place all of this deliciousness onto a serving platter and sprinkle with some chopped parsley.  

Now for the rabbit a la francaise - if you have dueling dishes like my crazy self, the above recipe can be finished on the stove while this cooks in the oven.  It needs to roast at a higher temperature than the stew for a bit before being turned down any lower. This is absolutely doable - just remove the stew after 35 minutes, and simmer on the stove for 25 minutes more.  Just don't forget that the entire pot was just in a ridiculously hot oven!! Burns are no fun.

Oven-roasted Rabbit with Dijon and Thyme Crust
1/2 rabbit 
4 T Dijon Mustard
1 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 C breadcrumbs - I used panko
2 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Fire up the oven to as hot as it can go! 

Season the rabbit with salt and pepper on all sides.  Next, whisk together the mustard and the olive oil until well combined.  In a large bowl, toss together the breadcrumbs and thyme leaves.  Brush each piece of rabbit with the Dijon mixture, then toss in the breadcrumb mixture.  Lay the pieces on a baking pan or in a roasting dish.  

When the oven is red hot, quickly drizzle the rabbit pieces with olive oil and cook for about 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 325 and cook for about ten minutes more, until the meat is tender.

And yes, this one is a heck of a lot easier than the stew!

Now for the taste test.  

Both are delicious, but the stew was utterly outrageous, and great for a chilly day.  The flavors were super concentrated, and had a nice sweet and spicy profile from the little flavor sachet.  I've also never had rabbit as tender as this - it literally fell off the bone without any help from a knife!

The crusted rabbit was nice and crispy, with a faint tanginess from the Dijon mustard - the ingredients were definitely more subtle in this dish.  It was a bit more work to eat though, that's for sure!

Give either a try! Also - the upside of the stew:

Leftover stifado sauce makes an AMAZING sauce for homemade gnocchi or pasta.  Not that I would know that from experience or anything...