Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fried Potatoes with Leek

Leeks really are a beautiful vegetable: onion-like but mild and with an interesting shape and texture. They also play very well with potatoes, most often in a leek and potato soup, so I thought it would be interesting and tasty to try them fried with potatoes. Here's how it went!
First thing first, I crushed and chopped up two cloves of garlic, then I cut up the white and light green part of a leek, one Nardello (sweet) pepper from the garden (picked by the "famous" JB, who came to visit us last week from Beijing! Hence the lack of posting for the week), and four potatoes, washed and peeled. Other than seasoning, that made the entire ingredient list.
I put about two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in my large skillet and put it over medium-high heat next and added the potatoes. Since potatoes take a lot longer to cook through than any of the other ingredients, I let them fry like this for several minutes, getting soft and slowly browning, before adding anything else except a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Occasionally I tossed them around in the pan to try to encourage some evenness in the cooking, but for the most part, I like to leave them alone so that at least one side gets a little toasty golden-brown.
That's when I added the leeks, peppers, and garlic, which I tossed through, seasoned lightly, and let cook until everything was done.







After it was done (see the main picture above), I topped it with a little freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano and plated it just as the cheese melted a little. It was LOVELY.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Stir Fried Mushrooms and Bok Choy With Pork and Homemade Noodles (Mian)

My wife loved this. In fact, she talked about it for days, which I can say because I have to guiltily confess that I made this a week ago and am only now getting around to posting it.
Doesn't it look good? I can tell you, like my wife surely would, that it was extremely good and very characteristic of real Chinese cooking, based on my experiences with JB this summer (n.b.: all of the dishes labeled with "JB" in the title are directly based on the meals I watched/helped him prepare and enjoyed dozens of times this past summer while living with him, and JB is short for Jinbao, which is a very Chinese name for a very Chinese guy that cooks very authentically Chinese food). That said, you won't probably have a dish like this in a Chinese restaurant unless it's a very authentic one, and although I'm not super-widely traveled, I do know that the vast majority of "authentic" Chinese restaurants aren't. I couldn't tell you what area of China this dish is typical of, but since it reminds me of JB's cooking, we'll say the area around the capitol and be willing to be wrong. I should point out that he never got bok choy while we were together, passing it over for Napa cabbage every single time, so to make it more characteristic of his cooking, replace the bok choy with Napa cabbage. He used a lot of it. I'm sure it's pretty common in his cooking.

Stories aside... how did I make it? Well, as so often happens, I found a cut of meat that's suitable for my purposes and a great deal and built the recipe around it. Bone-in pork steaks (not chops, though honestly I don't yet know the difference) were on sale when I went shopping and looked plenty fresh enough for my purposes, so I got some. I was surprised to see how little bone and fat there was given that it definitely carried a bone-in price per pound (i.e. low). As you'll see below, I ended up cutting it up into roughly half-inch cubes and setting it aside until it was business time, although that actually happened after I cut up the veggies, which happened after I put a pot of salted water on the boil to make the pasta.

The stars of this dish were the veggies, of course, and those required some prep work. First, I used three kinds of mushrooms, two ribs of celery, almost an entire head of bok choy, about half a sweet onion, and the obligatory garlic (two or three cloves, crushed first and finely chopped) and ginger (about three quarters of an inch, cut into fine matchsticks because I have a slight bent toward that shape over minced or coined ginger in dishes). The three types of mushrooms were baby 'bella (about 4-5 of them, halved and sliced thinly), shiitake (sliced thinly), and maitake (chopped roughly).

The cutting of the other veggies was like this: I cut the half of the onion so it became quarters and then sliced quarter-inch thick slices across it. Done. I then tore the greens off of the bok choy and sliced the whites and celery into thin cross sections... lots of them. Done. Finally, I sliced and chopped the mushrooms. Done. After setting all of that on a plate, I made a chiffonade of the bok choy greens and then cut up the meat and made the pasta dough (2 cups all-purpose or bread flour, about 2/3 of a cup of water, a pinch of salt, and a lot of kneading).

Once everything was in place and my pasta water was boiling, I started the heat on the wok at a high temperature and added a couple of tablespoons of canola oil. I'd have preferred peanut oil, but I don't have any right now because I didn't want to buy the high-falutin' kind and refused to buy almost two gallons at a go. Anyway, the veggies, sans garlic and greens, went first with just a bit of salt. After they had a few minutes of rather vigorous stir-frying, I added the garlic, greens, another light pinch of salt, and a small splash of toasted sesame oil to the pan, tossed it gently for about thirty seconds, and poured the mixture on the plate. That's what you see in this picture: the veggies waiting on the plate for Phase Two.

Before starting Phase Two, I shaved and pinched the noodles from the dough directly into the boiling water and let them get cooking. Once that was done, I made sure my pan was cooking hot again with just about half a tablespoon (or a little less, maybe) of fresh oil in it and added the meat, which I immediately salted lightly and peppered with freshly ground black pepper (because my first attempts to get Szechuan peppercorns failed -- I'll have to use the internet for those, I think). I let the meat cook until it looked like in the picture, meaning until it was definitely close but not quite done. Overcooked meat is tough and not good and defeats almost the entire purpose of the stir-frying over high heat. When the meat took on that appearance, I added a couple of tablespoons of rice wine and let it sizzle for about thirty seconds before adding the veggies back in. About a tablespoon and a half or so of soy sauce chased the veggies.

After a quick stir, it was time to drain the pasta, and as soon as it was drained and shaken, I added the pasta in and mixed it up, and that's what you see at the top.

Seriously. This was good. Really good. Definitely a thumbs up!

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Honeycrisp Apples

Wow. After three years of enjoying these beauties in the fall, all I can still say (as I munch on one now) is "wow." Not "wow!" That was the first year. The "wow" of the honeycrisp apple for me has mellowed into an enduring wow of subtle and deep appreciation and ever-renewing amazement.
honeycrisp applesThis apple, in my opinion, is the apple that redefined all apples for me. I had my preferences before my first honeycrisp: this apple is good, that one isn't so good, that other one is okay or good enough or some such. All apples now are inferior compared with these beautiful specimens. They have the perfect balance between sweetness and tartness along with a full, pleasant apple flavor that leads me to believe that if I actually believed the story about the Garden of Eden, I'm pretty sure I know which apple that snake was peddling and why Eve, who otherwise had it all, fell to the temptation -- and would do it again knowing the full ramifications of her actions (if it was a story to be taken literally, I say again!). I mean, seriously. They're that good. Almost all other apples for me now are either "pie apples" or "juicing apples," the latter category including inferior pears and crab apples in addition to the usual mealy kinds that I don't like but can often get for a low, low price and run through my juicer just the same.

I belly up for these apples. They can be pricy. The four above were what was left of the six that I bought for a little under $14.50 the other day, but on the other hand, they're huge. On the first hand, they're still over $3 a pound, which is about $2 a pound more than I'm usually happy to let go of for apples. These are worth it, though.

Here's my story on Honeycrisps because it's just worth sharing. A few years ago, I went to New England in the early Autumn for some training, and with me went hope well-founded for some near-perfect New England apples. The first one I grabbed, hoping for a Cortland, was a honeycrisp, a varietal I'd never heard of and felt willing to try since they came from a local orchard somewhere in rural Massachussetts. I took my first bite of it as soon as I got out of the store and after my traveling buddy bit into his lifetime-first Cortland (we don't get good apples in the South, or so we used to say because it was true). He almost fell over from it, but it was nothing in comparison to my nearly ridiculous reaction to my first honeycrisp. "WOW!" is a big understatement. On threat of pain or death, I made him go back into the store and buy a honeycrisp, which ellicited a similar reaction from him. I was sold. Appledom had been redefined in just one bite.

They never got old. I ate dozens, figuring that'd be all I could get until next time I came to New England. I sucked down the cider of the precious fruit, ate two or three before meals and others as snacks, and loved every bite of them. I was just sad that I couldn't bring some home with me, having no room in my luggage to carry them. Then I came home, and lo! Honeycrisps were in the store just weeks after I told my family about this unbelievable, almost mythically good apple. Their reactions matched mine.

Folks, I tell you. This is the best apple ever. Ever. Ever ever ever ever ever. You should drop whatever you're doing right now and go buy a dozen of them, especially if they're huge.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

JB's Lamb and Leek with Homemade Noodles (Mian)

I redid a "classic" last night, this time with lamb instead of beef. Click here for the recipe, see here for the picture:
The only change in the recipe from the previous one is that I replaced the beef with an equal amount of lamb's leg, which, of course, tastes slightly different and altogether wonderful. I really hope you try it!

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Coffee Commentary: Vienna Coffee Company's Organic Balinese Blue Krishna

Look at this beautiful batch of beans that I took straight from the bag of Vienna Coffee Company's absolutely delicious, wonderfully different Organic Balinese Blue Krishna coffee.
I actually went to the Vienna Coffee roastery last Friday and was given the five-star tour of the place, which is, of course, everything I expected out of a place that roasts coffee but isn't a coffee shop in addition to that. Their roasters are nice and state of the art; there was a table of fellows, including the roast master, sitting around shooting the bull and/or talking business (I didn't eavesdrop to find out which), and a very helpful lady working the retail register that answered lots of my questions, talked shop with me for a bit, helped me pick a couple of coffees, showed me their facility (said five-star tour), and was all-around pleasant to talk with. I found out that they roast nearly continuously: three days a week during the summer and full-time during the winter (because it apparently gets wicked hot in there in the summer while roasting), and that the coffee is constantly being cycled around, sold and moved, and is therefore always fresh and great. I picked up two kinds that I'd never tried before and promised to write about this one (though eventually both will get some attention) as I was leaving. I would have done it sooner, but I really wanted to experience this coffee fully before I said anything about it.

This coffee is different from any other I've had. The flavor is almost... tangy, I think, though not in a bad way... when made into faux-espresso either in my Aeropress or in my moka. It's a very pleasant flavor that more strongly reminds me of my espresso-drinking experiences in Tuscany a few years ago than any other varietal or roast since. In fact, I would dare say that it was a distinctly familiar taste that harkened back to my time in Northern Italy, although my research on the matter indicates that this coffee is usually sent to the Japanese markets instead of those in Europe or America. The interesting combination of flavors is, of course, most poignant and tantalizing when it's taken black, though they all stand up very well and play quite interestingly with sugar. Adding cream after that mellows the flavors considerably, although it still results in a very pleasant cup (or cappuccino) that has an extremely unique taste that my wife says is her second favorite or maybe favorite of all (after Sumatra Mandheling, like anything can compare with that rich, full flavor).

The first thing my first taste test told me about this coffee, however, was "this will be good brewed cold." I had to get a new French press for that, though, and hence part of the delay. I realized that there's one at my mom's house that no one on earth but my brother uses, and since he lives more than 90% of the year out west in New Mexico and California, I figured I could swipe it temporarily with no harm nor foul. That's what I did, but I forgot it accidently on my first trip there -- warning, this link is to another blog I keep about my family life and the ridiculous dealings with a ridiculous teenager that resulted from this forgetful episode, so foodies in particular might not find any interest in it -- because Mom is so interesting... and had to wait another day to start this fifteen-hour-long experiment. Finally I did it, and I was right, though many of the tangy, interesting notes that scream to be enjoyed cold don't bloom as strongly in the cold brew as they do in a hot one. Then again, I didn't find them to be as strong in hot-brewed coffee either, at least not compared with pressure-brewed stuff. Still, it was delicious: almost certainly a pinnacle moment in my list of cold-brewing experiences.

All-told, I'd say that I strongly like this coffee and will definitely be getting it again... and again... and again. To quote the nice lady at the Company, "this one is kind of a party in your mouth, and it's hard to describe. Some seem to really like it, and some seem not to." My advice: try it.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Akoho sy Voanio (Chicken in Coconut Milk)

A dish from Madasgascar, you say? Yes, I do say, and yes, it is good. My first reaction upon reading the recipe for this was "that sounds relatively interesting... might be worth a try." My first reaction upon tasting the outcome was "holy ___ (something that doesn't rhyme with "now" or have anything to do with any food that I'm eating)!!!" It was a lot better than I had expected, needless to say (but said anyway). Here's what it looks like on plate:
Basically, this is like a curry without the curry, although I understand that adding curry is an interesting and pleasant side adventure. It's also remarkably simple to make. I nicknamed the recipe "the recipe of twos" because of all of the twos in it. To highlight that, let me list the ingredients:

  • Two pounds of chicken meat (I use chicken thighs, typically and here) or a whole chicken, cut it up or not ahead of time (mine is boneless thighs -- on sale at the store today -- cut into roughly one-inch cubes);
  • Two small to medium onions, chopped;
  • Two (or three) medium fresh tomatoes, chopped;
  • Two (or three) cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped;
  • An inch of ginger, sliced to dime-thick circles and sliced into matchsticks or finely chopped;
  • One can of coconut milk or the equivalent in homemade coconut milk;
  • Salt and pepper to taste;
  • Serve over (brown) rice (we always start with two cups, dry, for the amount of liquid this produces).
Of course, that's the "official," i.e. boring, version of the recipe. Here is an amendment I've found worth making: salt and pepper the chicken as you normally might before cooking it but also add a light dusting of cinnamon powder and cayenne pepper powder to it. Also, be very attentive to the salt -- either too little or too much really takes away from this dish. Had I not hit it on the head the first time I made it out of dumb, beginner's luck, my reaction would have been far muted from where it was and this probably wouldn't have ever been cooked in my house again (or on this blog). Luckily for all of us, it was perfect and delicious. My subsequent attempts have taught me to taste, resalt, taste, resalt, taste, resalt, etc., at the end until it's perfect.

Start by cutting everything up nicely. The chicken is secretly already cut up and browning in the pan (seasoned with salt, fresh black pepper, a dusting of cinnamon, and a dusting of cayenne) and does not appear in this picture. As you can tell, the first thing you do after that is start the chicken, which should be browning in a large pot with canola, peanut, or coconut oil. Peanut oil is most traditional, apparently, in Madagascar, and coconut oil is okay too. I used canola oil because it's what I have. Clicking on this picture brings up a bigger version so you can see how I cut up the ginger. I prefer it this way because the slightly bigger pieces taste nice.

Special note: depending on how long you need the "stew" portion of this to cook and the color of your rice, you might have started the rice ahead of time. Here are the tips for how I make rice (and I always make not-white rice):
  1. Toast your rice by putting it in the pan you intend to cook it in over medium-high heat and moving it around a lot until you hear the little grains popping softly kind of like popcorn or until you notice that they're getting a little toasty-looking;
  2. Season your rice with salt and black pepper at the least;
  3. Scent your rice with appropriate flavorings -- here I used two bay leaves and two coins of ginger;
  4. Use just a bit under twice as much water as you did rice for whole-grain rice (about a tablespoon short of double per cup of rice is about right);
  5. Let it boil after you've added your water for a little bit (two or three minutes) before lowering the heat and adding the lid.
  6. When it finishes cooking (45 minutes covered for normal brown rice), turn off the heat, shake it vigorously, and either replace the lid or never take it off... let it finish steaming until you're ready to use it.
This is a photo of the browned chicken when it's browned enough to add the onions, which go in next. It took it about six minutes over medium-high heat to get to this point, stirring it occasionally. It requires about that long again with the onions so that they cook until they are translucent. I realize this picture is sideways. I'm having technical difficulties today and am not feeling like fixing it this time.



After the onions have cooked thoroughly enough, add in the garlic and ginger and let it cook for another minute, stirring, of course. Then, add the tomatoes and coconut milk pretty much straight away. It looks about like this at that point.



I know... another sideways picture. It wasn't sideways in my previewer, and fixing this issue is kind of a game of jumping through hoops. I have better things to do tonight. After it cooks/stews in a mostly covered pan over medium heat (which you turn it to after the mixture comes nearly to a boil or starts boiling, depending a bit on your patience) for at least twenty minutes, it starts looking like this. Now you can start the process of salting it to taste, which requires a fair amount of salt because of the coconut milk. Essentially, it's done now if you used little pieces of chicken already cut up, but over the next little bit, the chicken will become more tender. If you used bigger chicken pieces, you'll need at least 10-15 more minutes than that. If you used a whole chicken, the total cooking time after the liquid is added is about an hour to an hour and twenty. Then you have to get the meat off the bone or figure out how you're going to serve it.

My only serving suggestion for this is to put it over the rice and don't be cheap with the liquid -- it's delicious. Also, expect seconds are in order once you taste it. It's really incredible stuff. A proper dessert in Madagascar involves peanuts almost always, apparently, so I usually finish this up with a simple American twist on that: a spoonful of peanut butter with chocolate chips in it or some equivalent peanut-butter-based candy that I don't buy much of.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Healthy Juicing!

Why would you want to turn all of this loveliness
into this other loveliness?
Because it's good for you, obviously! The benefits of juicing fresh fruits and especially vegetables are numerous: first of all, you get your fresh fruits and veg requirement in a pretty quick and easy step. Second of all, it's nutrition central: at least anecdotal evidence floats around out there that it can strongly help prevent or even, in some cases, cure cancer or other chronic illnesses. Third of all, it's pretty tasty, although it does take a little getting used to when you're drinking veg.

I've talked about juicing before and mentioned things like how it makes my hair and nails grow like mad when I drink juice regularly (proving (?) its goodness for the body). See here for that. What I'm about here is talking about some of what I know about the various ingredients that I juice on a regular basis.

Carrots:
Carrots are the anchor around with the rest of my juice is made. I always include carrots in my juices unless they are specifically designed to be a specialty fruit-only juice or an ingredient for cooking. Carrots are loaded with beta carotene and a host of other vitamins and minerals, and for the tiny number of calories they possess, they are extremely nutrient-dense. If you've never drank a glass of straight-up, freshly made carrot juice, then you really should just to see what it does to your body. If you do it on a more-or-less empty stomach, it's kind of like pouring Liquid Schwartz in your engine.

Apples:
Besides being somewhat good in the vitamins and minerals department, apples are very high in natural sugars that really elevate the energy levels. These are almost as great a pick-me-up as many of the more popular, caffeinated avenues to that end. Honestly, their nutritional profile in juice form is rather unremarkable, but their main benefit is in making almost any other juice far more palatable because they're very sweet in an inoffensive, well-mixing way. A few apples will make far rougher juices much easier and pleasant to drink. They are, however, high in sugar, so if that's an issue, do go easy with them. Sadly, the biggest nutritional boon of apples is their fiber content, most of which is lost in the juicing process.

Celery:
This soup-flavoring veg makes a lot of juice for how much of it you have to use, but its flavor is strong. It's good by itself with apples or in small quantities in other juices, and a couple of juiced stalks do well in a vegetable soup with a little simmering. The nutritional value of celery lies primarily in electrolytes it contains, though it does contain small quantities of amino acids that are helpful as well. Traditionally, celery is used to decrease inflammation and detoxify the body because it contains coumarins.

Beets:

I'm kind of excited about beets lately. I don't really like them, to be straight with you, but they are nice in juice (though if overdone will cause red diarrhea the next day!). A half a beet or a small-to-medium whole one is fine for two servings of juice. It's long been suggested by folk wisdom (or at least I heard it) that beets will make you strong, and there might be something to that. Besides being high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, beets provide a significant amount of nitric oxide in the diet, which is a compound used by serious exercisers to promote better blood flow to tissues, including muscle tissue, under the presumption that it will increase muscle growth overall. While that's not substantiated, the use of nitric-oxide enhancing supplements isn't decreased by the belief or science in any way. More reliably, the nitric oxide in beets is known to lower blood pressure because nitric oxide is a natural vasodilator (it dilates your blood vessels). Over a rather short time period (a few hours after consuming some beet juice), there is a marked drop in blood pressure that lasts for about a day. Daily consumption won't replace blood pressure medicine, but it can help keep the numbers a little lower in the very mildly hypertensive. Nitric oxide in the diet is also known to act beneficially on the male sexual response, and so beet juice may have these kinds of effects, though very slight, as well. Finally, in a recent study, it was shown that regular consumption of beet juice by athletes increased their endurance by as much as 16% in controlled tests. When they're fresh, I include the beet stems and leaves in my juice too!

Ginger Rhizome
:
I include a little ginger in most of my juices because it is good for digestion, warming and simulating to the digestive organs, and helps settle the stomach. It's used in traditional medicines in almost every culture that can get their hands on it, almost always for digestive reasons, and it has been shown to have better effects, without side effects, than many commercial motion-sickness medicines, including prescription-strength ones (disclaimer: I'm not advising you to stop taking anything recommended by your doctor for any reason). It's apparently a bad idea to have in your diet if you have gallstones, but without those, it seems to have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. It's also a mild blood thinner and seems to help prevent and cure various forms of diarrhea. It also seems to have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels in some cases. In any case, it's hot and tasty, so it adds a certain zest to the juice but can easily be overwhelming.

Lemon:
The last "usual" ingredient that I use is lemon. This appears in most of my juices because of it's nice Vitamin C content and very pleasant flavor (once combined with the sweeter apples and carrots). You can juice the whole fruit without peeling it (supposing it is washed very well and/or organic), getting some of the benefits of the zest and pith as well. Lemon juice is supposed to help clear the body of mucus as well and is a popular ingredient in detox preparations.

If you haven't juiced, then you might try it. I have found very few people, other than those who are total slaves to their tastebuds (as the flavor takes some getting used to except in the cases of fruits only) or very lazy (because the prep and cleanup are a bit of a chore), that don't see the overwhelming benefit to their health provided by adding some fresh juices this way.

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Funghi e Porco Raso con il Pesto e Pasta Casalinga

Even though I don't speak Italian, I thought "Mushrooms and Shaved Pork with Pesto and Homemade Pasta" might sound better that way. Thanks to an online translator, I probably titled this post completely incorrectly, but I'd only find that entertaining and am not particularly fussed by it. Sorry if it insults someone in your family. I'm just trying to have some fun here. Anyway, here's the dish:
The deal to making good, fresh pesto (if you don't just buy some and save yourself a little time and effort) is that you've got to have access to fresh herbs: lots of them! The problem with that is that fresh herbs are expensive to buy, so it's really best to grow your own. Luckily, we're slowly transforming much of our yard into a garden, and herbs grow, at least in the summer months, in plenitude throughout the yard.
For this dish, I gathered rosemary (one sprig), oregano (two sprigs), three kinds of basil, and a little parsley. Since pine nuts are expensive, I didn't put any in my pesto, but I did include some fennel seed that I ground up freshly before I started. Here's my cutting board covered in the herbs (before processing, obviously) and a head of garlic, two cloves of which ended up getting crushed and tossed into the food processor just a few minutes later. To make sure I gathered enough herbs, my process was simple: go pick some herbs until I'm sure I have enough, then pick some more until I'm sure I have too much, and then pick a little bit more because making enough pesto to be the sauce for a whole meal requires quite a lot of leaves. This pile of herbs, in fact, only made about four or five ounces of finished pesto after riding in the food processor with those ground fennel seeds, a little salt, a little black pepper, and a couple of tablespoons of e.v. olive oil.
In this photo you can see the ground up pesto in our little food processor (oxidized to a dark green on top and secretly much brighter green underneath) along side seven sliced up white mushrooms (halved and sliced thinly, as I so often do) and half a red onion, halved and sliced thinly. Processing the pesto really meant little more than turning on the machine with just the fennel seeds in there (about half a teaspoon of them) and letting them grind up for about two minutes, stuffing in all of the leaves (pulled from their stems) and garlic, adding some oil, and grinding in two two-minute bursts, scraping the sides down in between. That's easy if you have access to lots of herbs. In addition to the onions and mushrooms, I also crushed and finely chopped two more garlic gloves to be cooked with the meat. Right after I gathered the herbs, by the way, before I even processed them, I started a pot of salted water on its long trip toward boiling so that I'd be able to cook the pasta as soon as I was ready to.

The meat was pork loin that I bought when the price was right a few weeks ago and promptly froze, not having any particular desire to use it right away. Frozen meat has a distinct advantage over its non-frozen counterpart: it's easy to slice thinly once it's partially thawed (when still hard-frozen, it's hard to cut and freezes your hand off!). I cut off about a one pound chunk, maybe a quarter pound heavier, for this recipe and proceeded to slice it like it's prosciutto, so thinly that sometimes I could see through it. I also cut it into small pieces about the size of quarters or so. Oh, and somewhere in there, I made the dough for the pasta:

  • 2.5 cups of flour (0.5 of which was whole wheat, but that's optional);
  • about 3/4 cup water;
  • half a teaspoon of salt;
  • two gallons of elbow grease.
The process is straightforward: sift the flour and salt into a bowl, make a depression for the water, add the water, combine the ingredients into a doughy ball, a bit on the dry side, turn it out onto a counter, and knead it until it's smooth, roughly 10-15 minutes) or a little longer (if you like chewier pasta). My awesome wife helped out with the kneading this time while I cut up the pork! Once the pasta dough was ready, sitting patiently in its bowl waiting for me to pull it (I pulled it instead of shaving it this time) and the pork was sliced up, the cooking, which was quick, quick, began.
First, I tossed the mushrooms and onions into a searing-hot, large frying pan with a little olive oil and added a bit of salt, a little pepper, and some red pepper flakes. I let them cook until the onions went translucent and then poured all of it out of the pan and back onto the plate where they had been waiting for me. While that were cooking, I pulled the pasta out with my thumb (in a hard pinch) and tore it off into pieces into the boiling water. Here's what it looked like when they were all in there -- notice how, for the most part, they've all sunk. They'll float, or at least some will, when they're ready. After pouring out the veggies, I added a little more oil to the pan, let it regain its heat for a few seconds, and added the pork and garlic with a little salt. Stirring it a lot, I cooked that until the pork was just barely not finished cooking, at which point I added the vegetables back in and mixed everything together. Just then, I drained the pasta, which was done (after about 4-5 minutes in the water), splashed a little red wine vinegar (because I don't have any white wine vinegar) over the meat and veggies mixture, and added the herb part of the pesto to the pan. After stirring it in a little, I added the pasta, stirred much more actively, and then added about a fourth of a cup of fresh grated Parmesan cheese (to "finish" the pesto).

Stirring finished it, and I served it up in heaping mounds to the delight of all.

Tonight, I think, will be another rendition of JB's beef and potatoes stew with the added bonus of a large number of sliced shiitake mushrooms!

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Morning Cappuccino and a Coffee Comparison/Review

I've talked about my cappuccinos before, the ones I have on a daily basis with my wife to tremendous enjoyment an as a celebration of everyday romance, but I haven't shown you what these little beauties look like. Here's the cups I made the other day in my favorite mugs ever, which I got at Big Lots about seven years ago for fifty cents each (had I known their greatness when I bought them, I would have bought all they had of them).
two mugs of cappuccino everyday romance styleSomeone might find argument with how these look, but do remember that I don't actually possess any of the proper tools for making a proper cappuccino, and yet I still have fooled even seasoned Europeans (meaning Europeans that have been to Italy and France and enjoyed many coffees in each place) into believing I do have such equipment. This isn't about recipes, though. I think I mentioned before how I make these. See here, for instance. The real trick is simple, of course: don't be cheap, i.e. buy good coffee, use plenty of it, buy good sugar and cream, and use enough of those, and if you add flavorings, get the good ones, e.g. by Rieme.

This post really was to show that picture, but I should talk about the coffee in those mugs. As usual, it came from Vienna Coffee Company here in Maryville, TN. The method of brewing it into cappuccino (actually what we call "pressoccino," to be more "accurate") is the same as in the recipe linked to above. All that varies over time is the particular kind of coffee we get. What's in those mugs is their Sumatra Mandheling, which is roasted medium-dark and absolutely glorious as everyone who has had a Mandheling from Sumatra knows. The flavor is rich and complex, deep and satisfying, and it stands up nicely to milk and sugar to have a very round, full mouth feel and flavor. I think that were it not for my love of variety, I'd probably only rarely buy any other flavor of coffee because this one is really hard to beat. It is almost definitely my wife's favorite.

I'm comparing it with the other flavor we've been going back and forth on, one I intend to write a more proper review of later: their Mocca Java, a blend of coffees from Yemen (Mocca) and Indonesia (Java) that they claim has big earthy flavors and a complex flavor for a darker roast. I definitely taste the earthiness and complexity, but honestly, I find the taste a bit flat, particularly after the very round, robust taste of the Sumatra Mandheling. I've been holding off on a review of this particular blend because I figured I owed it the honor of being brewed in a Moka since there is pun-value there, but I haven't gotten around to it (my wife doesn't much like the output of the Moka because the coffee seems to make her jittery that way -- I suspect it's the oils, many of which don't pass the paper filter of the Aeropress). The Vienna website claims that this cup has chocolate notes despite being unflavored, and I think I can see that. Perhaps it is one of the reasons for my distaste of it, despite the fact that it's obviously well roasted and well blended coffee: I don't really like chocolate going in my coffee, although I really like coffee going into my chocolate. Honestly, I don't feel like I can give this coffee a fair appraisal until I taste it from a French press, and I broke mine and haven't been in a rush to get a new one (since I only rarely drink brewed coffee now). I will note that it's good enough, despite my tastes, that it has been purchased three out of the last five times I've bought coffee, so it's definitely worth picking up and enjoying.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Incredibly Good, Buttery Mushroom Topping

Anyone that's ever been to an expensive steak place knows that one of the best things in the whole world to put on top of a lovely chunk of perfectly cooked meat is a beautiful compound butter. For the purposes of this, I will pretend "compound butter," which means something quite specific, means "flavored butter." Since "compound butter" melts directly on the hot, grilled meat, I will further take "flavored butter" here to mean "melted flavored butter," i.e. "butter-based sauce-like topping." If I had called this post "Mushroom Butter-Based Sauce-Like Topping," it would have lost 98.3% of its appeal (I'm a mathematician, so I made that number up just like any regular person could have done). This is, in fact, very similar to something I did recently, although I took it in a slightly different direction this time and made something lovely, proving that creativity often lives in variations on the uncreatively reused ideas from last week. Then I decided it needed its own spotlight. Too bad I'm not good enough at Photoshop (and don't own it) to put a spotlight shining on the picture I took of the sauce-like stuff cooking. Thus, imagine there's a spotlight, and let it be as glorious as you know this thing tasted!
mushroom topping for meat with lots of butter garlic and red wine vinegarThere it is, bubbling away. There isn't too much in there:

  • three white mushrooms, halved and sliced very thinly;
  • a clove of garlic, smashed, chopped finely (first) and added last;
  • an "edge" of a medium onion (1/4 c.-ish), sliced thinly and halved (about an inch long and paper thin);
  • three or four tablespoons of unsalted butter;
  • salt and black pepper to taste;
  • about three tablespoons of nice red wine vinegar (substitute your favorite flavor of vinegar depending on the dish you're making).
I didn't put any fresh herbs in this because, honestly, I didn't feel like going out to where they're growing and picking them. Thyme would have been particularly nice, though, as would rosemary or whichever herbs happen to be the best complements to either what you're putting this on or what side dishes you're serving. I was just putting this on rather uninspired burgers (cumin and crushed black pepper crusted, actually, served on nice thick toast with mayo and hot sauce). This would have been spectacular on top of any of the following, though:
  • steak (wow, yes);
  • burgers (I know; I did it);
  • meatloaf (hmm... that's a better idea than I thought when I decided to type it...);
  • chicken (baked or grilled);
  • pork chops or roast;
  • sliced roast beef (also known as "Reason Number Three not to be vegetarian");
  • pasta (if I doubled or maybe tripled the recipe, particularly if I did it with thinly sliced grilled chicken and fresh chopped tomato added at the last second so it barely warms up and doesn't cook);
  • scrambled eggs or a scrambled egg burrito if you don't mind it dripping with buttery awesome.
The making of it was easy also: melt the butter in a small saucepan or skillet, add the not-garlic veggies and salt, cook until the onions go translucent, add the garlic, cook for 1-2 more minutes, add the vinegar and pepper, and let it reduce (i.e. concentrate and marry the flavors) for 5-10 minutes over medium heat or until whatever else you're cooking is done cooking using lower heat as needed to accomplish that feat. To serve it, proceed to put some including the sauce it's kind of swimming in over whichever of the above things you've made. If you're doing it with pasta, just put all of it in the pasta and toss it.

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