Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Meat on a Stick

I have been trying to learn more and more varied cuisines from around the world. Something from every continent or culture to help me understand the combinations of ingredients and regional spices. Today it is North Africa and the Middle East. This is a food that I have only very recently had any experience with whatsoever. That is thanks to this great little restaurant called Falafel King. They have as you might guess great falafel stuffed pita sandwiches with tahini and pickles that are way good. Also Shawarma and kebabs to satisfy the meat eaters.

Tonight I wanted to use the grill for maybe the last time before the snow falls. I will still use it after but it is a lot easier to use when you don't have to shovel your way to the damn thing. So tonights menu was marinated lamb kebabs, tabouleh, and an appetizer/amuse of gorgonzola and almond stuffed date wrapped in bacon and grilled.

For the dates I will leave it up to my blogging friend Kitty. She has a great explanation on her blogs Club Kitty Spain - Part 2 - Prep and Club Kitty Spain - Part 3 - Let's Eat!. They are super easy and let me tell you they are delicious.

The kebabs have to marinate for sometime so lets start with those. I used fresh mint, garlic, ground cumin, ground coriander, chile flakes, salt, fresh cracked pepper and fresh grated cinnamon.

This was mixed with the juice of 2 lemons and about 3 times that amount of olive oil.

Now for the lamb. Again it was the ladies and gentleman at Mr. Prime Beef that came through for me. They had great boneless leg of lamb. I took this thing and carefully cut away the fat cap. Save the fat.

Then take the meat and cut into roughly 1cm x 2cm x 2cm pieces. Like cubes cut in half.

Put all the lamb and the fat into a plastic bag with the marinade.

This goes in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours.

Now for the tabouleh. Take your bulgur wheat and cover with boiling water. I had about one cup of wheat so I used about 2+ cups of water.

This can soak for about 30-45 minutes. Taste to see that the grains are fully hydrated. Then drain in a strainer lined with paper towels. When most of the liquid has drained. Take the corners of the paper towel and fold over the top. Then lift the package and gently squeeze out the rest of the excess water.

Put into a non reactive bowl. I then picked one whole bunch of Italian parsley and about 7-8 stems of fresh mint. Wash this and then either lay out on paper towels and pat dry or you can use one of these fancy salad spinners.

I ran a knife through the parsley and mint.

Then finely dice up a red onion, one seeded and peeled cucumber, and about 4 green onions. Everything goes into the wheat. I then juiced 2 lemons and seasoned that with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Then drizzled and whisked in olive oil to make a citrus dressing. Pour the dressing into the tabouleh mixture.

Stir to incorporate and then put into the fridge to allow the flavors to combine.

After your lamb has marinated for at least 3 hours, pull it out and start putting onto water soaked bamboo skewers. While trolling the internet for kebab recipes I came across the idea of putting fat between the pieces of meat. So I did. Piece of lamb and then a small piece of fat. Repeat. The idea is to let the fat keep the lamb moist and juicy. You could also do this with bacon which is always a good idea.

Now toss these on a hot grill and sear. Then flip once and take off when they look right.

I also put those great little bacon wrapped date things on the grill.

Plating was super easy. A couple kebabs, some tabouleh, and some dates with a garnish of lemon.

The red onion and cucumber added just enough texture and flavor to the salad to make it hit the spot. Prior to adding those it was a bit "leafy". The kebabs though were delicious from the start. The mix of flavors and that hint of mint are uniquely tasty.

As for the dates, you have to try those damn things. They are a wonderful mix of salty, sweet, crunchy, and creamy. I used tamari roasted almonds and that added even another layer of flavor. Delicious.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Flavors of Fall

The season is definitely changing. There is snow coming lower almost every night on the Chugach mountains. That coolness in the air brings on a taste for a whole different menu selection. So tonight I put together a meal with as many foods from the season as I could squeeze on one plate.

Pork chops seared in duck fat and finished in hard pear cider, sweet potato gnocchi with a gorgonzola cream sauce, and brussel sprouts roasted with deep smoked bacon. How is that for a kick ass meal?

Lets start on the gnocchi. I steamed up two peeled and chopped sweet potatoes.

Cook these until a knife slides in easily.

I set these in the steamer basket up on my kitchen window sill to cool off.

When they are cool, smash with a potato masher or with a potato ricer if you have one.

Now add in an egg and some flour. I started with a 1/2 cup but ended up adding quite a bit more to get the dough to the right consistency. I estimate using about 1 3/4 cups of AP flour after all was said and done. This is my first time making gnocchi so I was unsure of the consistency needed. I made it kind of like a soft orrecchiette dough.

Divide the dough into several balls and roll those out into ropes. Then cut those up into small pieces. Use extra flour so that the cut sides don't stick.

Now take a fork and gently roll the tines across the dough balls so as to leave raised edges on the gnocchi. It takes a little practice. I found that placing on ball on my left hand and rolling with the fork in my right. You will get faster as you go. They should look something like this.

I set these aside to dry while prepping the rest of dinner. Next on the list was cooking some bacon. I got this extra smoked thick sliced at the butcher shop. Isn't it pretty.

This was cooked slowly over low heat. Then set aside. Save some of the grease. I was unable to find fresh brussel sprouts so I went with frozen. Cut the larger sprouts in half. Toss with the bacon grease and chopped up bacon pieces.

Now everything starts to go fast. I took this oppurtunity to clean up and start some salted water to boil.

Put the sprouts in the oven for about 25 minutes at 375 F. Stir every 8 minutes or so. They will come out looking something like this.

Start some duck fat to heating in a skillet. Season up some THICK cut pork chops. I got these at the same butcher as the bacon, Mr. Prime Beef.

Seasoned these with just a little salt and pepper and some fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, and just a little dried sage.

Sear these in the duck fat on high heat to get a nice color.

I gave these about 4 minutes per side and then poured in some Hard Pear Cider that I found while looking for the apple kind. Tasty stuff.

Cover this with a lid and set the heat to low. Let braise for about 10 minutes.

Now is the time to start on the gorgonzola cream sauce. In a sauce pan start some whole milk or 1/2 & 1/2 to warming. Add in a hefty chunk of a good quality gorgonzola cheese.

Season the milk with salt and lots of pepper. Allow the milk and cheese to just barely simmer so as to reduce and thicken.

Now pull out your pork chops and allow to rest covered. I pulled out when they still felt medium rare to the touch. The carryover will fully cook them.

Start your pan juices and cider mix to reducing.

Now is the time to toss your gnocchi into the salted boiling water. When they float to the top taste one. They should be little pillows of delicate sweet potato goodness. Pull out with a slotted spoon. I put them right into the cheese sauce. I made too much sauce for the amount of gnocchi but not to worry.

With your pan sauce reduced, add in some whole grain mustard and whisk together. I also added in some of the herb blend and just a bit of fresh Italian parsley.

I used a slotted spoon to get the drowning gnocchi out of the extra sauce. Worked perfectly. Serve with the sprouts and the chop. Make sure to sauce the chop.

Some meals just come together well. This was a lot of work but I gotta say the results were definitely worth the effort. Everything was just as I had hoped. For my first try at gnocchi they came out so delicate and flavorful. You have got to try this meal at least once.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pad Thai by a White Guy

Didn't know the Thai word for Gaijin. This is my first attempt at a traditional Thai street food. I am fairly familiar with all of the ingredients, so this becomes more of an exploration of technique. I have some work to do. Maybe a new wok to buy as well.

Lots of recipe sites can be found when you Google this dish. I think after a short search that this is the best one I found. Check it out. It is basically the recipe that I follow here.

Chez Pim, Pad Thai for beginners

I started the process by soaking the tamarind paste in hot water.

Now let this soak until it is cool enough to handle with your paws. Start breaking up the paste. I then started using a whisk to smash and mix the concoction.

When you get the consistency of ketchup, strain out any rind or seeds.

Now for the rest of your sauce. Add 1/2 cup of the tamarind sauce, 1/2 cup of fish sauce.

Add 1/4-1/3 cup of sugar. The authentic calls for 1/2 cup of palm sugar but I didn't have any on hand. Finally toss in some chile sauce. I like spicy so I went for about 1/4 cup of this.

Bring this to a low simmer just until everything is mixed and the sugar dissolves.

This is not the best smelling concoction. It is very strong, the tamarind is extremely tart like vinegar. But not to worry. So now start prepping the rest of your ingredients. Cut up the firm tofu into matchstick size pieces.

I wasn't happy with the peanuts at the bulk bins so I went for unsalted cashews. Break these up with the back of your knife.

Begin soaking your rice noodles in warm water. I like the thinner rice noodles. Many people like to use the wider flat noodles. Soak these until they just become pliable. You don't want them to overcook later on in the wok. When ready, toss them into a collander to drain.

How lucky am I to have such a great Asian market? New Sagaya even had the Chinese chives. I think that they are just a version of garlic chives and you can easily substitute green onions here.

So here is my work so far. Usually in wok cooking the bulk of the time is during prep.

So I don't have the right tools to do this correctly from here on out. But I make do. My wok is a cheap nonstick hand me down and I am using a flat top electric stove. Not the best combo but I seem to make it work. Turn the eye on high and wait till the wok is HOT. Then add some oil and it should start smoking almost right away.

Toss in the tofu and let it get some color. Then just a bit of the sauce.

Now the garlic and then the noodles. I suggest making small 1-2 portions per round. If you add too much food to the wok it will lose heat and you end up with boiled noodles. So keep it just a couple portions at a time. And always keep the food in the wok moving. Now about a 1/4 cup of your sauce.

If the sauce cooks out too fast you can always add a bit of water. Now make a well in the bottom.

Side note. I should have put the shrimp in that well but I was following the order that the linked recipe suggested. In the future I will follow my own instincts.

In the well crack an egg and allow to just set up.

Now stir the egg in. Here is where I added the shrimp and had to struggle to get them fully cooked. Now finish with the nuts, bean sprouts, and chives.

I also squeezed in a bit of lime. Serve IMMEDIATELY. Dress with condiments such as bean sprouts, nuts, chives, lime wedges, and chile sauce.

Definitely check out the Chez Pim link. It is a big help to anyone trying this dish. I don't recommend trying to photo blog this your first time out ( like I did ). Things need to move fast and I was barely able to keep up the pace while trying to shoot pictures.

This was a late night munchy meal for me. Talk about hitting the spot. Much cleaner and less oily than Pad Thai from many restaurants. Hell, now I am hungry.

Cheers friends. Be sure to leave your thoughts and if you haven't already dones so, go ahead and subscribe to the blog.