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.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Gamberetti con Polenta ( Shrimp and Grits in the Italian Style )

I have cooked this dish many times, many different ways. Sometimes with white wine, with white corn, no sausage, mirepoix, basically the canvas is wide open for your interpretation. Today though, I am trying to stay true to my Italian roots. Hence the Italian sausage, Italian parsley, and polenta.

I got started by assembling most of the ingredients. Polenta, flour, organic chicken stock, Italian parsley, yellow onion, shallots, garlic, fresh spicy Italian sausage, some orange chiles, and my sharp chefs knife.

Was actually going to cook a different shrimp dish tonight but I couldn't find head on prawns. So these Tiger prawns looked better than the rest at New Sagaya's fish counter.

I shelled and deveined these. I made sure to get rid of the tails because that is one of my peeves when eating shrimp dishes. Why in the hell would someone leave the tail on in such a messy dish?

Set those aside for now. The polenta takes the longest so let's start there. I started with 2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of 1/2 & 1/2. That was seasoned with salt, pepper, and a couple of small bay leaves and allowed to come to a low boil.

Now slowly pour in 3/4 cup of polenta or course ground yellow corn meal while whisking the liquid.

This will thicken very fast. Stir often to keep from sticking. Turn the heat to low and stir every couple of minutes. At this point I had an epiphany concerning the similarities between properly cooked polenta and risotto. The expression of the grains creaminess is only released through slow and patient cooking and constant stirring.

At the end of about 35 minutes of cooking I added a little more stock, some 1/2 & 1/2, a pat of butter, and a dusting of parmesan.

To get the timing right on both of these dishes, you will need to start your shrimp dish about 15 minutes after starting the polenta. Drizzle a skillet with olive oil and add 1 diced onion.

Let these go just until they start to pick up some color.

Now add in your orange chiles, sliced garlic, and shallots.

After about 3-4 minutes it is time to add your half moons of spicy Italian sausage.

The Italian sausage I used did not add enough fat to make a proper roux. So I went a little crazy and decided on adding a large spoonful of duck fat. Olive oil will work too.

Now add in about the same amount of flour as you added in fat. Stir to combine.

This will start to stick so quickly add about 2 cups of chicken stock and stir thoroughly. Make sure to scrape the bottom so as to loosen anything that has stuck.

This will quickly thicken and turn into an amazing gravy. Taste and season. I added more sea salt and fresh cracked four pepper blend.

Now add in your shrimp and about a 1/4 cup of chopped flat leaf Italian parsley.

Cook only long enough to turn the shrimp pink. When they barely start to curl up they are done. Do not overcook.

Plating is simple. I use a bowl because it just makes sense. Large mound of polenta in the middle and top with lots of shrimp and gravy.

This is true comfort food at its finest. Give it a try and I promise that you will not be disappointed.