What Sounds Good?

We all have our comfort foods.  When nothing else sounds good, we reach for familiar touchstones to soothe us.  They many not mean much to anyone else, but we have our favorites.

Years ago I wrote a heritage cookbook for my family with the odd title, What Sounds Good?  It was just that,  a crazy assortment of cherished recipes that were a regular part of our food repertoire when my daughters were growing up.  At our house, there was always a debate underway about what to eat for the next meal or upcoming food event. The discussion would typically include what sounds good?

Some of the recipes in What Sounds Good? were from my own childhood; some I picked up in my early days of cooking from friends and family. Some were regional, like Santa Maria Style Beans and Boston Clam Chowder. They still hold a place in my heart.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was cold and rainy and I was feeling the aftermath of the long Thanksgiving weekend.  I needed something that reached down and warmed my soul.  Of course, it was no further away than my pantry shelves.  I always have the makings for clam chowder tucked away somewhere.

I pulled out my soup pot and found a familiar rhythm. The smoky scent of bacon always perks me up. There’s nothing fussing here: some onion, potato, a bit of celery, a few herbs… In no time I had hearty soup cups ladled full of thick and creamy clam chowder.

Funny thing.  This morning I pulled out the recipe to take a look at it.  It has been a while since I made it, and without thinking, I made it as written in the cookbook, down to ingredients and quantities.  I guess somethings are too good to change.

Boston Clam Chowder

From What Sounds Good?

Ingredients
4-5 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 medium red potatoes, skin on, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 cans chopped clams, 4-5 ounces each, liquid reserved
1 bottle clam juice, about 8 ounces
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup water
2 cups milk, of choice, including diluted condensed milk, if necessary
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Garnish:  chopped parsley, butter, or paprika, serve with oyster or pilot crackers

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot, sauté the bacon over medium heat until it begins to color. Drain off all but 1-2 tablespoon of the fat.
  2. Add the onion, and cook to soften, then add the celery and toss briefly. Add the potato, herbs, white pepper. clam liquids, and enough additional water to barely cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Combine the flour and water into a slurry and slowly stir into the potato base and allow it to thicken.
  4. Stir in the milk and clams and heat well, but do not boil. Adjust seasoning.  Serve with garnish of choice.  Serves 4.
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Cauliflower Credo

This is one serious blunder.  I can’t believe I forgot to post this incredibly good veggie burger that includes cauliflower.  I know, you must be saying, “No-more-cauliflower!”  If you are looking for an outstanding veggie patty, don’t count this one out.

There are probably more veggie-burger-patty posts on this blog than anything else. It is also true that in each case the latest is always the best.  This one really is!

Hear me out. If you have labored over as many veggie burgers as I have, it’s likely that you have established your own preferences.

Flavor
Personally, I like the falafel flavor range: cumin and other warm spices, plus a little heat all work in this format.  Not so much that it overwhelms other flavors.
Texture
Not too wet or too dry; it must hold its shape. Not too heavy or too light.  We want to be fully satisfied, but not have a bomb to process.
Nutrition
Healthful ingredients are key. A variety of vegetables plus a combination of grains, legumes, pulses and/or beans all help to balance, boost food value, and increase taste, nutrition, and overall interest.

Cauliflower
Yes, the perfect veggie patty must have a lot going for itself, and who would think cauliflower could be such a big player?  My recent cauliflower marathon confirms all of these suspicions.

»  Its assertive yet mild flavor profile works well with the falafel requirement.
»  It has the ability to hold its shape with the right binders.
» It is light, nutritious, and a big team player.

May I present the most outstanding veggie burger… of the day?

Cauliflower-Lentil Veggie Patties

Ingredients
2 cups riced cauliflower, or a partial head of cauliflower
¾ cup dried red lentils, rinsed
½ cup bulgur wheat
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup cremini mushrooms chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon coriander
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon coconut oil
½ teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes
½ cup falafel mix (found in specialty stores or bulk food section)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 beaten egg
1 cup panko, approximate
¼ cup coconut oil for cooking, divided (approximate)

Accompaniments:
Any of all of the following:  grated cheese, tomato, avocado, pickled pepper, yogurt sauce, Sriracha, sprouts, or sautéed kale.

Instructions

  1. To prepare the cauliflower, cut into florets. Cut or pulse in food processor until the size of large rice grains. Set aside.
  2. Rinse the lentils, place in small pot with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until soft but still holding shape, 10-15 minutes.
  3. Soak the bulgur wheat in 1 cup boiling water with a pinch of salt. Cover and let stand 15 minutes until swelled. Drain.
  4. In medium sauté pan over medium-high, heat the olive oil and add the onion and the thyme, cook to soften, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the mushrooms and garlic, stirring to soften the mushrooms. Add the coriander, a few grinds sea salt and freshly ground pepper and sauté to remove additional liquid, 1-2 minutes longer. Place in bowl of food process.
  6. To sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon coconut oil and then the cauliflower. Season with red pepper flakes and a sprinkling of salt. Cook until cauliflower begins to soften and color 3-4 minutes. Don’t overcook.  Remove to processor bowl.
  7. Pulse all the vegetables, bulgur, and lentils until coarse texture, but not pureed. Place in large mixing bowl. Stir in falafel mix, the lemon juice, and the egg. It should for a loose mass. Cover and let rest 20-30 minutes in fridge.
  8. Stir up to 1 cup panko into the mixing bowl to form a cohesive but not too wet mixture that holds together well. The panko is designed to bind and lighten the mixture, don’t over mix. It will also help with browning.
  9. Divide into 8 portions, shape into patties 3-1/2” x ½” thick, and place on parchment lined pan. Cover and chill 20 minutes longer or up to 1 day.
  10. Over medium, heat skillet with 2-3 teaspoons coconut oil. Cook in 2-3 batches. Cover while cooking the first side, about 5 minutes, until browned and well heated. Turn, add a bit more oil and brown second side, about 4 minutes longer. Cool on rack.
  11. Serve with bun or pita or choice. Top with grated cheese, tomato, avocado, pickled pepper, yogurt sauce, and shredded lettuce or sautéed kale. Yield: 8 patties.

Pizza Margarita in a Skillet: Faster than Dominos can Deliver

When using the very best ingredients it’s hard to beat a great combination like fresh mozzarella, vine ripened tomatoes, and basil leaves.  Add any other specialty touches like a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and you have the makings of a masterpiece.

Throw in a fine crispy bread and you will know why Pizza Margarita has long been considered one of the world’s great classics.

Last night I experienced such good fortune when I happened to have fabulous fresh bread dough—as well as all the above ingredients.  Easily, within ten minutes I was slicing into world class pizza.

I had a supply of excellent bread dough on hand thanks to local bread expert Marc Green, who has perfected his own no-knead bread for artisan bread baking.  With that in mind, I pulled out a heavy skillet and heated a good drizzle of olive oil. I flattened and patted out a portion of Marc’s dough, threw it into the hot pan, and covered it with a lid to create an impromptu oven.

Meanwhile, I gathered up pre-sliced mozzarella, thinly sliced fresh tomato, and plucked a few sprigs of basil off my doorstep plant. When the bottom was crispy, I gave it a flip and added my toppings.  It was quickly covered and left to cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the cheese melted and the bottom was golden brown.

Since my dough was well constructed and robust, it raised beautifully, much like a Chicago-style pizza.  Normally I prefer a thinner crust, but this was so good I nearly polished off the whole thing without stopping for a salad!

Given this simple technique, there is no reason why any other bread or ready-made pizza dough would not work.  I also sprinkled on red pepper flakes and sea salt but that’s a personal thing. Simply nothing else is required.  Not even a phone call or text message.

Pizza Margarita in a Skillet

Inspired by Marc Green’s No-Knead Bread

Ingredients
one recipe bread dough
fresh sliced tomato
fresh sliced mozzarella
fresh basil leaves
olive oil

Directions

  1. Turn raised, room temperature dough out onto lightly floured surface. Lightly dust with flour and cut into four or more portions and shape into balls.
  2. Heat a medium skillet (8” approx.), heat 1-2 tablespoons oil into bottom until it shimmers. Flatten one ball with hand and press into the diameter of the skillet; carefully slide the dough into pan.
  3. Cover with a lid and cook 3 minutes until golden brown on bottom and dough has risen, uncover and carefully flip over.
  4. Place the tomato slices, mozzarella slices, and basil leaves on top of the dough.  Cover with lid and cook 3-5 minutes longer until cheese is melted and bottom is golden brown.   Remove to cutting board, cut into wedges and serve hot.  Repeat pizzas as needed.

Mission Accomplished

My good buddy Jerry and I have been talking about lamb shanks for a very long time. When we get hungry, one of our favorite topics centers on lamb shanks: why slow and low cooking is essential to their tender-to-the-bone succulence, and how all that bone intensely flavors the meat. They truly are a labor of love.

A mound of Basque Lamb Shanks

We can talk for hours about the best way to prepare them. Of course, Jerry considers himself an authority on lamb shanks, with good reason.  He lived in Boise, Idaho for many years, and at one time married into a clan of Basques who cooked lamb like nobody’s business. He also made a point of frequenting the region’s Basque restaurants and managed to get into the kitchens of some of the best. Of one in particular, Jerry maintains they credited their outrageous lamb shanks to a slow oven simmer in an awesome sauce based on mushrooms, red wine and sundried tomatoes.

One weekend, we decided to stop talking and tackle the lamb shanks. We knew what we had to do and we were ready!  Lucky us, we found absolute beauties at Roth’s Market that were just our size. One additional challenge:  to utilize my fairly new Instant Pot, which sears, braises, and slow cooks until the cows come home.  Two of these shanks fit perfectly in the pot, and still, there would be more food that we could possibly eat in one sitting.

Jerry pulled out his knives and did the honors of stripping the shanks of excess fat, silver, and sinew until they were perfectly prepped and ready for the pot. It is attention to such details that can make the difference between ok and outstanding.

Once the shanks were well browned off and holding in the slow cooker, the vegetables were sautéed in the pan’s drippings and added to the cooker. The pan was deglazed with wine and poured over the shanks, followed by the sundried tomatoes and their liquid, the beef stock, and herbs. Now, it was just a matter of time for the preliminary sauce to work its magic on the shanks.

Lamb Shank, partially devoured

And so it did—to perfection. Although the photos indicate a mound of meat, in no way do they give adequate credit to the lamb shanks. In fact, they were taken in an absolute rush and secondary to the mission at hand.  We had our hands full!!

Basque Lamb Shanks, Slow Cooker

Ingredients
2 lamb shanks, @ 1.25 lbs each
1-2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
1 medium onion, chop
1 carrot, peel chop
5 cloves garlic, mince
1 cup or more cremini mushrooms, chop
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup sundried tomatoes, reconstituted in 1/2 cup water and cut up. Save water.
½ cup beef stock, approximate; more as needed to thin sauce
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon lemon grated zest

Directions 

  1. Trim silver and fat from shanks.
  2. Heat a wide skillet over medium heat and pour in oil to coat pan. Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes, and transfer to slow cooker.
  3. If necessary drizzle additional oil into the pot. Add onion, carrot, and garlic to pan and cook stirring often, until onion softens. Add the mushrooms and cook to release their liquid; transfer to slow cooker.  Deglaze pan with wine and add to slow cooker.
  4. Add all ingredients except lemon zest, cover and cook for about 3 hours on high and test for tenderness. Add lemon zest and cook for approximately 1 hour longer approximately, or until the meat pulls back from the bone and is fork-tender. Adjust seasoning and serve with more lemon. Serves 2 very hungry people.

 

The Mind of a Chef

Call me a creature of habit, but it seems that about once a month I make a frittata of some sort.  It’s usually on the weekend, but more important, it is the reassurance of knowing I’ve got my buddy in the fridge for back up during the week.

One of the most versatile of dishes ever, the frittata is equally welcome hot, warm, room temperature, and even cold.  Designed for portability, a wedge makes a convenient hand-held lunch on the run, or a simple dinner with salad.  Little mouth-sized portions make flavorful bites with drinks.

So, it’s no surprise that my mind tends to wander in terms of would that work in a frittata?  With a little manipulation, the answer is usually yes.  Here’s my latest frittata creation, and the answer is yes, absolutely, to all of the above mentioned applications.

This all began when a friend brought over beautiful sprigs of soft sage from their garden. I set them aside to dry, knowing they would come in handy very soon. When I spotted a small pristine head of cauliflower at the farmers’ market, I paused over it quizzically. My mind slipped into frittata mode.  With sage and what else?

Let’s face it, much like a white canvas, cauliflower needs help. My mind kept going… there were a couple types of blue cheese rumbling in the cheese bin and I probably had a little ham in the freezer.

Back at home I sliced the cauliflower and broke it into smaller pieces.  The idea here is to give the cauliflower more flat surfaces to brown and intensify flavor. The cauliflower was briefly blanched in boiling water,   quickly cooled to stop the cooking, and well drained—to avoid any mushy/sogginess later.

When I was ready to prepare the frittata it was a mere matter of browning onion and cauliflower, then adding the sage and ham. A combination of bleu cheese and creamy gorgonzola was scattered over the cauliflower and ham for a brief melt into the action below.

The eggs, milk, and seasoning were poured over the cauliflower mixture and allowed to set up in the pan and lock everything in place.  A quick run under the broiler puffs the frittata and browns the top. This is one serious frittata, she grins.

Cauliflower-Ham Frittata with Sage-Gorgonzola Cheese

Ingredients
1 small head cauliflower, ½” slices, broken in florets and blanched @ 3 minutes, drained
1 tablespoon combination evoo and butter
½ onion, chop
¾ teaspoon dried sage, crumble
½ Anaheim pepper, seed and chop
¼ lb. smoked ham, ¾ cup cubes
½ cup combo gorgonzola and bleu cheese, in pieces
6 eggs
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

  1. Heat 9” or 10” oven-proof skillet over medium heat with olive oil and butter. Sauté the onion until soft, add the sage and continue until onion begins to color.
  2. Add the cauliflower and continue cooking, gently tossing until it begins to brown.  Add the Anaheim pepper and the ham, and cook a couple of minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, add the milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over the eggs.
  5. Tilt the pan, loosen the eggs from the bottom with a spatula and let eggs run into the bottom of the pan.  Continue to turn the pan and allow the eggs to flow to bottom of the pan and the egg mixture begins to set.
  6. Run the frittata under the broiler until it begins to puff and the top begins to brown in places. Release frittata with from pan with a spatula and slide onto a plate. Cut into portions and serve hot or room temperature.  Serves 6.

The Everything Crepe

From tortillas to injera bread, just about every country in the world has its variation of a quick, simple bread often prepared in a unique pan, on the grill, or in the oven.

Then there’s the crepe. Let’s call it a multi-national bread because it has pancake cousins spread across continents, too. In this version, we have high jacked the Italian crespelle for the basis of an inspired Asian wrap.  Semolina flour lends added chewiness and flexibility that makes it quite irresistible. There are so many dumplings and breads of note in the northern reaches of China that this crepe should feel quite at home wrapped around other Asian flavors, like Anise Poached Chicken from the previous post.

The Everything Crepe

Take the basic crepe batter, add a little chopped green onion and a smattering of mixed sesame seeds (or highly recommended Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend) and proceed as usual.

If you choose to go the Asian route, slather your finished crepe with hoisin sauce and wrap portions of Asian Salad, Anise Chicken, Char Siu, or other barbecue pork—you name it!

Easy Asian Wrap

Or, you could go New York-style, forget the sauce, and fill your crepe with creamed cheese and lox!

The Everything Crepe

Ingredients
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup water, room temperature
½ cup fine semolina flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 tablespoon mixed blend of black and white sesame seeds and poppy seeds, or see below*
1 tablespoon green onion, chopped

Directions

  1. In medium bowl sift the dry ingredients, beat the eggs, butter and water together and slowly add to the dry, whisking until smooth. Stir in the seeds and green onions to combine.  Allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour or chill for up to 2 days and bring to room temperature before proceeding.
  2. Heat a 10” crepe pan or flat round skillet over medium to medium-high heat, depending on unit.  Brush the surface with butter, or wipe with coated toweling.  Stir down the batter and thin with a bit of water if it has thickened beyond the thickness of heavy cream.  Pour about ¼ cup of batter into pan and quickly swirl it to reach the entire surface.  Pour any excess back into bowl.  Trim any errant edges as it cooks.  When bubbles begin to form, about 1 minute, carefully turn with spatula or wood spoon and cook 2nd side for 30 seconds to one minute.
  3. Remove the crepe to a holding plate, wipe the pan if necessary with more butter and repeat, stacking the crepes with 2nd side up.  Yield: about 10 crespelle.
  4. If made in advance, wrap the crepes in plastic wrap or foil.  Can be made ahead 2 days, stored in refrigerator, or freeze well wrapped.

*Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend is a mixture of white and black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, seas salt flakes, dried minced garlic, dried minced onion.

Anise Chicken: Ready for Summer Heatwaves

When summer arrives and the heat sets in, my eating habits change. I shift to lighter, easier meals—foods that perk up an often peckish appetite.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Chinese method of poaching chicken.  It results in a beautiful clear broth, utterly pristine flavors, and meat that is succulent and tender. Here’s an outstanding riff on that approach which requires very little actual cooking time—much relies on the broth’s residual heat to do the work. It’s an ideal technique for summertime heatwaves.

The idea comes from Wendy Kiang-Spray’s lovely cookbook The Chinese Kitchen Garden. A whole chicken (here I’ve used the equivalent, 2 Cornish game hens) is dry rubbed with salt, stuffed with whole star anise, and refrigerated for 1- 3 days. When ready to launch, it’s brought to room temperature before lowering into to a pot of simmering water and cooked uncovered for a mere 10 minutes. Then, it’s covered and allowed to steep in the hot broth’s residual heat for 45 minutes. The chicken is fast cooled in an ice water bath for 15 minutes and patted dry.

The resulting broth is bewitchingly addictive: the star anise flavor is present, but not overtly so.  It’s a lovely liquid for cooking rice, grains, vegetables, etc.  For a soup stock, I opted to keep it light and not overwhelm it with too many heavy flavors.

A few slices of ginger, some garlic, and a dash of soy sauce hit the right balance for a soba noodle soup with chicken and a few fresh vegetables.

The anise chicken has happily starred in a variety of applications. When pressed, I have whipped up a simple Asian dipping sauce, but Wendy also suggests a Ginger-Onion Garlic Oil, also included because it is such a nice touch.

Of my favorite uses, I remain a big fan of an easy Asian Chicken Salad served with plenty of sesame crepes (yum—coming soon!) along with spoonfuls of hoisin sauce for stuffing/rolling purposes. Welcome to summer 2017, rolling out with record 101° heat.

Anise Poached Chicken

Inspired by The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray

Ingredients
3 pound whole chicken
2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
20 pieces whole star anise
Ginger-Onion/Garlic Oil (optional)
2” section ginger, peel and slice
3-4 garlic whistles or 3 “bunching onions” (a leek-like variety), cut in 2” lengths
¼ cup oil

Directions

  1. Rinse and pat dry chicken. Rub inside and out with 2 tablespoons coarse salt. Place the star anise in the cavity. Place in zip lock and refrigerate 1-3 days.
  2. Remove chicken and bring to room temperature (about 1 hour ahead).
  3. Fill pot with enough water to cover chicken and bring to a boil.  Lower anise-filled chicken into pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer chicken uncovered 10 minutes. Skim residue off top of water. Turn off heat and cover with tight fitting lid.  Allow to steep undisturbed for another 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Meanwhile make Ginger and Onion Oil. Crush ginger and onions with mortar and pestle or pulse in food processor. Place the paste in heatproof bowl and add 1 tsp salt.  Heat the oil until hot. Carefully pour the hot oil over the ginger and onion mixture.
  4. When chicken is cooked through, remove from pot, reserving pot liquid for another purpose:  cooking rice or other grain, etc.  Lower chicken into an ice water bath to quickly stop the cooking process. In about 15 minutes when cooled, remove and pat dry.
  5. Chop into pieces and serve with a drizzle of ginger-onion oil. Nice over steamed white rice or other. Serves 4-6.