Just a Little Nutty, vol. 2

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Tomato/Almond Pesto

This is another recipe adapted from one I found in Bon Appetite (November 2015). The original recipe called for cherry tomatoes and quite a bit more than I use here. I wanted more almond, less tomato to come through in the final product. This pesto was intended to be a dressing on blistered green beans.  We tried that and it was fine but I thought it was better as a dip for crudites (I kept sampling it with the raw green beans before I cooked them) so I present it here as a dip but feel free to use it however you think will be tasty.

Ingredients; Kumato tomatoes are described as brown

Ingredients; Kumato tomatoes are described as brown

2 medium sized tomatoes (I used Kumato Brown Tomatoes because they’re the best available in Green Bay at this time of year), seeded and cored, and cut into 1/2″ pieces.
1/4 C. roasted, unsalted almonds
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. Sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1 tsp. sweet paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper

Cut about 1/4″ off both ends of the tomatoes.  Remove the core and the jelly/seed part.  Cut the tomato flesh from the walls and ends into 1/2″ pieces.  chopped

Place the tomato pieces into a cold nonstick saute pan and put on medium-low heat.  Leave the tomatoes to heat; they will release much of their water and gradually turn soft.  DO NOT vigorously stir.  You want to leave the cooked tomato in recognizable pieces.  Set aside to cool completely.

Grind the almonds in a food processor or blender to a fine chop or coarse meal consistency.  Finely mince the garlic.

Add half of the cooled tomatoes, all the almonds, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, paprika and cayenne (if using) to a mixing bowl.  Stir to combine well and mash the tomatoes somewhat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Put in the remaining half of the tomatoes and stir gently, trying to keep the tomato pieces somewhat whole.

dip

Finished dip

Serve as a dip for raw or lightly cooked vegetables; as a sauce for grilled meat; or as a spread on thin slices of crusty bread.

This can be made up to several hours in advance.  It may store well in the refrigerator but I’ve never had any left over to find out.

Smoked paprika might be an interesting substitution for the sweet paprika. I’ll update you on that if I try it. In the meantime stay tuned for more “nutty” recipes.

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Just a Little Nutty, vol.1

Walnut/Parsley Pesto

About a year ago Jeanne subscribed to Bon Appetit magazine. We had some extra airline miles or reward points, who knows, so she thought we would take a chance on a new subscription. I was skeptical. We have a subscription to Saveur, and in the past we have gotten Fine Cooking, Gourmet, and the much-missed Cuisine (now defunct). But for some reason Bon Appetit seemed to be equated with Good Housekeeping in my mind. But surprise, surprise, we have gotten some fine recipes out of this publication. The December issue arrived the other day and the theme splashed across the cover was “Cookies!”. So of course it was the holiday issue and I immediately said there wouldn’t be much to cook from this issue.

However that evening there I was with the magazine open on the counter and ingredients for a Bucatini with Walnut-Parsley Pesto gathered next to it. As I browsed past the Buche de Noel and the Ombre Rainbow cookies this recipe jumped out and I knew it sounded good and that we pretty much had everything needed to prepare it.  Of course, with some make-do substitutions.

First off, we had two sizes of bucatini, a long,hollow, macaroni-like pasta, but not enough of either size to make a meal. So, I used both. Luckily, even though they were technically of different overall diameters, the wall thickness of each was the same and so they would cook at the same rate.

noodles

Bucatini, big (right) and small (left)

Now onward to the recipe, with a few apologies to Bon Appetit.

Ingredients

Adapted to yield 2 servings

  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 Piquillo peppers and 2 Piparras peppers.  The original recipe called for 3 pickled Calabrian peppers or 1/2 Fresno chile with seeds.  Calabrian peppers seem to be the darling of the food world these days but we didn’t have any.  The Piquillo are sweet pimento-like peppers and Piparras are small pickled, mild, chili-like peppers.  We used Matiz brand of both.  Pimento and Pepperoncini, seeded, would be an acceptable substitutions.
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely grated
  • 3/4 ounce Parmesan, finely grated (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 – 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 3/8 pound bucatini or spaghetti (about 6 ounces), broken in half lengthwise
Ingredients measured and ready to go

Ingredients measured and ready to go

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and slightly darkened, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.  You can do this in a dry skillet too but watch carefully so you don’t scorch the walnuts.
  • Reserve 2 Tbs. of the walnuts.   Pulse remaining walnuts in a food processor or blender until very finely chopped (but not pasty). Reserve remaining walnuts for serving. Remove stems from Piparras peppers; add Piquillo and Piparras peppers to food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer walnut/pepper mixture to a medium bowl and stir in garlic, Parmesan, oil, and parsley. Season pesto with salt and pepper.  Taste to adjust seasoning.  You should be able to taste the walnuts, garlic, cheese and parsley without any one of them taking over.  Try to avoid eating the whole bowl before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

    Ingredients, chopped and mixed waiting for the pasta to be cooked

    Ingredients, chopped and mixed waiting for the pasta to be cooked

  • Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente.   Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot and add pesto along with 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Toss, adding splashes of cooking liquid as needed, until pesto coats pasta and sauce is glossy.
  • Crush reserved walnuts with the flat side of a knife. Divide pasta among bowls and top with walnuts and more parsley.
  • Do Ahead: Although the pesto can be made ahead, and kept covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days, it hardly seems necessary.  The prep takes little time, there’s no actual cooking involved and the pesto will taste best when freshly make.

I usually like to add a bit of protein so with this dish I coated a few shrimp with Korean chili sauce (G0chujang ) and fried them separately.

Chopped peppers, Shrimp in Koran chili sauce

Chopped peppers, Shrimp in Koran chili sauce

Now when Jeanne cooks a new recipe it is very important that there is a picture. She measures her success on how close her finished dish looks to the photo. I, on the other hand, cook from the recipe.  Pictures are nice but not essential. In this case I think Jeanne would be pleased at how close my shoot-from-the-hip attitude matches the photo.

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Left: Magazine photo from the December, 2015 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.  Right: Curt plating (before adding shrimp)

The final plates that came to our table had the shrimp. Bon Appetit!

plate1

This post begins a series that will center around nuts.  I was please with this dish and, my addition of a couple of shrimp notwithstanding, it’s a pretty simple meatless meal.  The nuts add a richness and texture that is appealing.  The recipe got me thinking about nuts in other well known or not so well known dishes.  In the future I will follow my nose and post some other nut based, flavored or inflected dishes that I hope you will like.

Dessert Baby!

While browsing through the seemingly millions of posts on my Facebook since the day before, I happened upon a picture of a Dutch Baby. No, not an infant from the Netherlands but a really wonderful looking pastry. It reminded me of a savory dish called a sausage puff that one of the cooks in our original eating group served us.

The caption under the picture said this was essentially a sweet popover. After a little research I found a few other facts about a Dutch Baby. It was sometimes called a German Pancake, a Bismarck or a Dutch Puff, derived from the German pfannkuchen. The “Dutch” part is not so much a reference to the Netherlands but a corruption of the word for German, ‘Deutsch”, as in Pennsylvania Dutch, who were German/American immigrants.

Well we were having a friend over for dinner the next night and I thought this would make a fine dessert, even though it is usually considered a breakfast or brunch treat. The original recipe (from Williams-Sonoma Taste) served 4 but since there were only going to be three of us and this was going to be served after dinner, I felt it needed to be cut down so in my recipe the measurements in parenthesis are what I used. So here is my version of a:

Dutch Baby with Fresh Berries

5 Tbls unsalted butter (3 Tbls)
3/4 C flour (1/2 C)3 eggs (2)
3/4 C milk (1/2 C)
1 tsp vanilla (2/3 tsp)
2 Tbls sugar (4 tsp)
1/2 tsp salt ( a big pinch)
Confectioner’s sugar
Assorted berries

Preheat oven to 450 degrees
Put the butter in an ovenproof 12 inch fry pan. I used a 9 inch cast iron pan. Place in oven for 5 minutes to melt the butter. (Don’t put in too early because you don’t want to burn the butter but just get it melted and hot).

While the butter melts, combine the flour, milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar and salt. (This recipe uses a blender but I used a whisk. Just blend or whisk till all lumps are gone.)

Remove the pan from oven and CAREFULLY pour the batter into the pan. Return to oven and bake until sides are puffed and dark golden brown, 15 -20 minutes. I went the full 20 minutes plus some since it seemed the center wasn’t done. However that was just some residual butter floating around. It was done! So don’t be fooled.

Be sure to have your guests gathered in the kitchen when you take it out of the oven because it is an amazing sight but will deflate fairly quickly.

A Dutch Baby, hot out of the oven

A Dutch Baby, hot out of the oven

Done and ready to cut.

Done and ready to cut.

Williams-Sonoma would have you put a dollop of crème fraiche in the middle, sprinkle with berries and dust with confectioners sugar before you cut. I, instead, divided it into serving sections, and added the berries and sugar once it was on the plates. Tasted great, looked great. And that browned crust may look stiff but was surprisingly soft.

servedEnjoy.

Fried Chicken

Do you ever get tired of gluten free, fat free, raw, whole grain, baked not fried, low carb, ….blah, blah, blah. All of that is good, sure, but sometimes you just get a hankering for….fried chicken. Curt had that urge last week. I bet as a kid I had fried chicken at least twice a month. But now I couldn’t remember when we last had fried chicken, not even the Colonel’s, so damn it, it was time!

Curt decided to use just boneless thighs and breasts. He first seasoned the chicken with three blended seasonings from Penzey’s Spices, Balti, Mural of Flavor and Tandoori.
spiceBalti: coriander,garlic, ginger, cumin, Ceylon cinnamon, mustard, cardamom, clove,fennel,fenugreek,chamushka, star anise, cilantro, anise seed and bay leaf

Mural of Flavor: 12 spices and herbs, shallots,onion, garlic,lemon peel, chives, orange peel

Tandoori: coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic, ginger, cardamom, saffron

Then the chicken was drenched in flour which had been seasoned with paprika, turmeric and salt and pepper. The pieces then went into buttermilk and back into the flour mixture.

chicken2Once the oil was at 350 degrees, the chicken went in.

chicken1After ten minutes, turn.

chicken4Now 8 – 10 minutes on this side. Once you deem it cooked through, drain on some paper towels and put on a serving plate. Now don’t get distracted by the local news on the television in your kitchen because your fried chicken will get a bit dark like ours. The good thing is it still tasted wonderful. We had ours with cole slaw and bisquits. Yum. Today -fried chicken, tomorrow -back to salad.

chicken3

Justified, Corn Slaw and Bourbon

Raylan & Boyd

Raylan & Boyd

Last night we joined friends, Richard and Patricia, for the finale of Justified. If you are not familiar with Justified, it is a series on FX and that is based on a story by Elmore Leonard. Briefly it’s the “adventures” of Raylan Givens, a Federal Marshal who is part lawman, part killer (in the name of the law of course) and Boyd Crowder, all around drug dealer, bank robber, preacher, general bad guy and killer (not in the name of the law). They are also charmers, sweet-talkers and skinny as hell. For the past five seasons we have joined our friends for dinner, alternating cooking duties, and have watched the happenings in the hollers and the mine and the towns of Harlan County Kentucky. It has been a fun ride.

Last night our dinner for the final shootout was sandwiches and slaw. Not just any sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches. Not just any grilled cheese sandwiches, smoked turkey, caramelized fennel, gala apple jam and Gruyère grilled cheese sandwiches. Oh lord, were they good. Our contribution was salad and Curt decided to go with a corn slaw from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More cookbook. We never relayed to each other what we were making but the two couldn’t have gone together better if we planned it that way. Here’s the slaw with a few variations.

Corn slaw

Corn slaw

CORN SLAW

7 Tbls white wine vinegar
4.25 cups shredded cabbage
3 small carrots, peeled and cut into fine strips
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 cups fresh corn (or frozen if you don’t have access to fresh)
2 red chiles, finely chopped
We did not have red chiles but our substitute was really good. We used a Tbls of CENTO cherry pepper relish, chopped even finer.
1 1/3 cups cilantro leaves
2/3 cup mint leaves
olive oil
Salt & pepper

Put the vinegar and a scant cup of water in a small saucepan along with one Tbls of salt. Bring to boil then remove from heat. Place the cabbage and carrots in a bowl and pour in 2/3 of the salty liquid. In a separate bowl, pour the remaining liquid over the onion and set both bowls aside. After 20 minutes, rinse the vegetables and onion well, pat dry. Place together in a salad bowl.

If you are using fresh corn, grill it in a pan, cool and cut from cob and add to the salad bowl. Or cook your frozen corn till just al dente. Cool and put in salad bowl.

Cherry pepper relish

Cherry pepper relish

DRESSING

3 1/2 Tbls mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbls lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together, pour over the salad and stir gently. Add the chile, cilantro and mint, along with a grind of pepper. Give it another stir and serve.

Notes: I’ve mentioned what we did for chiles. We were short on corn so we only had about 1 1/2 cups in our salad but the full amount of corn would have been great. Also we used a little more carrot.

So what does the bourbon in my title refer to? Well, Justified is set in Kentucky after all (the bourbon state of America) and they certainly drank enough bourbon in the course of five seasons. So as the last episode progressed and certain deeds were done and particular characters bit the dust we sipped our Knob Creek straight bourbon whiskey. And when the final credits ran we tossed back our final shot.

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Pie (Pi) Day

“Saturday, March 14, 2015 will be a very special Pi Day – one that only comes along once every 100 years! This year, not only does the month and day of the date (3/14) correspond to the digits in the mathematical constant, the digits in the year do too. If you write the date in the month/day/year format, then the digits of the date 3/14/15 correspond to the first 5 digits of pi: 3.1415.
But that is not all. This year’s Pi Day goes a step further – at 9:26:53 am and 9:26:53 pm, the date and the time will exactly correspond to the first 10 digits of pi: 3.141592653.”  -thanks to TimeandDate.com

When I read that I thought it was pretty amazing but you know what is more amazing?

Pie!

sliceof pieMy son called today because he wants to make a steak and kidney pie for a Pi Party he is attending on Saturday. He usually calls his Dad, the chef around here, when he has a cooking question. Curt tried to help him out even though he has never made a steak and kidney pie. Bottom line the hardest task will be finding kidneys.  But we sent him recipes anyway, for steak & kidney pie, along with Beef Bourguignonne Pie and Cock-a-Leekie Pie. Nathan said he already had a recipe for a cheese pie, not a quiche, which he was going to try in addition to the S & K pie. Sounded interesting so we said if it turns out send us a picture…and the recipe.

Some of the recipes we sent him came from my February issue of Bon Appeitit magazine which gave me a head start on my pie making last week when I made a “Carmelized Garlic, Spinach and Cheddar Tart” from the same issue. Except, I substituted onion for the garlic. The garlic was supposed to be the hero of this dish (and I like garlic) but three heads of garlic just wasn’t getting me excited. So, after wresting the kitchen from my husband’s clutches, I pretty much followed this recipe except for the onion, the creme fraiche and the fancy crust. If you wish to see the original recipe it is linked above. Below is my variation.

pie1Onion, Spinach, Cheddar Tart (quiche)

Pillsbury pie crust (because I just don’t have my Grandmother’s ambition)
4 large eggs
1 large onion (cut into wedges)1 Tbls olive oil
1 Tbls balsamic vinegar
1 Tbls pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp dried rosemary or (1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary if you have fresh)
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme ( I had fresh thyme )
freshly grd black pepper
6 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups baby spinach (torn in pieces)
3/4 C sour cream
3/4 C heavy cream

Unroll one of the Pillsbury crusts and line a 9″ pie pan. Turn up the edges and crimp with a fork. Line with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. I crimped aluminum foil on the edges so they wouldn’t dry out or over bake, the one problem I have with pre-made dough. If crust bottom is not dry after 20 min. put it in for about 5 more minutes without the paper and beans. Remove, let cool.

Meanwhile put the onion wedges and olive oil in a pan and cook till the onions start to soften and turn a light brown. The wedges will fall apart but still will be in bigger pieces than if you cut slices. Add vinegar and 3/4 -1 cup water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer till onion is really tender. Add maple syrup, rosemary, thyme and salt and pepper. Cook until liquid is syrupy but there will still be onion pieces present, maybe 5 minutes.

Take your cooled crust and scatter the cheese over the bottom, top with the spinach. Whisk the sour cream, the cream and the 4 eggs in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper. Pour over spinach…it does fit. I was at first unsure and only used three eggs and then realized I needed the fourth. Add the onion mixture evenly on top.

Bake at 350 till custard is set and golden brown in spots about 40-45 minutes. I put foil on the edges again for part of the time. Cool on wire rack.

a serving of pie

a serving of pie

Because of the sour cream the custard will be very soft, not firm like a straight egg custard, but trust me, it is cooked through and tastes yummy.

For Saturday, official Pi Day, I am planning on making Shepherd’s Pie. That is if I can reserve my spot in the kitchen.

Dinner was Served

It has been a week since Curt and I were shopping and cleaning and prepping for our Foodie Group dinner. But last Saturday did finally arrive. There were a few minor blips like forgetting the salad forks (my husband suddenly turned into Emily Post as the salad was served) and not spreading the vegetables out on the dinner plates (that remaining empty area next to the potatoes looked like we missed something). But everything tasted good and there was a lot of lively conservation and laughter, so I think it was a success.

We got so caught up in the cooking and plating and serving that I didn’t take any pictures but here is my table setting. It was fun having the dinner on Valentine’s Day.

tableAnd I know I was being coy about the menu last week but now that all is finished, this is what was served.

UntitledThe salad was very good, the potatoes were interesting, the carrots and beets could have been more attractive though they tasted good, the meat was fine but not special and maybe a little overdone. I could have had a 2nd and a 3rd of dessert but restrained myself. But in my opinion, the star of the evening was the chowder. Curt based the chowder on an escargot/mushroom appetizer he had at Le Petit Chatelet when we were in Paris. This restaurant is right next to the famous “Shakespeare and Company Bookstore.” You can get a glimpse of it in the last seconds of Woody Allen’s movie, “Midnight in Paris.”

credit: Paris for Epicureans, 2014

credit: Paris for Epicureans, 2014

In Paris, Curt’s soup/chowder appetizer arrived with a puff pastry on top and was quite amazing.  Hidden under the puff pastry crust was a rich escargot and mushroom chowder.

Escargot en Croute: le Petit Chatelet, Paris

Escargot en Croute: le Petit Chatelet, Paris

We tried doing the puff pastry top but that was pretty much a failure so our version had puff pastry croutons instead. And since snails are not a widely shared taste treat in our group, Curt used side-stripe shrimp and sea scallops instead. It was truly wonderful. Sorry about the lack of photo but here is the recipe we served.

Seafood & Wild Mushroom Chowder after le Petit Chatelet
serves 6

1 quart corn stock
Mushrooms: 1/2 c. Chanterelle, 1/4 c. Morel,
3/4 c. Chicken of the Woods, 3/4 c. Brown Beech  – all cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large shallot, minced
4 large sea scallops, quartered
12 small shrimp, we used side stripe
1 c. heavy cream
3 c. seafood stock (Swanson’s or homemade)
white pepper
salt
saffron, pinch
2 T. flour
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1 dash hot pepper sauce, like Frank’s

Saute chanterelles in 2 T olive oil till tender, add 2 T. flour and cook to make roux. Add 1 T. butter & remaining mushrooms and saffron.  Cook I minute, stirring. Add corn & seafood stock. Stir to incorporate roux. Simmer 20 minutes. (to this point all can be done ahead)

Add scallops, shrimp & hot pepper sauce, cook 5 minutes.
Add cream & 1 T. butter, bring to a light simmer.

Serve with puff pastry croutons & a drizzle of shellfish oil.

For croutons, just buy a commercial puff pastry. Cut dough into 3/4 inch squares and bake according to directions on the box.

Shellfish oil is made by combining a pile of shrimp, lobster. or crab shells in a sauce pan with 1/2 C. grape seed or canola oil, 1Tbs. tomato paste and 1/2 tsp. of smoked paprika.  Saute for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit until cool.  Strain out the shell bits and reserve the oil for garnish on chowder or soup.

Note: We had corn stock that we made at the end of last summer from fresh corn cobs after we cut off the corn kernels for freezing.

Hope your Valentine’s Day was as fun as ours.

 

Not Eggs-actly

eggbanner.jpgIt’s somewhat of a joke among my friends that I believe, and have often said, adding an egg to any left-over is a good thing. An egg can transfer almost any soup into a breakfast (I lo-o-o-o-ve soup for breakfast). An egg can elevate some left-over vegetables to a lunch or even dinner. It adds protein to what might otherwise be a thin offering. It adds an eggy richness to almost anything. In my opinion, the egg should be poached or fried when used in this kind of savior role, but scrambled eggs work sometimes too (scrambled eggs and chili anyone?).

But wait, I recently encountered an egg of a different ilk. Salt-cured egg yolks. I saw a mention in one of those upscale cookbooks that line the shelves at almost any bookstore in the run-up to Christmas.  Salt-cured egg yolks were not something that was on my radar but when I saw a recipe in a book called Flour + Water by Thomas McNaughten, I immediately swooned.  What was this thing – cured egg yolk?  It sounded delicious, strange, rich, luxe, umami.  I had to find this food.

Turns out the rest of the world seems to already know about cured egg yolks.  A quick search of the inter-web revealed numerous sites with recipes, photos and opinions about cured egg yolks.  The basic idea is to take fresh (critical information!, FRESH) egg yolks and bury them in a dry cure of salt (and maybe other stuff).  Some recipes call for 100% salt.  Some use 50% salt and 50% sugar.  Many use ratios somewhere in between.  Some add other stuff (black pepper, cayenne, fennel, miso, soy sauce).  What’s a boy to do.  I wanted to try this but I didn’t want to waste a bunch of eggs on an experiment gone wrong.  So I trod a middle path of simple, and a second path of “sounds good, let’s try it”.

My two batches (shown below, side-by-side) follow the same basic procedure just the salt mix differs.  Each version shown below is enough to cure 4 – 6 yolks.

Mostly Salt Version
2 C. kosher salt
1/4 C. sugar
1 Tbs. fennel pollen
2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground fennel seed

Simple but more Sugary Version
1-1/3 C. kosher salt
2/3 C. sugar
2 tsp. black pepper

Fresh egg yolks buried in curing salt mix

Fresh egg yolks buried in curing salt mix.

 

For either version, mix the dry ingredients and put a 1/4″ – 1/2″ layer in the bottom of a non-reactive container.  Make depressions in the salt mix to hold the yolks.  Carefully separate the yolks from the eggs, getting the yolks as free from white as you can.  Once separated, carefully place a yolk in the depression.  Once you have placed as many yolks as you will be curing, gently spoon some of the remaining salt mix around and over the yolks, covering them by about 1/4″ to 1/2″.  Cover the container and place in the fridge for 1 week (7 days).

As I noted above, I didn’t want to end up wasting a bunch of eggs.  But on the other hand, if this turned out great, I didn’t want to have to go through all the trouble and have little to show for it.  So I prepared 4 chicken-egg yolks for each of the cures and 2 duck-egg yolks which I cured in a mixture of the two salt mixes.

eggs.2

Yolks after 2 weeks in the salt cure.

After a week I checked the progress, not knowing exactly what I should be looking for.  The yolks seemed like a firm but fragile jelly and a pretty sticky.  The instructions I had seen said they would be firmer, more like gummy bears.  So, I covered them back up and let them sit in the fridge another week.  In hind sight, leaving them buried in the salt but not putting a lid on the container would have sped up the drying/curing but fridge space was at a premium and I wanted to stack the containers so I put the lids on.

eggs.4

Brushing excess salt cure off the yolks.

Another week later, they’re firmer.  So, on to the next step.  Carefully clean as much of the salt mixture off the yolks as possible – not easy because the yolks are sticky and still surprisingly delicate.

eggs.5

Yolks laid out on cheesecloth, ready to be swaddled.

eggs.7

Swaddled yolks tied off between each one.

eggs.8

Swaddled yolks ready to go back into the fridge. The 4 on top were cured in the fennel cure. The two in the middle are the duck yolks.

Once clean, the yolks are swaddled in a strip of cheese cloth, tied off between each yolk and  returned to the fridge for another week or two of drying, uncovered.

The end result is a yolk that is about half or less the size of what I started with.  The texture is firm, sort of like Swiss cheese.

Now, after all that, what do they taste like?  Reports on the inter-web rave about the richness, the depth of umami.  One likened grated cured egg yolk to dried mayonnaise.

eggs.9

Finished cured yolk grated over ravioli. One-half yolk is enough to season 2 servings.

In my opinion, not so much.  They’re salty.  They taste vaguely of egg.  The added flavor elements of black pepper and fennel are subtle but present.  In the end, I think it was an interesting egg-speriment.  I’m glad I tried to make them.  I find them useful as an umami flavor addition/boost, like anchovy or miso.  My favorite use so far is to grate half of one over a simple pasta with an olive-oil, garlic sauce. They’re also nice grated over a green salad or into a simple vinaigrette dressing.  Ultimately I probably won’t take the time to cure egg yolks again. But you should! It’ll cost you some time but you won’t be sorry.

 

Do it Yourself: Pastrami

slices of pastrami What does a retired potter, professor, sculptor do with his spare time? I’ve spent much of it getting better at cooking and finding out about foods; their origins, traditions and sources.  I’m particularly interested in making common things from scratch – going back to the origins, if you will.  Bread was pretty easy because there has been an explosion of artisanal bread making that has been well documented on the interweb and in numerous fancy books.  Jim Lahey’s no-knead method was all the rage a few years ago and I still use it to make excellent bread at least once a week.  Over the years I’ve tackled sauerkraut and pickles, “sun”-dried tomatoes and even gathered dill pollen. Cured meats, though, have given me pause.  Partly because the initial investment in the meat is often pretty spendy and I was always worried about ending up with a hunch of expensive garbage, or worse, toxic “food”.  And partly because some of the processes seemed more arcane that I was willing to engage.  My uncle Ben (no relation to the rice guy) used to make a Thuringer-style sausage in his basement – a ton at a time – but he had a walk-in cooler and real butchers tools, band saws and sausage stuffers and such (and regular inspections by the Health Department).  I didn’t want to get that serious. A few years ago I bought a small off-set smoker that could hold, maybe, 20# of meat.  I have used it to smoke pork shoulders, beef briskets, chicken and even tomatoes (yummy).  One day I was in the market chatting with a carnivore friend near a meat bunker full of beef and I was jokingly nudging him toward the whole briskets.  He resisted but said that he had recently tried making corned beef.  He said it was pretty easy and it turned out really well.  A light flashed in my head – PASTRAMI.  Pastrami is just a smoked spiced corned beef.  Good pastrami is so much better than corned beef.  I could do that! Well, a little easier said than done.  The beef was in the cooler right in front of me but what else went into pastrami?  After some research at my local library and several bookstores, I found a book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, with a simple enough sounding recipe and process that sounded do-able.  It’s pretty much the same as corned beef, up to a point.  First, the meat is brined in a mix of salt, sugar, herbs, garlic and spices just like corned beef.  But there is an ingredient in the brine that I wasn’t familiar with and which turned out to be difficult to find.  Pink Salt, also known as Prague Salt, Curing Salt or Insta-Cure.  It is a mix of common salt (sodium chloride) and sodium nitrite.  Apparently it is colored pink to avoid confusing it with common salt in commercial kitchens.  No store in our area either had it or had heard of it.  I finally tracked down a company, My Spice Sage, on the East coast that sold Prague Powder #1 in small enough amounts to make the investment make sense (all other vendors I located sold it in a minimum of 1# containers – probably enough to make a ton of pastrami).  And better yet, shipping was free!

brine ingredients

Salt, sugar and spices for the brine (clockwise from the left: white sugar, brown sugar, pickling spices, Prague powder #1, garlic, honey and kosher salt in the center)

Materials finally in hand, I was ready to go.  I had to cut my brisket in half in order to easily fit it into the fridge in the brine tub.  I didn’t take pictures of the meat in the brine but I’m sure you can imagine what it looked like – meat floating in water.  After a three day soak, the brisket looked pinker and the fat seemed firmer – pretty much like any corned beef brisket you might buy from the grocery, which it pretty much was.

brined and coated brisket

Brined brisket (left) and brined brisket with peppercorn and coriander coating (right)

beef brisket

Coated brisket ready to smoke

Next, the magic.  After I dried off the meat, it was rested in the fridge on a rack for an hour to allow a pedicle to develop. A pedicle is a sticky layer on the outside of the meat that is supposed to make the smoke adhere to (penetrate) the meat better.  After that it was coated with a mix of cracked black pepper and coriander seed and then on to the smoker.  I used a mix of about 2/3 apple wood with 1/3 hickory wood and smoked around 7 hours or to an internal temperature of 150˚ F – cooked, smoked but still not tender.  I cooled the meat and cut it into approximately one pound pieces (enough for us to make a meal of with a little leftovers) and froze the pieces in vacuum bags.

pastrami

Pastrami after 7 hours in the smoker

To prepare the pastrami for eating, I braised a thawed piece on a rack over a 1/2″ of water in a covered dutch oven for 2 hours at 275˚ F, until fork-tender.

pastrami

Pastrami

PastramiSlices

Pastrami slices

It was delicious.  A bit of work but something I will definitely do again.

Pastrami (adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn)

The Brine 1 gallon water 1-1/2 C. kosher salt 1 C. white sugar 1-1/2 oz. Prague Powder #1 (aka Pink Salt) 1 Tbs. pickling spice 1/2 C. packed dark brown sugar 1/4 C. honey 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped or coarsely minced 1 5-pound beef brisket (heavy surface fat removed) 1 Tbs. coriander seed 1 Tbs. black pepper corns Combine the brine ingredients in a pot large enough to hold the brisket.  Bring to a simmer to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Remove from heat, let cool to room temp and refrigerate to chill. Put the beef into the brine and place a plate on top to keep the meat submerged.  Refrigerate for 3 days. Remove the meat from the brine, rinse it and pat dry.  Discard the brine. Place on a rack on a shallow baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered for 1 hour to allow the meat surface to dry some more and become slightly sticky. Combine the coriander and pepper in a spice mill or coffee grinder and pulse until coarsely ground.  Coat the meat evenly on all surfaces with the coriander/pepper mixture. Hot-smoke the brisket until the thickest part reaches a temp of 150˚ F.  Smoke heavily and for as long as is reasonably possible. At this point, the pastrami is cooked but probably not very tender.  To serve, put 1/2″ water in the bottom of a dutch oven or roaster.  Put the meat on a rack in the bottom of the pan (it’s OK if the bottom of the meat touches the water).  Bring the water to a simmer, on the stove top then cover and bake in a preheated 275˚ F oven for 2 – 3 hours, until tender. NOTE: my brisket, shown above, was nearly 10# at the start.  I doubled the brine and I had to cut it in half to fit it into the brine container.  Total yield, after trimming some fat and moisture loss in smoking, left me with a little under 8 pounds total. slices of pastrami

Naan for You

naanheader

Last night the Foodies gathered at Barbara and Micheal’s for one of the wonderful dinners we share every two – three months or so. Some groups like ours meet once a month but we are busy people with travel and family and god knows what sometimes, so every couple of months is a real achievement and a treat. Barbara and Michael once again outdid themselves. Most of the credit goes to Barbara since Michael had been out of town for the week leading up to dinner but his tandoori mushroom appetizer was a hit.

But this brief writing is only going to be about the naan. Dinner was sort of an Indian theme, with lamb, and some marvelous vegetable dishes but with our soup course we were served naan. Naan is a leavened oven-baked flatbread and when we saw it for the first time on the table we asked our hostess where she purchased it? Is there a great Indian grocery or restaurant in Green Bay that we don’t know about? Ha!

Barbara calmly told us she had made it herself and she doesn’t even have a tandoor oven.

Making naan in a traditional tandoor oven

Making naan in a traditional tandoor oven

She got the recipe from Epicurious. It was originally from an Oct 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. The fresh naan she served us was beautiful but we were too busy eating to take pictures. Fortunately she sent home some leftovers and even the next day you can see that this naan looks really good. Barbara made a few changes which I have added in red print to the recipe. Try it, we sure will.

Barbara's next day Naan

Barbara’s next day Naan

 

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/4-ounces envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for surface and hands
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (she omitted onion)
  • 1 cup whole-milk yogurt (not Greek) (all she had was Greek and it turned out fine)
  • 2 tablespoons melted ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil plus more (no time to make ghee so she went with straight butter)

Preparation

Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until an instant-read thermometer registers 100°F. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Whisk 3 1/2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl to blend. Add yeast mixture, onion, yogurt, and 2 tablespoons ghee. Mix dough until blended but still shaggy.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead until a smooth dough forms, adding flour as needed (dough will be sticky), about 5 minutes. Lightly grease another large bowl with ghee, place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and divide into 10 pieces. Using floured hands, roll each piece into a ball on a lightly floured surface. Cover with plastic wrap; let rest 10 minutes.

Heat a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat with ghee. Working with 1 piece at a time, stretch dough with your hands or roll out with a rolling pin to 1/8″ thickness. Sprinkle with salt. Cook until lightly blistered, puffed, and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Wrap in foil to keep warm until ready to serve.

DO AHEAD: Naan dough can be made 4 hours before shaping. Cover and chill.