Category Archives: Food

Cotechino, Lentils, Polenta and Salsa Verde

Cotechino-Lentils-Verde

Every year for New Year’s Day I usually have a Cotechino served with lentils on the table for dinner. I posted about this Italian sausage before here. It incorporates a good proportion of pig skin into the meat mixture and ends up with the most amazing unctuous rich texture. It’s all offset by balanced spicing and sharp flavors that accompany it.

Cotechino is great with lentils, potatoes or polenta. I was going back and forth between serving it with the lentils or the polenta. Eventually I decided why not do both while at the same time dress the dish up a bit and sharpen the plating and the flavor. I also tried some new methods to take my pictures this time around going mostly manual as opposed to allowing the camera to pick the settings. There is a lot of room for improvement but I like the end result and am hoping to keep playing with that.

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On prior occasions when I made lentils to accompany the sausage, I primarily relied on a recipe that added tomatoes, stock, rosemary…That was a bit much. The sausage alone has a ton of flavor and does not need a heavy-handed side dish to clash with it. So, this time around I made a basic lentil stew. I used, as always, Puy lentils and just cooked them in sautéed onions, celery and garlic before stewing them gently in water with some fresh thyme thrown in. A final dash of salt and vinegar as well as a helping of salsa verde (more about this in a minute) rounded the lentils out very nicely.

I prepared the polenta in the oven (about 4:1 water to polenta ratio, cooked uncovered at 350 F for about an hour). I allow it to set spread about 1/2 inch thick and then cut it into circles. These get a quick dusting of flour and then pan-fried in olive oil to crisp them up.

Polenta Polenta2

I wanted another layer of flavor to the dish and a salsa verde is it. This is one of my go-to sauces for everything from salmon to steak. It’s not the Mexican one that incorporates tomatillos in it. This Italian salsa verde is a herb sauce composed mostly of parsley. It’s basically chimichurri’s  much better sister (sorry Argentinean sauce lovers!) I try to incorporate some portion of basil in there as well and even a few mint leaves if I have them. These get chopped up (as fine or coarse as you like – I like it on the fine side) with capers, a garlic clove or two, sour pickles and a couple of anchovies. To bring it all together a very healthy dose of olive oil is stirred in along with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Once you make it a couple of times you’ll get the hang of how you like it and can adjust the quantities of the ingredients accordingly. I first heard of it many years ago in Jamie Oliver’s first book and I still like to prepare it like he does, just start chopping the parsley and add more ingredients to the cutting board…chop chop…add a few more ingredients…chop chop…as you go. It’s a marvelous sauce with great flavors and textures.

I tried a new time and temperature to cook the Cotechino sous vide this time as well. Per a suggestion from Jason Molinari  I reduced the temp to 68.3 C and cooked it for longer, 24 hours. I like the result a lot but I think there is still room for improvement. Dropping the temperature to around 65 or 62 C and cooking it for anywhere between 24 and 36 hours might be even better next time around to preserve more moisture and flavor. I sliced the sausage and topped a few of the slices with grated Parmesan cheese before searing all the slices on both sides. The final dish was exceptionally good. Not too heavy, cloying or greasy at all. The flavors worked great and the green sauce looked awesome and was a spot-on complement to everything.

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Scallops with Butternut Squash Puree and Quinoa

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Scallops and sweet winter squash are a perfect combo and this quick dish brings them together in a delicious and beautiful plate of food. It was not a planned fancy dinner or anything. I bought the large scallops because Diana loves them and had the butternut squash on hand at home.

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Initially I had thought of just sauteing the pumpkin and serving it with the seared scallops, but then figured that with a little more effort I can make something new, more impressive and at the same time incorporate more flavors and textures. The squash became a loose puree – almost a soup. To make that I baked the halved the squash lengthwise and baked it on an oiled sheet -seeds included- until it is soft. Then I flipped the halves over and baked for an additional 10 minutes or so to get more caramelized flavors and to dry out the squash a bit. The seeds and pulpy bits from the squash get thrown away usually at this point. I decided to toss them in a small pan and gently cook them with butter with the idea to flavor the butter and use later on.

Scallops-Panfried

To finish the pumpkin soup/puree I sauteed onions and a little chopped golden potatoes in butter and added some stock to the mixture. When the potatoes where sufficiently cooked I put in the squash meat and pureed the mixture.

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I brine most of the seafood I cook for a several reasons. It enhances the texture by firming it up a bit, it also removes any impurities on the surface and helps the seafood get a better color when seared. Last but not least it of course seasons the seafood. I first started doing that after reading about it in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home book and getting great results from it. Since then many other sources recommended brining the fish such as the folks from Ideas in Food and ChefSteps. The key here is to make a high salt solution, 10% salt to be exact and to brine the fish or shellfish for no more than 15-30 minutes depending on the size or else you end up with very salty fish. Scallops only get about a 15 minute dunk in there and then they get patted dry really well.

Scallops

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To cook the scallops I seared half of them “naked” and the other half got a quick roll in a mixture of Wondra flour and finely chopped parsley. I then sliced the scallops into quarters and plated them up. The quinoa was really a late addition. I wanted to make the dish more substantial since it was our dinner but I did not want something too heavy like pasta, rice or potatoes. Quinoa fit the bill nicely. It cooks quick, is light and has a great nutty grassy flavor that paired well with the pumpkin and scallops.

That pumpkin butter I prepared using the seeds and pulp of the squash was a great flavor boost for the garnish. I used it to saute some pumpkin seeds and crisp up a few leaves of fresh sage. I tossed these with a touch of salt and pepper and used them as a topping for the finished dish. A final touch of creme fraiche rounded everything out very nicely and gave the plates a welcome touch of clean white streaks.

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A Terrine of Teal

Teal Terrine5We shot a limit of teal (small ducks) this year on one of our trips. It was two of us and my buddy did not want to take his share and deal with the clean-up. I was happy to take his share of the hunt (even if I am never happy about the cleanup of about 12 ducks). In any case I had a good mess of birds in my freezer, mostly plucked clean but with several skinned and portioned out into small legs and breasts. It’s also been a while since I made a terrine of any sort and it really is the season for that kind of stuff. So a terrine of teal (and one bigger bird from last season) it was.

wild duck

I have tons of recipes for terrines and pates, but for this one I looked to a little book that I love reading and cooking from, Richard Olney’s Simple French Food. The late Olney is also the author of the many of the Good Cook series of books including one I’ve mentioned before and own called Terrines, Pates and Galantines. His writing in Simple French Food and The French Menu Cookbook is clear and passionate. These are really classics with no frills, no pictures, great opinionated essays and recipes that teach and work. Either one is a great addition to any foodie’s bookshelf.

Olney does not have a recipe for teal terrine in his book but he does have one that caught my eye for Terrine de Lapin, rabbit terrine. I could have used one of several other recipes from other books including Terrines, Pates and Galantines, but as I mentioned before I just love reading and cooking from Simple French Food. It’s that kind of book that makes you want to get in the kitchen and make something. I basically used the duck in place of the rabbit. Some other changes I made was to make the seasoning a bit more aggressive since duck, especially wild duck, is more gamy than rabbit. Instead of marinating and grinding all the duck, I followed Olney’s instruction to marinate the meat in a mixture of white wine and herbs but I reserved the breasts after marinating and seared them to use them an inlay in the center of the terrine. The remaining duck meat was ground up with some pork shoulder to start making the forcemeat.

Marinating duck

Terrine Meats

The terrine usually needs a small amount of a liquid-ish component. This can be composed of milk, cream, stock or even water mixed in with seasoning and bread to make a paste (known as panade). For this recipe I used the duck carcasses to make a stock in my pressure cooker. I first roasted them and then deglazed with Madeira and a bit of Sherry vinegar before cooking with mirepoix and thyme on high pressure for about an hour. This made about 4 cups of stock. I then reduced it to about half a cup of concentrated meaty goodness. This got mixed with a mashed a garlic clove and chopped up bread to make the panade.

Forcemeat

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I ground up the mixture into both fine and coarse portions that got mixed together along with pork fat, pate spices, panade and pistachios. I used the KitchenAid mixer to get the forcemeat really emulsified and bound together well. Half of that went in a plastic wrap-lined terrine pan and then in went the seared duck breasts and then the remaining forcemeat mixture.

Teal Terrine4

Traditionally a terrine is cooked in a bain marie (basically a water bath in the oven). The idea, just like cooking a flan or custard, is to gently heat the mixture and not allow it to break with all the fat and juices running all over the place. Well that is really sous vide cooking old-style. So for the past couple of years I’ve been using my immersion circulator for that. I wrapped the terrine with plastic wrap and then vacuum packed the whole thing using a FoodSaver. The package cooked at 63.5 degrees C for about 3.5 hours. The other plus with this method is that the finished terrine is already wrapped and pasteurized. It can be cooled in an ice bath and go into the fridge. It also needs no pressing with a weight to compress the meat and remove any air bubbles.

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We ate this over a period of a week or so with good bread and various accompaniments like mustard, ale chutney and cornichons. I also loved it served up with pickled prunes, homemade coarse mustard and fermented pickled okra. The strong pickle flavors worked very well with the mildly gamy meat. I do want to add some curing salt (Sodium Nitrite, Cure 1,…) next time around to give it a more attractive pinkish hue and cured flavor. I forgot to do that this time around.

 

Buckwheat Cake, Honey-Almond Semifreddo and Red Wine Poached Apples

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Buckwheat is such an assertive flavor with a unique earthy and somewhat grassy flavor. It is not a flavor that you can use as a background in dishes. Some people like that while others really cannot stand it. I fall in the first camp firmly and have enjoyed it in desserts ever since I first tried it as an ice cream flavor in this Alinea dessert. We eat buckwheat flour regularly in pancakes as well mixed in with grated apples and white flour. It is such a fall-ish flavor and I wanted to use it in a dessert again.

Honey Semfreddo

I had already had the honey-almond semifreddo prepared and in the freezer when I thought of the rest of this dish’s components. The semifreddo is a classic combination of three different foams – a custard, a meringue and whipped cream. Here it is flavored with honey in the custard and it has some roasted almonds stirred into the mix before pouring it into a loaf pan and freezing it.

Honey Semifreddo

David Lebovitz in  Ready for Dessert has a recipe for a buckwheat cake served with cider poached apples. As soon as I saw the recipe I knew I had the remaining parts of this dish. The apples in  my case got shaped into spheres with a melon baller and poached in a mixture of spiced red wine and sugar (lemon zest, cinnamon, clove). When the apples where cooked I let them sit in the syrup in the fridge until I was ready to finish the dish.

To finish the apples I took them out of the syrup and cooked that down to thick sauce consistency then tossed the apples in to coat them. This warmed up the fruit and gave me an intense rich sauce that is drizzled around the plate.

Red Wine Apples

The cake contains no wheat flour and gets all its texture and structure from buckwheat flour, ground almonds and eggs – both yolks and whipped whites. It ends up tender and fluffy with an assertive buckwheat flavor.

Buckwheat Cake

To serve it I sliced the semifreddo loaf and then used a cookie cutter to cut it into rounds. It melts very quickly and it is very airy so I had to work pretty fast here. This went right next to a slice of cake and the poached warm apples. I needed some more texture in the dish so I made a streusel from almonds, butter, sugar and flour and baked it in a thin layer. When  it was cooled I  broke it into small pieces around the cake. The flavors and textures were very nice. The dessert really worked for me mostly. The semifreddo was maybe too light in here and an ice cream with a denser texture set in a loaf pan and cut the same way could’ve been a better alternative.

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Coppa

Coppa

The process to make a Coppa is very easy with the biggest challenge being actually locating a Coppa. The way meat is cut and butchered in the US pretty much ensures that this cut is never left whole. It gets sliced through with the rest of the shoulder-Boston butt of the pig. This means that your best best is to procure a large whole chunk of bone-in pork shoulder and then do the butchering yourself to harvest the Coppa. The last couple of times I’ve done this the pork shoulders from the butcher counter at the Whole Foods store had been perfect. There are several online videos and pictorials showing the location and method of removing the Coppa like this clear video or check out Jason Molinari’s pictures here. It’s a thick cylindrical muscle that is relatively easy to see when you have a whole shoulder piece from the butt end (i:e the end closer to the loin not the end closer to the leg) of the shoulder.Coppa-Potatoes2

To remove the muscle in one piece just follow the seam, that’s why this style of butchering meat is called seam butchery and trim it a bit to get a semi even shape. I used the process and recipe from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Salumi to salt and cure the meat. They recommend the “salt box” method. I put a generous amount of kosher salt in a dish and rolled the meat thoroughly in the salt. Then the meat went into a FoodSaver bag along with thyme, bay, peppercorns and juniper. I vacuum sealed it and let it cure for a couple of days in the fridge. I then removed the meat, rinsed it off and dried it well before rolling it in a bit of spice (fennel and black pepper coarsely ground). Now the waiting starts. I tied the meat and hung it in my little wine cooler (That’s my makeshift curing “chamber”) until it lost 30% of it’s weight. That took exactly two months.

By then it was firm throughout and covered with a thin layer of good powdery white mold. The mold is something I sprayed the meat with when I hung it to dry. It is not strictly required but I like to use it when I have it. It is very similar to the stuff you see on the outside of a Brie cheese. The mold helps keep any undesirable bacteria away (just in case) and helps keep the meat from losing too much humidity.

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I could’ve sliced the meat right then, but since controlling the humidity in the wine cooler is a bit tricky the meat had a little bit of surface dryness. Meaning the outside is a bit too hard and would be drier than the interior. To balance the moisture in the meat, I vacuum sealed it and allowed it to sit in the fridge for about 9 days. This helps the humidity to equalize in the meat and softens the surface. Now it was perfectly ready.

How to serve it? That is not a problem. We’ve been enjoying it mostly as is, thinly sliced with good bread and little else. It does go good with a few shards of medium sharp cheese like Manchego. Sometimes I do like something a bit more…composed like these two examples.

Coppa with Warm Potato Salad and Olives

Coppa-Potatoes

This one is straight from the Zuni Cookbook. Warm potato salad with plenty of olive oil, parsley and olives. It matters a lot that the potato be warm here since just slightly softens the Coppa giving it a lovely texture.

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Coppa with a salad of Nectarines, Mozzarella and Tomatoes

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The salad of mozzarella, nectarines, tomatoes and basil from Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite was the kids favorite salad this summer. It’s  just a rif on a Caprese salad of course but the addition of juice nectarines just elevates it. Adding salty savory Coppa was a natural fit here.

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Peaches, Cookies and Bourbon Cream

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This dish has a lot going for it even if the “cream” was not as successful as I would’ve liked. The flavors are spot on perfect and the textures work really well. It is a dish that I’d like to revisit and refine some more. I served this after a dinner of seafood paella to a couple of friends visiting from Florida. I wanted it to be a simple comforting summer dessert with familiar flavors and some refinement.

Poached Peaches2

The blue print here is a buttery cookie base, a Sablè Breton to be more specific, topped with poached peaches and served with airy crème anglaise (custard sauce) and garnished with pistachios. I prepared the sauce using the modern sous vide method from Modernist Cuisine at Home instead of the traditional stove top method. It’s simpler and requires little attention while at the same time pretty much eliminates the room for error that could result in a curdled sauce. To prepare it, a mixture of yolks, cream, milk, sugar and vanilla goes in a Ziploc bag. This is then cooked in 82 ºC water for 45 minutes. I chilled the mixture and whisked it for a few seconds and it is done. In addition to the vanilla I added bourbon to the sauce after chilling. Bourbon and peaches go great together so that made perfect sense. I purposefully did not cook the bourbon to evaporate the alcohol because I wanted to keep all the flavor in as well as a bit of kick.

Peaches-Cream

I wanted the sauce to have some substance and texture on the plate so that it can take on some form instead of just drizzling it on. I added gelatin to the cooled sauce and poured it into an iSi cannister that I charged with N2O. The gelatin is there to give it the needed structure and using the iSi is to aerate and lighten the sauce on the plate. Ultimately I do not think I used enough gelatin in there (that seems to always be the case with me) and the sauce had some structure but not enough to maintain a cleanly defined form on the plate for more than a minute or so. What I really need to do is research a bit more how much of a certain gelling agent is needed to give me a set foam. I have all the resources I need to find this information, I was just lazy here.
Sable

For the cookie portion, I used a recipe from Gordon Ramsay’s Gordon Ramsay: Three Star Chef book for Sablè Breton. This is a slightly sweet buttery pastry that is used to make tarts and cookie sandwiches. Due to the high butter ratio in the dough the cookies tend to spread if not baked in a ring mold. I wanted them to be nice and round. so I rolled the dough into a thick log and sliced it. Then I gently squashed the dough circles to flatten them between the bases of two small (about 3 in. diameter) tart pans. I baked the cookies in the tart pans and then used a cookie cutter to trim them into neat 2 inch circles while they are warm out of the oven.

1-Peaches and Cream

The peaches are the easiest part. I quickly blanched them, peeled them and cut them into wedges. These got poached gently in a sugar syrup flavored with vanilla. To plate I dispensed some of the well-chilled custard into a bowl and topped the Sablè Breton with a spoon of it. I added more custard to the plate and topped the dessert with poached peaches and toasted crumbled pistachios. The flavors and textures were fantastic.

Poaching Syrup Poached Peaches

Sockeye Salmon and Mixed Grains Rice with Citrus Miso

Fish-Grain Rice-Citrus Miso9

Japanese cuisine is still a bit of a mystery to me. In my imagining of what Japanese food I always think of few ingredients, simple presentation, clean flavors and of course seafood. This is, I am sure, an oversimplification of a diverse cuisine. Recently I found myself at home with a free night. The kids and wife were away with the in-laws and I was free to try something that might or might not be up their alley. It also needed to be quick because I had a lot of chores to get through. That’s how I ended up playing around with some Japanese inspired flavors using pristine salmon, miso and sushi rice.

Fish-Grain Rice-Citrus Miso

Elizabeth Andoh’s book Washoku is one of a few Japanese cookbooks I own but is one I reach for often for inspiration or a quick recipe. I love her approach and the recipe usually deliver wonderful dishes. I knew that I will be making rice for my meal of course and her recipe for “Rice with Mixed Grains” is a terrific method for preparing it. I washed the sushi rice until the water ran clear and then mixed it with a few tablespoons of the grains (I used buckwheat, sesame and some flax seeds). Andoh’s method for cooking the rice is very detailed and relies a lot on the sounds of the covered pot more than anything. That strikes me as very romantic and…Japanese. The end result is a perfectly cooked bowl of rice. I kept some of it warm and slightly cooled some of it for my sushi plate. The slightly cooled rice was mixed with a little Mirin and rice wine vinegar.

I love the flavor of miso and have used it in marinades and sauces. The sharp savory salty flavor works so well with all foods, from meats to vegetables. I borrowed another recipe from Andoh’s book for a citrus miso. This is just white miso flavored with citrus zest and juice (lime and lemon) and cooked with sake to a delicious thick sauce.

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Slicing the fish for sushi is where practice -or lack of it- really shows. Sushi masters practice years to be considered proper sushi chefs worthy of slicing fish properly. If you have not seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, stop reading right now and go check it out and you’ll see what I mean by perfection in making sushi. My fish slices were fine but lacked that proper angle and finesse that good sushi has. The flavor of those bites was fantastic though.  I formed the rice into small mounds and dotted it with a bit of the miso sauce. The salmon went on top and got a garnish of grated daikon radish, finely sliced pickled ginger, sesame seeds and  a pinch of hot pepper powder. I plated the sushi on top of thin cucumber slices to add another texture. This dish was excellent with the perfect textures and lovely fresh balanced flavors ranging from nutty to salty and savory with a hint of sweetness.

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Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa of the Nobu restaurant empire is probably one of the best known modern Japanese chefs. He does “fusion” well where the flavors of Japan mix with those of South America in a combination of classical and modern preparations. He was the first person I’ve seen pouring boiling hot oil over pieces of fish in order to barely cook them. He calls the oil “New Oil” in his book Nobu Now. It’s something he said he came up with to appeal to those squeamish about eating raw sashimi. So, I gave that a shot. I placed the sliced salmon on a plate and topped it with grated ginger and shopped scallions. Then I heated a few tablespoons of oil till smoking and drizzled that all over the fish.

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I plated the fish on top of the rice in a bowl and served it with a few small spoons of the citrus miso sauce. The barely cooked fish had a nice texture and was gently warmed. It worked  perfectly with the nutty rice and sharp sauce. It’s definitely a technique and dish that is easy to prepare and I will be exploring some more in different variations.

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