Brunch Gazpacho

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Two “Spanish” dishes in a row? well, actually my favorite go-to gazpacho recipe is not from a Spanish book. It’s from David Leite’s lovely The New Portuguese table cookbook. So, let’s say this is Portuguese. As a blueprint it is very much like a typical Spanish gazpacho; tomato based with supporting summer vegetables, herbs and plenty of olive oil. It is all held together and made velvety with a few chunks of bread.

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I like this recipe even though it is similar to many others because of the balance it shows. For example it does not use raw onions in the mix like many others do. Onions, even in small amounts, always seem to stick out for my taste and leave an unpleasant after taste. I like that it uses fresh oregano in the mix, it’s lovely. The proportions of everything is just right too. So, I add all ingredients into my Vitamix blender -tomatoes, water-soaked bread, cucumbers, red bell peppers, oregano, little bit of garlic- and let it rip until it is all nice and smooth.

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Towards the end I drizzle in olive oil and vinegar and let is blend some more. I also love this recipe because it gives you permission to use canned tomatoes! Yes, most gazpacho recipes ask for peak summer tomatoes preferably of an heirloom variety. Truth be told these things are amazing fruit, but they are almost like unicorns where I live and with my schedule. Sighting one and acquiring it is very difficult out there. Once you find them they are usually pretty expensive and because they are not bred for travel the quality is not great. All that is to say that it really is OK to use canned good quality canned tomatoes. The key here is the good quality stuff like the San Marzano imported tomatoes. So, cheap here will not work.

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I make a pitcher and enjoy it over a couple of days since no one in my household enjoys “cold tomato soup”. For a lazy Sunday I dressed it up a bit and made it a brunch course of sorts. I poached an egg perfectly and cleanly placed it in the bowl along with bacon pieces, bacon-fat crisped croutons and pickled onions. I poured the gazpacho around it, drizzled it with good olive oil, garnished it with more croutons and thyme and dug in. The simple refreshing soup, the contrast of textures and temperatures transformed the humble cold soup to an elegant satisfying meal.

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Pork Shoulder, Grits, Roasted Carrots and Garlic

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Work has been really crazy these last couple months or so. I’ve had several posts I wanted to get up here but have not had the time. So, it’s really nice to take a short break and get this posted. It’s a very nice and great looking dish of pork cooked slow and portioned into various pieces. It’s served with grits, roasted carrots and green garlic carrot-top sauce.

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What to do with a head of garlic that starts sprouting? Well, let is sprout some more. I put it in a shallow bowl of water and left it by the window sill for a week. I got nice very sharp tasting green garlic. I figured it will make a nice garnish and maybe a good component in a sauce.

Yonder Way Farm pork is stellar and one of my favorite cuts that I get is the pork shoulder roast. Every so often the pork shoulder cut is from lower on the primal, closer to the back and the chops. This piece is amazing and has various different muscles from the tender eye/chop on one end to the slightly tougher shoulder end. I wanted to cook the whole thing and portion it out.

It’s a long process I took to cook this one but pretty simple. The talented couple from Ideas in Food frequently post about seasoning and salting meat and letting it dry uncovered in the fridge for days before roasting or CVaping. So, I followed one of their processes, salted the pork and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. I then added seasoning to it, a basic rub of paprika (smoked and sweet), pepper, a touch of garlic powder, dried thyme,.. and sent it back to the fridge for another 24 hours or so.

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To cook the pork I packaged it with garlic and spring onion greens. I cooked it sous vide at 59 C for about 6 hours until dinner time. When it was done I divided the roast up into tender inside loin, the ribs and the outside skin side. I got each one of those pieces properly crisped and browned as needed to get some awesome varying textures for service.

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Grits can be one of the most insipid foods if you are unlucky enough to eat the instant glop. Using good quality coarsely ground grits like the ones from Anson Mills makes a dish that is light years apart from the instant stuff. I cooked them in water and stirred in a healthy dose of butter towards the end plus a handful of chopped chives. Other than the grits I picked up a couple of bunches of colorful carrots. I roasted these with a  bit of honey, salt and pepper.

Carrots

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The carrot greens were very nice and i did not want to waste them. So, along with some spring onion and garlic greens they got blanched in boiling water and shocked in ice water. Then I blended them with a bit of water, maple vinegar and butter. It was a bit on the thin side so i blended in a bit of Ultratex-3 to give it some body and texture. It’s a product that thickens at cool temperatures, does not mask any flavors and does not produce the snotty mouth-feel that too much Xanthan gum would impart.

I love using spring onion bulbs as i do here and I frequently do that. I cut them in half through the root and bag them with butter and salt. After cooking them sous vide at 85 C for about 45 minutes they are good to go. All I do to them is give them a good sear in a hot pan before plating.

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On each dish I centered a dollop of the grits and a small pile of the carrots. I put a rib on one end followed by the “skin” and the tender loin. I garnished with the spring onions, the carrot top sauce and garlic greens

The final dish turned out really well and met my expectations. Recently we had dinner at a high-end Spanish restaurant in Houston and, while it was good, it was not at the same level as the prices they were charging. One specific dish we got was an Iberico pork plate that cost a pretty penny and sounded awesome on the menu. Again, it tasted fine but it looked like there was very little effort to “make it nice”. A slab of pork, some potatoes and a little else. What I would’ve expected is something more like this dish that I am very proud of. It is elegant, delicious, involved thought and work and everything in it works to make a great whole.

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Sous Vide Corned Beef and Great Colcannon

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For St. Patrick’s Day we had corned beef and cabbage. Not the stinky slow cooker pot of meat and mushy vegetables, but some awesome home-cured perfectly cooked beef with “The Best” Colcannon. making corned beef from scratch is time consuming but pretty easy to do. I used the recipe and process from ChefSteps.com and it all starts with the brisket. I trimmed it a bit and left about a 1/4 inch fat on the beef. The process is very similar to pastrami, really identical except for the smoke part.

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I made a brine with water, sugar, salt and a boat load of spices (coriander, mace, bay, star anise…) The cure also has pink salt or cure #1 which is Sodium Nitrite. This is essential for the proper color and flavor of cured products like corned beef. The brisket sat in the brine for about a week. Really 9 days would have been better since it had a very small dime size center piece that the cure did not get to in time, but I wanted to cook it for St. Patrick’s weekend so it got rubbed with more spices and into a vacuum bag it went.

Red Potatoes

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I cooked it at 63 C for 48 hours. The brisket, roughly half of a full one actually, was too big. So, I had it bagged in two bags and cooked them both. That was a good idea because now I have a nice ready to eat corned beef chunk in the freezer. I had two options for serving the beef, a classic Reuben sandwich with Russian dressing, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on homemade rye bread. The other option was with a nice helping of Colcannon.

Colcannon is a traditional humble Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage. I like most versions, even those that have the whole thing mixed together into a lovely mess. This time I tried Letie’s Culinaria Best Colcannon recipe, adapted from the book, Victuals by Ronni Lundy. Judging by this recipe I might have to get me a copy of Lundy’s book.

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The red potatoes are cooked separately and mashed skin on with butter and cream. Where the recipe shines is with the cabbage and the addition of kale. They are cooked with plenty of onions, butter, spices, beer and broth until perfectly cooked. To serve, I mounded the potatoes in a bowl and topped it with the cabbage mixture. Thick slices of moist corned beef went on top and a pint of Guinness stout on the side. A perfect and comforting dinner.

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Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings with Black Bean Sauce

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Superbowl and wings are perfect party companions. I made wings this Superbowl Sunday but I did not just fry some wings and toss them in hot sauce (as delicious as that is). These are boneless wings stuffed with zippy pork dumpling filling and tossed in a fermented black bean sauce. Boneless chicken “wings” have been a  popular item at various fats food restaurants in the U.S. over the past few years. The problem is they are not wings! They are just boneless chicken chunks, fried and tossed with the same sauce as regular wings. I know my kids love them and could not care one bit when i complain that “These.Are.NOT.Wings!” Ah, the power of marketing.

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I had been thinking of making true boneless wings for a while but only got the motivation i needed when I saw this recipe in the modern Chinese book, A. Wong The Cookbook by Andrew Wong. The combination just sounded delicious. As expected, getting those two pesky bones out of the wing is the most time consuming part of this recipe, but after a couple of them the rest get a bit easier.

I briefly marinated the wings in a mixture of maltose, sugar, rice wine and vinegar. The marinade is poured hot over the wings to tighten them. They are then removed, dried and set on a rack in the fridge uncovered. This will thoroughly dry the skin and aid in crisping them in the hot oil.

Chicken Wings-Stuffing

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Removing the bones from the wings will obviously make them lose their structure and they will be…well..floppy. So, stuffing them becomes obvious. It adds a ton of flavor, additional texture and helps them retain their shape. The filling is a classic dumpling filling made from ground pork, ginger, potato starch, chives, soy and sesame oil. I used a small piping bag to fill the boneless wings.

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In the meantime I prepared the sauce from sauteed red peppers, fermented black soy beans, garlic, ginger, scallions, rice wine and chicken stock. I reduced the mixture by half and adjusted the seasoning. To serve, I fried the wings in plenty of oil till crispy and the filling is cooked through (I used a thermometer to make sure of that). We made a meal of these delicious, crispy juice delicacies with a bit of steamed rice and topped them with plenty of the sauce.

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Pork Tenderloin, Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts with Cider Sauce

 

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Mid-week dinners do not have to be boring, sloppy or rushed. A meal like this looks great, tastes awesome and comes together in less than an hour. The only shopping i did for this was to stop by at the store to figure out what the protein is going to be. It could’ve been fish or poultry, but the pork tenderloins looked the best.

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I seasoned the pork with salt and pepper and bagged it with a few slices of butter, orange peel and thyme. While the pork cooked sous vide at 60 C I prepared the sauce and the vegetables. Brussels sprouts can really suck if prepared improperly. They can be stinky and mushy. What I do is deeply brown them on the cut side in oil, turn them over and cook them on the other side while seasoning them until they are barely tender. They are deliciously perfect at this point and can take on more flavors like crisped bacon or pancetta, a splash of soy, a drizzle of vinegar,….

Cauliflower is another vegetable that could suck if cooked badly. I, more often than not, roast the florets after tossing them in olive oil in a very hot oven (around 475 F or so). When the cauliflower is browned all over and tender it’s also good to go and can be tossed with more flavorings and seasoning.

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The sauce is mostly reduced chicken stock cooked down with shallots minced and sautéed in butter. The key to making it special is boiled apple cider. It’s a great product that is tart, sweet and tastes like the essence of cider. When sufficiently reduced I swirled in a few knobs of butter to enrich it, give it a nice gloss and tame down the acidity of the boiled cider. Apples and pork are a classic of course and the sauce did not disappoint. It went perfectly with the pork.

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To serve, I patted the cooked pork with a paper towel and browned it all over in butter. I plated the vegetables and topped them with slices of the pork. I drizzled the sauce all around and we tucked in.

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Ravioli Genovese, Tomato Sauce and Olives

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More stuffed pasta. Delicious, elegant stuffed pasta. These Ligurian-inspired babies are ravioli filled with a mixture of sauteed Swiss chard, ground veal and homemade ricotta.

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I used to rarely cook with veal because of how it is produced and the horrible conditions the calves are kept in before they are slaughtered and sent to market. Recently though I’ve been seeing more and more naturally raised, grass-fed (not crated) veal at my local store. Frequently they have it on sale as well and I pick up a couple of packages. Ground veal in meatballs is excellent and gives a great texture to meatloaf as well.

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When my youngest son requested ravioli with tomato sauce for dinner I scanned what i had in the fridge and freezer. Ground veal, Swiss chard…there it is. Ravioli Genovese. I browned the veal a little onions and garlic. Meanwhile I blanched the chard and chopped it up. I mixed that with the veal, egg, Parmesan and homemade ricotta cheese.

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For sauce, I made a simple marinara with San Marzano tomatoes, a little garlic, herbs and olive oil. I did want something extra for the finished plate. So, I pitted some oil cured olives and scattered on top. Rich filling, tender pasta and sharp sauce made for a great dinner.

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Cappellacci di Zucca – Pumpkin Pasta with Sage, Pumpkin Butter, Pine Nuts

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This is cheat post. It’s a cheat post because I’ve posted about similar dishes before. Well, so what. We love this dish and its ilk and I try making it every fall a few times. I really love making fresh pasta and filled pasta as well so why not post about it (spoiler warning: the next post is also a filled pasta dish).

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It is a dish I make relatively often but honestly I never make it the exact same way twice, especially with the filling. This time I think is one of the favorites. The small sugar pumpkin I used was delicious on its own and I decided not to mask it with a ton of other flavors. In Mario Batali’s first book (my favorite of his really), Simple Italian Food: Recipes from My Two Villages,  has a recipe for this dish and his filling is very simple. It’s nothing more than the pumpkin, an egg, some Parmesan and a grating of nutmeg. I went with that and it was perfect. Usually I would use butternut squash for something like this, but I really am glad I gave the small “pie”pumpkin a try this time. The flesh was dry and had great flavor and sweetness.

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Sage with this dish is classic and so is butter. Both are here but with a couple of extra layers of flavor. I put all the pumpkin seeds and pulp into a pot with a bunch of butter and let that gently melt and simmer. After draining I had a nice half cup or so of golden delicious pumpkin butter.

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I boiled the pasta while I got butter browning in a pan and then tossed in sage leaves. For another texture and layer of flavor I threw in a handful of excellent quality pine nuts. These are great pine nuts that I picked up from Lebanon wen I was there a couple of months ago. After the nuts got a good color on them and the sage leaves were a bit crispy I tossed the dumplings into the pan and added a few spoons of the pumpkin butter. Served with a handful of Parmesan and anointed with more pumpkin butter it was lovely.

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