Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thai-like coconut pork

Last night I concocted a sort of Thai pork stir-fry thingy. It went very well. I don't have a recipe exactly...I was inspired by this recipe I made from Mark Bittman a while back, but this time there were no noodles involved, and added flavors.

I cooked a pound of ground pork, adding ground ginger, garlic powder and white pepper while it browned, then put it on paper towels and set it aside, reserving a little bit of the drippings in the pan to cook a whole sliced up yellow onion. When the onion was starting to get soft, I added grated fresh ginger ( a lot...like a tablespoon and a half) and 4 grated cloves of garlic, then a few splashes of soy sauce, fish sauce and a couple teaspoons of chili oil. I let that all soften, then added one whole cut up red bell pepper, and a green bell pepper, and two finely diced green chilies, and about 3 tablespoons of minced fresh cilantro. I added the pork back in, and seasoned with more soy and fish sauce and also some leftover white wine for a little zip. When everything was nice and tasty, I poured a can of lite coconut milk in, and let it simmer and thicken for about 5 minutes, then served it over rice. I ended up adding drops of fish sauce as I was eating, as the coconut milk dulled some of the saltiness, but other than that I was quite pleased with the flavors.

Monday, September 24, 2007

striving for cooking egg-cellence

Last week on Top Chef the challenge was to make something using the classic ingredients chicken, onions and potatoes. It was a great show...very interesting to see what the contestants decided to make. The two best dishes came from the people who did more classic French preparations. The professors at the French Culinary Institute in NY were judging them, after all.

Anthony Bourdain blogged about the episode, and was thrilled by the focus on the classics, explaining how there are some basics that any chef should know:
"What to do with a chicken, an onion, and a potato?" is about as perfect and straightforward a challenge as could be imagined. Particularly in the venue of the French Culinary Institute -- and particularly in front of these judges, for whom those ingredients are seen as a Holy Trinity of Fundamental Elements. Along with the classic " Make Me An Omelet " test (which would have ended the show a little too quickly), the Trial of The Chicken is traditionally seen as a near religious passage, a station of the cross, an early task on the One True Path to chefdom. Just as it is widely believed that "you can tell everything you need to know about a cook by how he makes an omelet", the cooking of a simple chicken makes an open book of whoever prepared it. There’s no wiggle room, no lying, no weaseling, and no misrepresenting when you’re facing the Test of The Chicken (or the Omelet, for that matter). No amount of garnish or frippery will help evade the truth. As they say in the courtroom: “Res Ipsa Loquitor” (The thing speaks for itself.)

Now, I can cook a mean roasted chicken (Thanks Nigella!), but I've never really attempted an omelet. I made scrambled eggs all the time when I was a kid, with all kinds of crazy leftovers added in. As an adult, I really don't eat a lot of eggs. So, this weekend I decided I needed to learn to make an omelet. Jack offered to teach me, and we made a night of it. Jack's omelet skills, while not exactly the proper classic French trained type, are very good. We had to go buy an omelet pan, a good non-stick, 10-inch fella with gently sloping sides and a heavy feel.

We scrambled 3 eggs up in a plastic cup with the hand-held blender until it was slightly frothy. Then Jack poured it into the buttered hot pan and swirled and pushed and swirled and pushed....I'm sorry, I don't think I can write instructions on how it's done. It's hard to explain. Easy to do, though. Apparently, Julia Child uses up 13 pages of Mastering the Art of French Cooking to describe how to cook an omelet! Anyway, he showed me how to do everything, and then I took over and made my very own! I filled it with smoked salmon and capers then topped it with sour cream and fresh dill. It was heavenly, and quite good for my first try. Good color on the outside, tender in the middle, fluffy, well seasoned. yay! I did it!

My omelet:

Jack's omelet in progress:

His was topped had Gruyere cheese and fresh dill...a suprisingly good combo!

The great thing about omelet making is, if you mess it up, it can always become scrambled eggs, as Jack demonstrated with his lunch the next day:

Friday, September 21, 2007

hard cider pork steaks

Last night I made this Pork Braised in Hard Cider recipe from seriouseats. It made for a good weeknight, late summer meal. I love recipes that involve alcohol, because you get to drink it while you're cooking and you know it's going to pair well with the meal. The recipe is pretty simple, and we made a few adjustments. The main difference is we used pork steaks instead of chops (that's how we do in the lou). Since pork steaks are larger, I used 2 onions and added a green pepper. Also, after everything was cooked, Jack reduced the simmering liquid and added a pinch of dried thyme and a pat of butter to make a sauce for everything. We ate it with white rice. The meat was very tender, and I iked the flavor of the cider with everything. the little bit of butter made for a nice rich, flavorful sauce.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Scallops with leftover corn soup & cottage cheese ice cream

Welp, Jack was right! That corn soup made a fan-tabulous sauce for some seared scallops. He also seared some shark, because it looked good. The scallops were the stars, though. Creamy, sweet leftover corn soup, salty, crispy bacon and the scallops made for some serious good eats. Yay for re-working leftovers!!

For dessert, I made some cottage cheese ice cream. I saw the idea on Su Good Eats' blog, via Slashfood. I thought it was brilliant! I had a recipe for ricotta ice cream somewhere, but cottage cheese is so much cheaper and healthier, so I rushed right out and got some.

I used 2% low fat cottage cheese, and didn't bother searching for a no-salt variety. I only added about a teaspoon of oil, rather than Su's tablespoon and a half, because she was using 1% cottage cheese. I also happened to have Absolut Vanill vodka, so I used that as my vodka addition. The result was very very rich and creamy! I put some fresh pears on mine. I think it would have been almost too rich without some kind of fruit. Amazing for something low fat! This will make a perfect base for the strawberry & balsamic vinegar ice cream I've been wanting to make.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Corn soup for the end of summer

Last week, Jack sent me a scan of a recipe he found in a magazine. It was an end of summer soup created by Wolfgang puck. It sounded really yummy, so we made it for dinner last night. The weather has been cool and fall-like, so soup sounded nice...but it still had the summery taste of sweet corn, because we're not quite ready to let go yet. We enjoyed this with unfiltered wheat beer, hot rolls and open windows.

I put my notes in bold type...

Corn and Bacon Soup with Jalapeño Crema

10 medium ears of corn, shucked
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz. lean bacon, finely diced (1/2 cup)
1 celery rib, finely diced
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, finely diced
3 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt
Pinch Cayenne pepper
1/4 cup sour cream
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 tbsp chopped cilantro, plus cilantro leaves, for garnish
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground white pepper

Set box grater in wide, shallow bowl, coarsely grate 6 ears corn to make 2 cups grated corn instead of grating the corn, we but the kernels into the food processor. Cut kernels from remaining 4 ears to make 2 cups of kernels. In large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp live oil. Add bacon, celery, onion, yellow pepper; cover and cook over low heat, stirring a few times until softened, about 10 minutes. Add grated corn, milk, 1 cup heavy cream; bring to boil we used fat free half and half instead of the cream, a substitution we have made in several applications with success. It didn't work out so well for this soup, however, as it kind of separated. We fixed it by adding a little bit of real cream, and blending all of the soup up with a stick blender. Reduce heat to moderately low and simmer, stirring often, until soup is thickened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and cayenne pepper, keep warm.

In large skillet, heat remaining 2 tbsp olive oil until shimmering. Add corn kernels to skillet; cook over moderately high heat, stirring a few times, until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Season with salt. Stir cooked corn kernels into soup; keep warm.

To create jalapeño crema, whip remaining 1/2 cup of heavy cream to soft peaks in blender, about 20 seconds I forgot to pick up sour cream at the store, so we just whipped more cream and added more lemon juice. Add sour cream, jalapeño, chopped cilantro, lemon juice, and blend until thick. Season with salt and white pepper. Ladle soup into bowls, top with spoonfuls of jalapeño crema and cilantro leaves; serve at once. Serves 6.

I think we'll be making this again. Next time with perhaps more bacon, and more cayenne. Jack thought it might be better suited as a sauce. Perhaps with seared scallops and a jalapeño oil instead of crema. Yum!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

calamari chain restaraunt style

Last week I was out of town for work. We were in the Bloomington/Normal Illinois area, and based on nothing but a hotel magazine advertisement, we chose a place called Biaggi's for dinner. It's a small chain Italian place, but I had never heard of it, as there are none located anywhere near the STL. I was quite pleasantly surprised by how good the food was! For an appetizer we had the Calamari Alla Griglia, "Tender marinated calamari, lightly grilled and served over arugula with extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar" and it was probably the best calamari I've had anywhere. It was grilled, which was a first for me, and I loved the slight smokiness.

So I had a bag of frozen calamari waiting for me in the freezer, and decided to pull it out to try and replicate Biaggi's for a quick and easy Monday night meal. Well, it wasn't quite so easy because I was apparently being far from smart that night...I ended up ruining the seasoning on our cast iron skillet that Jack had worked for about a year to get to where it was. Yeah Balsamic vinegar AND frozen seafood liquid are big no-nos...I just wasn't thinking. Oh well, I salvaged the meal using another pan, and now I get to learn how to season cast iron!

The calamari was pretty good. I cooked some garlic in olive oil, then added balsamic vinegar, liquid smoke (to try and get that grilled flavor...our grill is out of gas) and salt and pepper and then the calamari. I cooked it probably about7 minutes? Somehow I managed to NOT overcook it. Yay! Then I served it over a bed of Arugula. I'm beginning to love arugula more and more. Its peppery bitterness compliments so many things. In this case the sweetness of the calamari and vinegar. It was good, although next time I'll thaw the calamari fully first, and rinse it and dry it. I had to pour a lot of liquid out during cooking, and there was absolutely no carmelization. Also, the calamari was a little fishy tasting...I think rinsing might have helped that...or marinating it for an hour or so...

My favorite part of the meal, and something I'll probably be making a lot, was the improvised side dish of cannellini beans and roasted red pepper. I sautéed some garlic in olive oil, added a can of the beans, salt and pepper and a roasted red pepper from a jar, which I chopped up. I'm always looking for new, easy side dishes.

The next day I had the leftovers for lunch...I added the beans to leftover calamari and arugula and ate it cold, like a salad. Like a really good salad.

Monday, September 10, 2007

the power of cheese

I went to a friend's house Friday night for creative night she was hosting. She had printed out illustrator/author/bloggerKeri Smith's superhero templates for everyone, and several of us brought scraps, glue, glitter, punches, etc., and we all made our own super heroes! It was a blast. Besides craft stuff, I also brought a few cheeses. It seems I bring cheese with me everywhere, so I decided my super hero would be a cheesy femme fromage. May I present

*da da da daaaaaa*

Cheese Louise!!!

She has 3 different cheese knives and is ready for anything...stinky, soft, hard, aged, blue, yellow...anything! Her cape doubles as a napkin/picnic blanket and she has a magic red wine charm around her neck which when used in conjunction with the magic word "Gorgon-ZOLA!" produces the perfect wine pairing for any cheese from thin air. The baguette under her arm is a magic one which she can share infinitely without ever running out, and her cheese cutting board goes with every decor!

This was such a fun activity. It allowed for silliness, creativity and chit-chat. I hope there are more of these creative nights in my future, because Cheese Louise needs a sidekick and a dog named Blue.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

teeny burgers

Over labor day weekend, there wasn't a whole heck of a lot of cooking going on in ironstef-ville. There was some grilling, though...done by Jack, of course. For a couple lazy days out in the country, we nourished ourselves midday with our new favorite burgers...little patties on Hawaiian rolls. They are simple...small hamburgers sprinkled with salt, pepper and garlic powder and grilled. Place on some of those sweet, soft little rolls and enjoy. I like mine with fresh homegrown tomatoes.

Believe it or not we got the idea from a night out at Dave & Busters (a chain bar/grill/arcade place). Something about the way the sweet bread goes with the smoky grilled meat. And they are more portable than big normal burgers, too! It's simple perfection. D&B's is actually one large patty placed on 4 connected rolls then cut as a whole. We prefer the little individual burgers, because you get more of that charred outer flavor on each patty.