Wednesday, April 24, 2013

ginger julep, and my spring favorites

Spring is here... the grass is greener, the birds are louder, the sun is lingering longer to show those rain clouds who's boss. I wanted to make a cocktail to mirror Spring's sweet, bubbly freshness. 

A couple weekends ago I got to go to a cocktail competition put on by The Big O Liqueur. The area's best mixologists/bartenders made concoctions featuring this stunning ginger nectar. The Big O is one of my favorites, you may remember it from the champagne cocktail I made with it for my 500th post. I was able to meet and hug the creators of the aperitif... they are friendly, passionate people, which makes drinking their product that much sweeter!

One of the competitors made a twist on the classic Mint Julep. While I found his a bit too sugary, I was really impressed with the flavor combination. I decided to make a simplified version of it... only 4 ingredients! 

Ginger Julep 
-4 or 5 fresh mint leaves
-2 oz. bourbon
-1.5 oz. Big O Ginger Liqueur
-3 oz. Ginger ale 
Muddle the mint leaves. Add the bourbon and Big O and stir or shake to combine. Strain into a glass filled ice. Top with ginger ale. Sip while listening to birds.

Here are some of my favorite springy recipes from the archives. Happy showers and flowers!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

cabbage soup with sauerkraut pork balls

Spring in the Midwest is... full of surprises. 40-degree temperature fluctuations that occur in less that 12 hours, rain one day, sun the next, tornadoes the next. The other day it was cloudy and cold and my fridge was over-stocked with stock. Soup! For some reason I was set on soup that involved pork and cabbage. In my research for flavor ideas, I came upon this recipe on Smitten Kitchen's blog for a pork and cabbage soup with Sauerkraut. It sounded weird, but kind of perfect. 

It seems that every time I go to the store for ground pork, the store is out of it. It's either wildly popular or not popular enough. Usually I'll just have the butcher grind me some, but this day I was stopped in my tracks by fresh bratwurst. It's pork, like I wanted, and, well, brats with sauerkraut, right? Also, pre-seasoned meat meant less work for my lazy tush!

This soup was, like Midwest Spring, surprising.... just when you think it tastes like a nice normal vegetable soup, you get a fun little hint of sour and sweet. Perfect for these wet rainy days. And the next day when it's hot and sunny...


Sauerkraut Pork Balls in Cabbage Soup

-1 lb. fresh bratwurst
-1/2 cup sauerkraut, squeezed dry
-1 egg
-3/4 cup breadcrumbs
-1 teaspoon caraway seeds
-1/2 teaspoon coriander
-salt and pepper to taste
-1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
-1 medium onion, diced
-1 shallot, minced
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-5 medium carrots, diced
-2 stalks celery, diced
-2 bay leaves
-6 cups chicken stock
-2 Yukon gold potatoes, diced
-1/2 head red cabbage, quartered and sliced
-3 Tablespoons Sauerkraut juice
-salt and pepper to taste

Combine the bratwurst, sauerkraut, egg, breadcrumbs, caraway, coriander and salt/pepper in a bowl with your hands. Form into small, bite-sized balls.

Heat the oil in a dutch oven or soup pot. Brown the balls, in batches so as not to overcrowd them, on all sides, about 7 minutes per batch. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Add the carrots, onions, celery, garlic and shallots to the pot, and cook for about 5 minutes, scraping up the browned bits from the balls as the veggies soften. Add the stock and the bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook about 15 minutes more. Add the cabbage and cook until tender, about 10 minutes more. Turn off heat, stir in sauerkraut juice, season to taste and serve hot.

2013: Year of MORE BALLS Posts:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

coconut risotto with lemongrass ginger chicken balls

We have finally started to get some consistent spring weather here in St. Louis... SUNSHINE! FLIP FLOPS! BEER WITH LEMON FLAVORING! FORGETTING HOW EASILY I BURN! So here is something to welcome the thaw: a trifecta of tropical flavors! Cool, sweet, spicy mango & cucumber salsa, rich, creamy, dreamy coconut risotto and bright lemongrass ginger chicken meatballs.

These all work well together, but can easily be made on their own for other applications. If you make one of these 3 things, you MUST make the coconut risotto. It is absolutely luscious. Like any risotto, it takes a bit of patience and lots of stirring, but wow is it worth your time. Super rich and creamy, and no cheese? Crazy talk. This could easily be made vegan by subbing vegetable stock, which makes me feel less sorry for vegans, because, man, I would eat this over traditional risotto without batting an eye.

The salsa and the balls just scream summer. The salsa would be great on grilled fish or chicken or on shrimp tacos. The balls could be served with a peanut sauce as an appetizer, or on a crisp salad. Mmmmm. Gosh, dear readers, 3 great recipes in 1 post this week. Aren't you lucky? :)

Mango Cucumber Salsa-1 mango, diced
-1/2 cucumber, seeded and diced
-2 green chiles, finely chopped
-2 shallots, finely chopped
-3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
-juice from 1 lime
-1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
-salt to taste 
Combine all the ingredients. Let marinate for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Coconut Risotto-1 Tablespoon coconut oil
-1 shallot
-1 cup Aborio Rice
-1 15 0z. can whole coconut milk
-2.5 cups duck stock (or chicken stock or vegetable stock)
-salt to taste 
Combine the coconut milk and stock in a sauce pan and place over low heat.
Melt the coconut oil in a separate sauce pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until they are translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

Ladle about 3/4 cup of the coconut milk/stock mixture into the pan with the rice. Stir often until the liquid is absorbed by the rice, then add another ladle-ful and repeat. After 3 ladles, you can start adding a bit more liquid, but be sure to keep stirring... not necessarily constant stirring, but lots of stirring.... this is what releases the gluten from the grains of rice and makes it creamy! Test the rice to see when it is cooked to al dente... you may not use all of the liquid (but save it, it will help with re-heating leftovers). Serve hot.

Lemongrass Ginger Chicken Balls-1 lb. ground chicken
-2 Tablespoons lemongrass paste or 1 Tablespoon freshly minced lemongrass
-1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated
-3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
-1/4 teaspoon cumin
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1 egg
-1 cup plain bread crumbs 
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Combine all the ball ingredients in a bowl, using your hands to mix everything really well. Roll into small balls (1 1/2-inch diameter or so) and place in a greased oven-safe dish or on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 20 minutes, turning once. Serve on the coconut risotto or as appetizers.

2013: Year of MORE BALLS Posts:

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

olive oil duck confit for cassoulet

We FINALLY did it. Kelly and I have been talking for years about making a proper cassoulet, and this past weekend our "someday" became reality! Why so long? Cassoulet is a bit intimidating... a traditional French dish, that while a comfort food, takes literally days of preparation. Also, there are lots of different recipes for cassoulet... as stated in Kelly's post about it: "it is not a recipe in France. It is a way to argue between villages." So picking a recipe is challenging. Kelly did most of the work on this, honestly... she researched a bunch of recipes and came up with a hybrid to make it "our own." Check out her excellent post on the final result. Basically, making cassoulet is like putting together a puzzle... beans, sausage, cured pork, duck confit, seasonings...

The cassoulet puzzle pieces.
Photo courtesy of Corey Woodruff.
My main role in this puzzle was making the duck confit. While you can certainly buy duck confit, this has been on my list of things to make forever, and if we were going to wait this long to make cassoulet it had to have as much from-scratch as possible. This paid off big time. Our cassoulet was rich, meaty, flavorful, perfectly cooked... so effing good. The effort showed, and was worth it times 10. 

Making duck confit is arduous in the same sense that making cassoulet is... the difficult parts are finding the ingredients and planning ahead. Actually cooking it is almost effortless. In my research I figured out a couple of things: 1. buying duck fat is expensive, 2. buying individual duck legs is impossible in St. Louis grocery stores, 3. you can confit with olive oil! Number 3 was my favorite revelation... both Micheal Ruhlman and local St. Louis chef Cassy Vires use olive oil to make duck confit. This was a huge relief, as I have the utmost respect for both of them, and their recipes have worked well for me in the past. (see my posts about meeting Ruhlman and making Cassy's "cheat" turducken.)

Picking the duck confit meat off the bones. It's great for your skin! :)
Photo courtesy of Corey Woodruff
With the Olive Oil Salvation, I now only had one obstacle: I could only readily get whole duck. I would have to butcher the duck to get the pieces I could use for confit. I have some experience with cutting up birds (I even DEBONED them for a monster turducken once!), so I just went for it. Don't be intimidated, you guys. You basically just use the bones as guides for where to cut. And guess what? the confit is getting shredded later, so even if you do "butcher" the butchering... it's all good. Breathe deep and start cuttin'. I cut the legs off, including as much of the thigh meat I could, and also cut out the breast meat. This gave me 4 nice-size pieces of meat for the confit, and a whole carcass for making a huge pot of rich duck stock. No waste, all taste!

The cassoulet getting layered.
Photo courtesy of Corey Woodruff

Olive Oil Duck Confit
-2 duck breasts
-2 duck leg/thigh portions
-6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
-1 teaspoon dried thyme
-2 Tablespoons salt
-2 shallots, sliced
-5 sprigs fresh thyme
-about 4 cups olive oil 
Rub the duck pieces with the garlic, dried thyme and salt. Let sit overnight, up to 2 days.
Rinse the duck off, reserving the garlic cloves. Pat dry and place in a dutch oven with the garlic, shallots and fresh thyme. Cover completely with olive oil. Place in a 225ºF oven and let cook about 3 hours, checking occasionally to make sure the oil is not bubbling and is still covering the meat completely.  
Remove from oven and let cool a bit. Remove the duck pieces and strain the oil. Store the duck and the oil together, for up to a month. Use meat in cassoulet, rillettes, whatever your heart desires.

Duck Confit right out of the oven.
Related posts from the archives (and other blogs):