Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

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‘nilla wafer puddin': so good, it’s scary

October 30, 2008

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It isn’t right to torment your husband.

I know this, and yet, when it comes to Banana & Vanilla Wafer Pudding (‘nilla wafer puddin’ for short), I can’t help myself. It’s just so good.

Yes, my husband has had months of professional French-style culinary training. Yes, he can braise, glaze and flam-baze with the best of them. But when it comes to old-fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs, lick the spoon, go for third-helpings kind of deliciousness, this clip-from-the-back-of-the-box recipe still takes the cake (er, pudding).

It is a crowd pleaser. Everybody loves it. Everybody comments on it. Everybody wants the recipe. Everybody goes back for seconds, and thirds, and fourths, until finally you come upon a guest surreptitiously running his finger along the rim of the empty bowl and making satisfied sucking sounds until said bowl is forcibly removed from his hands.

It’s that good, people.

Now my husband grumps, and moans, and bellyaches about that “darn ‘nilla wafer puddin.” But he makes it, and then begrudgingly laps up the accompanying praise and glory.

But let’s be honest. I do the work here, people. I am the one who flatters, badgers and goads until the husband ponies up the delicious homemade vanilla pudding. And then I am the one who lovingly assembles the whole concoction into a thing of beauty. Yes, I — the wife — make the whip cream, cut up the bananas and lovingly stack the Nilla wafers into a towering trifle of dessert deliciousness.

That’s right: Don’t believe the husband, he’s not the ‘nilla wafer puddin’ martyr he’d have you believe.

But you can believe one thing: This Banana & Vanilla Wafer Pudding is really that good. It’s totally worth tormenting your husband for. Enjoy it! And Happy Halloween!

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And now, the husband’s take…

I hate this recipe. No, actually, I don’t really HATE this recipe. It’s just that I don’t get it. I think it’s a good recipe. I really like what it makes. But… well… despite culinary school, despite all the cool techniques, despite my growing knowledge of food, this very simple recipe is the one I’m asked for the most.

I get emails from family members saying, “I’ve looked everywhere on the blog, but can’t find it.” I get calls asking for it. My wife even has a slightly obnoxious chant she does when she wants me to make it, and I’m quite certain my 19 month old is going to start joining her any day now. I’m pretty much obligated to make this for every family gathering or to bring it to any social gathering where you are expected to provide a dish. Because of this demand, I’m putting it up to share.

Finally, I appreciate this recipe is most associated with summer and childhood. But, honestly, its perfect for tomorrow if you are having a party. This recipe can easily serve 12 very hungry folks and I suspect even more of the smaller guys. It keeps well if you refrigerate it. It’s actually better if you make it the day before as the flavors of the banana spread around and the cookies absorb the liquid and get a more cake-like consistency. So, Happy Halloween and enjoy! Just don’t ask me for the recipe later.

Click here for the recipe for ‘Nilla Wafer Pudding.

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Banana & Vanilla Wafer Pudding
Ingredients:
1/2 box Nilla wafers
5 bananas
Vanilla pudding (recipe below)
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions:
1. Make and cool the pudding according to the directions below.

2. Just before starting construction, use a mixer (preferably hand or stand) and whip together the heavy cream, vanilla, salt and sugar until you see stiff peaks. Set aside. (How do you know when you’ve achieved stiff peaks? When you can turn the whisk upside down and the peak of mount whipped cream stays pointy.)

3. Slice the bananas about a quarter inch thick.

4. Layer the dish as follows: Pudding, wafers, whip cream, bananas.

5. This is best done the day before serving, but is still good if made several hours before serving. The goal is to have the pudding — with all its fat — pick up the flavors from the banana, and for the wafers to soften when sandwiched between the liquids.

6. Refrigerate when done. Serve cold.

Vanilla Pudding
Ingredients:
6 cups milk
3/4 cup corn starch
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:
1. Take 1 cup of milk and add to the starch. Whisk until dissolved. It should have the consistency of heavy cream. Set aside.

2. Combine the remaining milk, salt and sugar and bring to a simmer over medium high heat.

Note: You can use a whole vanilla bean. If you wish to use one, slice in half and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the bean now while warming. Also, remember this is milk boiling, do not walk away from it. It will overflow and cause a mess if left unwatched.

3. Turn heat to medium. While whisking consistently, add the slurry of milk and corn starch.

4. Temper the egg yolks. Do this by ladling in some of the hot liquid into a bowl containing the egg yolks while constantly whisking. This will slowly warm the yolks and prevent them from curdling when you add them to the hot liquid. Add the tempered egg yolks to the milk mixture.

5. Continue to whisk regularly while the mixture begins to heat up. It should start to thicken as it approaches a boil.

6. Once thick, pour into a second container and cool. You can place this in the fridge and let cool for a couple hours. Or you can set up an ice bath by placing a bowl inside another bowl of equal parts ice and water, then whisk the pudding until cool. Add the vanilla extract once it’s no longer hot.

Note: If using a vanilla bean, remove the bean’s shell at this point.

7. Refrigerate until ready to use. If the pudding is stiff when you remove it from the refrigerator, simply whip it for about 30 seconds with a hand or stand mixer. It should smooth out quickly, and be easy to pour.

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Braised beef short rib defies definition

October 28, 2008

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Braise (tr.v. braised, brais*ing, brais*es): To cook by browning in fat, then simmering in a small quantity of liquid in a covered container.

Seldom has a definition been so inadequate. Shouldn’t the definition of braise include words like “sublime,” “transcendent,” “gorgeous,” “silky,” or just plain “delicious”? Clearly dictionary writers have not eaten braised meats, or they wouldn’t be so adjectively-challenged.

A braise done right is a thing of beauty and joy to devour. And to eat my husband’s braised beef short ribs is to consume comfort and deliciousness in a bowl. It’s the kind of meal that assaults your senses and your memories… conjuring up the sounds of your grandmother’s kitchen, or the feeling of swinging your legs under the dining room chair when you were seven, or the first time you ever had mashed potatoes. If there were a movie about eating these braised short ribs, it would include a montage of your most favorite childhood memories. Seriously, they’re that good.

The ingenious braising process not only yields fork-tender strands of juicy, flavorful meat, it also produces the most heavenly dark and rich sauce to pour over it (and over the starch of your choice). With subtle hints of the generous veg, wine and of course, meat, that combined forces for hours over low heat, the sauce alone is good enough to lick off the back of your spoon — repeatedly and joyfully.

Still not convinced? Well, if my words aren’t enough to persuade you, perhaps you can feast your eyes on the photographs… Yes, it really is as good as it looks.

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And now the husband’s take…

While I do love to braise, and braise often, there are even better reasons to make this recipe. First, is its versatility. There are really a half dozen ways you can use the short rib you’ve prepared; here I show you two. One, you can simply remove the bone and serve the short rib, as is, covered with sauce. The is classic: Put your protein on a plate, serve with starch (I like spaetzle) and some vegetables, and you are good to go. Or, two, you can shred the short rib and serve it in its sauce over pasta for a one-plate dish. Another way, not shown here, is to serve the short rib on toast or a roll for a truly decadent sandwich. (This is frequently the fate of our leftovers!)

The second thing I love about this recipe is what I think of as its “watch the game” benefits. Sure, this recipe does take time. But it really is a series of 10 minute bursts. The night before you take 10 minutes to start it marinating, and then you forget it. The next day you brown things, add some liquid, put it in the pot, and go “watch the game.” When the game is over, you strain and work for 10 to 15 minutes. An hour or so later, you have one of the best meals you’ve ever eaten. This is huge. While I’m often in the kitchen, I’ve got plenty of time to do other things.

Finally, I’ve attached my recipe for pasta dough. I’ve been playing with it and have never quite been pleased with my results until recently. The biggest change is a shift in mindset. I’ve started to think of it more like a pie crust, meaning, I need just enough moisture to bring it together and then I need to let it rest. Once I began to imagine it this way, I found my pasta was all the better. After I add the eggs, I look for the dough to be a bit like wet sand and not more. I shape it, then let it sit for at least 30 minutes before rolling. Everyone agrees the pasta is even better now.

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Braised Beef Short Rib
Ingredients:
5 lbs. beef short ribs (bone in)
1 large onion (rough chop)
2 medium carrots (rough chop)
3 ribs celery (rough chop)
5 sprigs thyme
1 bunch stems of parsley (just stems)
2 bay leaves
salt
pepper

Marinade:
1 qt. beef stock
2 cups red wine (rec. cabernet sauvignon/shiraz)
1 large onion (rough chop)
3 medium carrots (rough chop)
3 large ribs celery (rough chop)
4 cloves garlic
6 stems fresh parsley
5 sprigs fresh thyme
5 peppercorns

Directions:
1. In a large container, combine the ingredients for the marinade and add the short ribs, making sure they are fully submerged. Refrigerate overnight or for no more than 24 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 250F.

3. Remove the short ribs from the marinade, pat dry and set aside. Stain the liquid and reserve both the vegetables and the liquids for later use.

4. Place a large pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. Once the oil shimmers and before it smokes, add the short ribs being careful not to overcrowd. They should sizzle softly. You may need to work in batches. Brown the meat on all sides.

5. Add both the reserved vegetables and new. Scrape the bottom of the pot to remove the fond (the caramelized bits stuck to the pan). Continue to cook over medium to medium high heat until the onions begin to take on a golden color.

6. Add the reserved liquid from the marinade. Once again, scrape the bottom to remove all the fond. Add the bay leaves, thyme, parsley stems, and meat. If the meat is not covered add just enough water to cover.

7. Place in oven for 4 1/2 hours or until the meat falls from the bone.

8. Remove meat, cover in aluminum foil, place in a warm oven and strain liquid.

9. Place liquid over medium to medium high heat and reduce about 75% or until it forms a viscous sauce. It should coat the back of the spoon easily. At this point, you can serve the short rib with the sauce over it, or add shredded meat to the sauce and serve over pasta. If over pasta, I recommend topping with pecorino or parmesan cheese.

Fresh Pasta
Ingredients:
2 large eggs (beaten)
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 tbsp. water

Directions:
1. Place the flour in a food processor and run. Slowly add the beaten eggs. Once integrated stop. Add the water and pulse 5-6 times.

2. The flour should feel/look like wet sand and come together if pressed in the palm of your hand. If it doesn’t, add a small bit of water and pulse again. It should not come together easily.

3. Turn the dough out into a bowl and press into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. If it has rested longer, let it sit out still wrapped for about 10 minutes or until you can work with it more easily.

4. Cut into four pieces and roll out using a pasta machine. Start at the lowest setting and follow your machine’s instructions. You can hand cut to papperadell or tagatali or use machine’s cutting attachments.

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A refreshing rhubarb-grapefruit salad for a sizzling summer day

June 10, 2008

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It’s hot here. Brutally hot. The kind of hot where the scorching seat of your car can inflict third-degree burns and the sidewalk can literally cook eggs. It’s too hot to venture outside. It’s too hot to move. It’s almost — dare I say it — too hot to eat.

Wait. It’s never too hot to eat.

Of course, at times like these you do have to be very discerning about what you eat. That’s why my husband has cooked up — all caps, here – a REFRESHING salad that reminds the eater that no, it won’t always be 100 degrees outside, it will get better… and why don’t you go to the pool or something.

Yes, his rhubarb-grapefruit salad does speak that eloquently to me. It is light and (it bears repeating) refreshing, with a delightful sweetness from the cooling grapefruit and crunchy rhubarb and a wonderful twang from the zesty vinagrette. Plus, that beautiful heap of greens hides shredded mint to further cool your taste buds… and the whole thing is just plain gorgeous.

Sure, it’s hot outside — but at least the salad I’m eating is cool.

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And now the husband’s take…

Well, the wife is right about the heat.

When I got in my car today, I saw something I didn’t think was even possible. I looked down at the dashboard where it displays the temperature and saw three numbers: a 1 and a 0 and another 0. That’s right: One hundred degrees here in the US capitol.

It was the empirical evidence of what the last four days have been — HOT. A stifling hot. The kind that, unless you have been trained in Arizona for several years, you are unlikely to survive if you go outside. The kind that makes you sit in your air conditioned house and not want to move for fear that any slight twitch of friction might cause the trees outside your window to ignite.

But even with triple-digit heat, you still get hungry. The solution? Cold recipes. Something refreshing to keep the minions happy. This salad is all about being cool. While there is a stove component, you can do even those parts over a grill. Or you can bear 10 minutes of high heat.

Now to the brass tax on this recipe — there are a lot of little things going on. First, you have the poached rhubarb. It is cooked lightly in a sweet syrup of sugar and grenadine. Second, the grapefruit. It becomes the backbone of the salad through the tartness of its flesh, and its acidity in making a vinaigrette. Third, the greens. They are a combination of spring greens and herbs to give brightness. Fourth, syrups. Simple syrup is used to keep the grapefruit from becoming too tart, and a ginger syrup adds a bit of zing. Finally, there is a little bit of pecan to give you that deeper flavor and savory sensation that would traditionally be associated with a cheese (which has been omitted since dairy and 100 degree temperatures don’t mix).

Finally, I want to suggest a pair of perfect drinks for this. When we came back, my wife mentioned my growing love affair with beer. And the past few days, I’ve had reason to enjoy the pleasures of beer. So my suggestions to pair with this are two fruit-influenced beers. First is Abita’s strawberry harvest lager. Enough subtle strawberry to match with the grapefruit and rhubarb that you get a nice fruit flavor. Second is Unibroque’s Ephémère. This beer is fermented with apple juice and then flavored with classic orange peel, coriander and allowed to develop slightly bready character by being bottled with its yeast. Both these beers are delicious and dry (meaning not sweet…).

By the way, let’s not go into the fact I chose such light, delicate beers as my first recommendations. It’s hot enough without my manhood being questioned… just wait until the red meats and I’ll show you!
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Poached Rhubarb & Grapefruit Herb Salad

Yield: 2 servings
Ingredients:
3 cups water
2 cups sugar
2-inch piece of ginger (peeled & chopped)
1 large ruby red grape fruit
1 cup spring greens
1/2 medium head frisee lettuce
12 leaves mint (chiffonade/thin ribbons)
20 leaves flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pecan (toasted/crushed)
rhubarb batons (see recipe below)
salt
pepper

Directions:
1. Prepare the rhubarb according to recipe below.

2. Prepare the syrup. In a medium-size sauce pan, combine the sugar and water over high heat. Once the sugar has melted completely, pour half out and set aside. Return the other half to the heat and add the chopped ginger. Bring the sugar water to a boil until it starts to form tight bubbles and thicken into a syrup. You are looking for something the consistency of maple syrup. Remove from heat, let cool. Once cool, strain the ginger out, and cover or place syrup in a bottle. The ginger syrup should keep refrigerated nearly indefinitely. Both this and the rhubarb can be done a day in advance easily.

3. Supreme the grapefruit. Using a sharp knife, slice the top and bottom of the grapefruit off just until you reach the flesh of the fruit. Slicing along the shape of the fruit remove the pith and skin of the fruit. This should leave you with just the juicy flesh. Working over a bowl, cut along both sides of each membrane, removing the grapefruit segments. Allow the juices to collect in the bowl and place the segments in the unflavored sugar syrup you set aside earlier. Once all the segments are removed, squeeze the remaining fruit over the bowl to extract the last of the juice.

4. Make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the reserved grapefruit juice with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. And salt and pepper to taste.

5. Wash and dry all the herbs and lettuce. Toss together. Then toss gently in a little of the grapefruit vinaigrette. Place on a plate. Make sure you have a decent amount of frisee, this is what will give your lettuce height. Layer with some grapefruit segments, rhubarb batons, pecans, and then gently drizzle the ginger syrup lightly over the salad.

Rhubarb Batons

Ingredients:
2 stalks rhubarb
500 ml water
100 ml grenadine
200 g white sugar

Note: This is based on a recipe by Heston Blumenthal. You can find it printed in the Times here. Furthermore, this recipe makes more rhubarb than is needed for this recipe. However, I found them a delicious sweet/tart snack, so I didn’t make any alterations to the amounts in this recipe.

Directions:
1. Clean the rhubarb and cut stalks into 2-inch segments. Make sure you discard any leaves of the rhubarb. They are poisonous and can give you a nasty stomachache.

2. In a medium-size saucepan, add the water, sugar and grenadine. Bring the water to 65C/150F. Add the rhubarb, shut off heat, and let sit for 15 min.

3. Pour rhubarb and liquid into container and refrigerate for several hours.

4. Once cool — and when you are ready to make the salad –slice the rhubarb into thin strips along the length, creating planks of rhubarb, then cut the planks lengthwise again to create batons. (Note: A sharp knife is your friend even though these will be soft.)

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Thoughts on Baby Food or Pea & Mint Crostini?

June 6, 2008

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I think we can all agree that food resembling baby food is generally unappetizing. Take, for example, jarred mashed peas. Greenish gray, strained yet lumpy, smelling vegetal and yet not fresh… baby food peas are, well… gross.

That is why this recipe is such a conundrum.

Yes: The fresh, vibrant, and delicious mixture atop that golden, crunchy crostini is, in fact, mashed peas. But this is no baby food (although our baby did devour it).

It is a delightful romp through an English garden in spring. It is a refreshing taste of green with a hint of mint that draws your mouth into a smile. It is all other kinds of food haiku that I can’t quite put into words.

Those meddlesome peas turn out to be absolutely delicious when shelled and mashed fresh out of their pods. Then my husband enhances them even further by adding a kick of a mint and a hint of lemon. Next, he adds an amazing crunch by spreading them over a piece of golden french bread, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil. And finally, he make the whole thing dazzling by adding the peppery bite — and visual flair — of a watercress salad.

It’s true: I’ll never look at baby food the same way again.

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And now, the husband’s take…

I had the pleasure to be in Chicago a few weeks ago. The negative was that I was alone — no Jack and no wife. The positive was that I was in Chicago — and I was hungry. So, I had to eat. As a result, I had the good fortune to escape one afternoon to Avec in the West Loop.

I had some inspiring food while I was there. Avec’s food focuses on the Mediterranean regions of France, Spain and Italy. Most of the menu is designed to be shared communally, with small and big plates — all of it served in a hip little wood box of a room. Visually, it reminded me a lot of New York’s Momofoku, complete with its three-man kitchen serving at the bar.

Now, we don’t do restaurant reviews here… so the question is: Why am I going on about this place? Well, I like to give credit. This dish was inspired by my meal at Avec.

I wanted something simple and light to go with a heavy and spicy dish I’d ordered. The waiter insisted that I try Avec’s pea crostini. Now, I’m a new father. I’ve served my son a good amount of pea purée in recent months and I’ve had some exposure to mashed peas from a container. And let’s just say… I wish I was a better father and had spent more time preparing homemade vegetables for my son. So, I was hesitant to go along with the waiter’s suggestion.

But I’m glad I did.

The recipe here is a quick one. Once the water is boiling, this dish can be on the table in 15 minutes. You can even boil the peas in advance and refrigerate them for a couple days. Just don’t blend them before you’re ready; even with the lemon juice’s acidity, pureed peas will turn an unappetizing brown by the next morning.

The only slightly unusual ingredient here is ricotta salata. This cheese is made from the same curd of ricotta, but it is pressed and dried. It has a relatively neutral flavor, is shockingly white and has a texture similar to feta, but without the gamey quality of sheep or goat’s cheese. I can find ricotta salata at high-end grocers like Whole Foods or at independent cheese mongers. In the end, the cheese adds very little in flavor because the mint, lemon and peas dominate. But its shocking white was a great aesthetic choice, so I used it. I think it makes very little difference; so, substitute away!

Click here for recipe.

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Pea & Mint Crostini

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Ingredients:
1 cup shelled peas
2 radishes
1 bunch watercress
1 lemon (zest & juice)
5 medium leaves of mint
Ricotta salata
Baguette
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Directions:
1. Salt water until it tastes of sea water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for 6 minutes. The peas should be soft in the mouth — overcooking is not a negative. Strain the peas and shock in an ice bath to stop cooking.

2. Slice the bread into thin discs, brush lightly with olive oil, lightly salt, and toast.

3. Combine the lemon juice, zest, peas and mint and then blitz with stick blender. The texture should be paste-like, similar to baby food. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Spread the puree on toast, then garnish with leaves of watercress, slices of radish and grated ricotta salata.

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Eat ‘em up: Pickled grapes

May 21, 2008

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I think pickling may be the next big thing.

Yes, you heard it here first. Granted, I have never accurately called a trend. Molecular gastronomy still sounds to me like an uncomfortable side effect of eating too many beans. I like farmer’s markets because they’re outside, not because I know the ingredients are locally sourced. And I’m pretty much still scratching my head about who this Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana person is…

And yet, I think I my husband may be onto something with his newfound craze for pickling. After all, pickling is an important part of some other food cultures (think: Korea). Why not ours? Maybe pickling is ripe for the same kind of fanfare BBQ receives in this country. You know: People traveling around in Airstream trailers with their secret pickling recipes, folks lining up at tents in the summertime tasting pickle after pickle, huge trophies lining the mantle of a man with a handlebar mustache and large gut.

No?

Well, like I said, I don’t actually have an eye for trends. But I do have a mouth for tasting… and my husband’s pickled grapes are going down the hatch. They’re sweet and aromatic — just open the jar and the divine aroma of cinnamon and clove wafts up to seduce you. But they’re also sour and complex — your mouth can’t help but pucker a touch at the healthy dose of vinegar all good pickles require. And then, finally, they’re grapes. Sweet, firm, purple gems of fruit that maintain that great texture amid all the whiz-bang of the pickling juices.

Yup, pickles are the next big thing. Well, in my mouth, at least.
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And now, the husband’s take…

So, yes, pickled grapes. It’s not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when discussing pickling. Other things that might come first? Well, pickled pickles (duh), pickled watermelon rind, pickled ginger, pickled zucchini, pickled onions… even the truly brave act of fermenting cabbage like the Koreans, Germans, Austrians, and Alsatians do to make kimchi and sauerkraut.

I think, then, that the pickled grape may be a hard sell. Yet, I will encourage, cajole, and perhaps even threaten.

I first came across pickled grapes at Farrah Olivia, a restaurant in Alexandria, VA. They were served as a garnish. The idea was pretty incredible: They were a combination of sweet and sour that caught you off guard. At the restaurant, the grapes were served as a small bunch still attached to the stems, and you had little idea of the intense flavor you were about to receive. Being inspired, I decided to work on my own recipe featuring a bit more spice and tang by altering a recipe I’ve used to pickle beets — yes, I admit to a growing obsession with pickling.

The result is a pickled grape with a sneaky spike of clove, cinnamon and allspice, along with the familiar and delicious sour and sweet of a traditional pickle. The grapes also happen to be the perfect pair for beer and cheese. Served along with semi-hard cheeses with plenty of salt and with a good beer, they work as an excellent palette cleanser. Three tasty treats together on one plate? Happiness for me!

Other than its deliciousness and its sublime pairing with beer and cheese, there is another argument in the pickled grape’s favor: simplicity. If you are not a person experienced with pickling, this is a good starter recipe. It’s quick, needs no knife, and requires only a little bit of patience and space in the refrigerator. In the end, this is a lot of benefit for little work. I use the free time it allows me to indulge my other obsessions… or threaten others to try the grapes.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Braised pork shoulder… It’s magically delicious!

May 12, 2008

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Ah, the pig.

That regal creature that Homer Simpson once referred to as a “wonderful, magical animal.” Indeed, I believe the pig may be magical: After all, a little bit of pig seems to make everything a lot more delicious. (And, never having had unicorn, I can only assume the pig is far tastier.)

My husband has long been under the spell of the swine, and has lately become a little more obsessed. Take, for example, the menu he prepared last week when we had family in town:

Monday: Braised pork belly. Tuesday: Braised pork shoulder. Wednesday: Barbecued pork ribs. If he had prepared pig trotters on Thursday, I was going to start ransacking the house looking for the pig carcass he was obviously hiding.

Not that I’m complaining. Doctors may not agree, but I believe a steady diet of pig leads to healthy — or at least, happy — living. And that is why we’re sharing with you Tuesday’s masterpiece: Braised pork shoulder.

Yes, the husband has not only blessedly turned his attention to that wonderful, magical animal… he has also dedicated himself to studying perhaps the most delicious art of food preparation: braising. Braising, that most perfect of techniques for concocting tender, delectable, melt-in-your-mouth meat. And pig, that meat most amenable to the BBQ chef’s mantra of “low and slow.”

The result of combining these two divine things? Heavenly, tender, succulent pork shoulder and a lovingly reduced sauce that will transport your taste buds to nirvana. I’m not exaggerating. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.

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And now, the husband speaks…

I do love some pig. I’ve made more than a few pork dishes in the past week, but how’s that my fault? I mean, I didn’t make the pig that delicious.

But while this dish does demonstrate the magic of pig, it also is an example of the greatest technique I learned in culinary school — sauce making. There is perhaps nothing more French than the act of making sauce, and you have to give those cheese-eaters credit: Uninteresting morsels of food can be turned into something really special with the right sauce. In this dish, the sauce is made by reducing the cooking liquid to a near-glaze until it it is rich, delicious, and enhances the flavor of the meat.

What’s more, this dish also works with a newer obsession of mine: beer. I have to admit, I spend an inordinate amount of time at Rick’s Wine and Gourmet here in Alexandria, Va. I’ve even become friends with my local beermonger and fellow blogger, Nick. The store and Nick have been my cheerful suppliers as I continue to plow along. But this post is about demonstrating the glorious potential of beer, not about the high likelihood of seeing me in my little beer shop around the corner.

Here the beer is part of the braising liquid. The pork shoulder is browned and then slowly cooked in combination with Belgian strong ale and chicken stock. Along with their higher alcohol content, Belgian strong ales are known for their intense flavors that I feel pair naturally with pork. Here, I used a dark or golden variety of this style that exhibits fruit, citrus rind and spice; it reminds me of the classic pairings of pork with apples and cinnamon. The sauce that is rendered from the cooking liquid has a sweetness and a nice acidity — and I’m fairly confident would make my fingers delicious enough to eat.

Finally, this recipe is an homage to Daniel Boulud. While we were living NYC, my wife and I went to his flagship restaurant, Daniel, in midtown. For both my wife and I that experience was incredibly memorable not only for the amazing meal, but for the hospitality heaped upon us by the staff. After finding out I was a culinary student, the chef did those little extras that made us feel lavished upon. Beyond a clear demonstration of what it means to receive multiple Michelin stars and four stars from The New York Times, it showed us a sense of generosity that we’ll try to show to others.

This recipe was inspired by his recent book Braise. He has a recipe for pork shoulder with hazel nuts and Jerusalem artichokes (AKA sunchokes). While I liked the original version, I changed it to include more American flavors such as bourbon and pecans, gave up white wine for my heartier ale and swapped the very earthy Jerusalem artichokes with the milder new potatoes. The recipes do vary in grades from there, but I’d like to think this version is… I won’t say better, just more pleasing to a pair of people.

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Click here to download the recipe.

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It hurts so good: Toothachingly sweet Uneven Pavement ice cream

June 11, 2007

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Ice cream just got a little more dangerous.

We already know that it’s hazardous for your waist line, and that it can result in some wicked brain freeze headaches. Now, it’s after your teeth.

No, I don’t mean that ice cream causes cavities. (I’m sure that it does that, too.) I mean that the ice cream that my husband has just concocted is so sweet that it will literally make your teeth ache.

“What is this treacherous ice cream,” you ask, “and, um, where can I get some?” Right here, friends. Its name is “Uneven Pavement,” and it is a sweeter and, dare I say, more sophisticated cousin to Rocky Road.

First, it calls upon that underutilized nut of nuts — the cashew — in its sweet and creamy base. Second, it harnesses chunks of carmelized toffee goodness to assault your taste buds. Finally, in its coup de grace, it seduces you with homemade marshamallow fluff laced throughout.

Resistance is futile. Your teeth may not thank you. Your waist line may not thank you. Your frozen sinuses may not thank you. But you’ll be grateful nonetheless.

And the ice cream replies, “Your welcome. Sucker.”

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Backgrounder…
Sometimes you just want to be a kid again. I think that is really the lesson of Vermont’s hippie-capitalists and ice cream moguls Ben & Jerry. And when it comes to ice cream flavors, pretty much the sky is the limit — fans of the original Iron Chef will remember Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto’s squid ink ice cream as proof of this rule.

I’ve become even more daring in my ice cream-making, trying to find new ways to bring complexity. I’ve done chips. I’ve done nuts. I’ve done fruit. But after hearing my wife wax poetic about her craving for a childhood favorite, Rocky Road, I decided I would try marshmallows.

No, I wasn’t willing to settle for store-bought little marshmallows. I wanted veins of precious white marshmallow fluff running through the heart of my ice cream. I wanted the taster to discover strands of marshmallow sticking to the roof of her mouth. And I wouldn’t settle for the jarred fluff. No, sir. I looked up the recipe for making my own.

The result was a riff on my wife’s memories. By replacing the traditional walnuts with delicious cashews and chocolate with toffee, we developed a tooth-achingly sweet flavor called, “Uneven Pavement.” It’s rich, nutty, sweet and delicious. Place it on a cone and you’ll get the urge to be bike riding through the neighborhood again.

Before I go, there are a few tricks when it comes to the marshmallow fluff. I used a pasteurized egg white. Since it doesn’t get heated, I would recommend doing that. You can find them in the dairy section or just buy pasteurized eggs and separate.

Next, even if you don’t make your own fluff, the key is to add the marshmallow after you’ve churned the ice cream and have given it a chance to set up. I tried adding it early in my initial batches, and the marshmallow just integrated into the ice cream. It was tasty, but not the effect I was going for. So, wait as long as possible before you add the marshmallow.

Finally, I didn’t know how to make fluff before I started this recipe. I like to make sure I credit other recipes when I use them. I simply paired down a recipe I saw elsewhere. You can find the original version here.

Click here to download the recipe for Uneven Pavement.

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Uneven Pavement Ice Cream
Cashew Ice Cream
Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup salted, roasted cashews (crushed/chopped)
1/2 cup salted, roasted cashews (whole or halves)
2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt

Toffee chips
Ingredients:

1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp. corn syrup
1 tbsp. water
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Marshmallow fluff
Ingredients:
1 egg white (or equivalent egg substitute)
2/3 cup corn syrup
2/3 cup confectioner sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions:
Making the base of the ice cream
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and the egg yolks. Set this aside. Preferably over a double boiler, combine cream, milk, chopped cashews and salt. Whisk regularly until the temperature reaches 140F.

2. Once the liquid reaches temperature, it is time to temper the egg/sugar mixture. Slowly add about half of your hot cream mixture to the eggs and sugar, while whisking vigorously. Next, add the tempered egg mixture back to the original milk and cream and continue to whisk. Heat until the liquid coats the back of a spoon evenly or reaches 165F. Remove from heat, add the vanilla and immediately transfer to a container to cool down. Either cover and refrigerate overnight (preferred) or place in the freezer for 2 to 3 hours until very cool.

Making the toffee:
3. Line a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat. Next, in a small pot or saucier, melt the butter over medium high heat. Once the butter has stopped frothing, add sugar, corn syrup and water. Gently stir using a wooden spoon or heat resistant silicon spatula until the mixture reaches 300F. This is the “hard crack” stage and is typified by very small bubbles and a lava-like consistency. At this point, it is very dangerous if it spills on you, so be careful. Once it has reached this temperature, which should not take long given the small amount of liquids, quickly add the vanilla, stir in, and then pour out onto your lined sheet pan. Gently smooth the surface and then set aside to cool for 15 min. Once cool, break into pieces you feel is suitable for ice cream.

Churning the ice cream:
4. Following your ice cream maker’s instructions, churn the ice cream while adding the whole cashews and toffee pieces as soon as possible. Once completed, place in a covered container to set up in the freezer.

Making marshmallow veins:
5. In a large bowl or in a stand mixer, whisk together all the ingredients. The mix should come together quickly and resemble something similar to marshmallow fluff. After the ice cream has set in the freezer for approximately an hour — it should be firmer but not stiff — gently fold in as much of the marshmallow mix is you desire. Return to freezer and let harden for at least another 3 hours. Once the ice cream is finally set, enjoy!

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