Monday, January 17, 2011

A buddy of mine has started a food blog.

Go read it. :) Carlisle Kitchen. Even if he does spell my name wrong...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Whip it! Whip it good...

As I have mentioned in the last couple of posts my current reading material has been to go back through Ratio and pick up on old inspirations. Well today we are like Devo and we're gonna whip it good.

We are talking about mayonnaise here folks, or as we like to call it at Chez Zube, food grease. And if you use your Sherlock Holmes' powers of deduction you realize that we are making it from scratch! This was one of those mystical miracles (and not Miracle Whip... yuck!) that I knew the basics of, but it still loomed intimidatingly in the shadows. Let's just say it has been conquered.

The great thing about Ratio is that it breaks recipes down to,well, ratios. The bare bones of what is needed is explained. Take for example vinaigrettes and how they all start with a base ratio of 3:1 oil to acid. You can then take that knowledge and go running willy-nilly into the gastronomic wilderness with the endless possibilities. Well mayonnaise follows that same rule of having a base ratio. 2:1:1. Two ounces of water, one egg yolk, and one cup of oil. All that is left is a bowl, whisk, and a shoulder with Lance Armstrong endurance! And like a vinaigrette once you have the base recipe down there is so much you can do to customize it. Acid, herbs, spices galore are simply begging to be whipped into this creamy concoction and how are you to deny them that?

Get your bowl out and I suggest a heavier one on a non-slip surface. We used a Pyrex bowl on a silicone pot holder. I say "we" because Wife Zube was an integral part of the process. I apparently do not possess Armstrong deltoids. Not yet at least. The chemical process that we are looking for is emulsification and according to Ruhlman room temperature ingredients do this best. So make sure to get your egg out of the fridge and separated with plenty of time to warm up. Into the bowl goes the two ounces of water, I squeezed a teaspoon or so of lime juice in, the egg yolk, and a pinch of salt. These were whisked together until completely blended. Next drip, literally, a couple of drops into the bowl while whisking. You'll be able to see it incorporate and become slightly frothy. Drip some more. Whisk some more. I added a tablespoon or so this way until I could see some substance to the mixture. Now the oil was added in a thin stream while I, or Wife, whisked our hearts out. We might have been a little over-zealous, but I didn't want my first hand-whisked mayo to break. The humiliation...

It only took a couple of minutes and a couple drops of sweat to yield a beautiful,shiny bowl of homemade mayonnaise. It was a nice little achievement. I know that at some point my attempts will fail and end in a sludge of broken oil and yolk, but numero uno was a smashing hit.

Your mayo will last for a week or so if you keep it free of garlic/shallots/etc so I took half and put it away for later. The half that was for dinner had cumin, coriander, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and more lime juice added in. If there had been any cilantro roaming around I would have wrassled that in as well. The reason for this southwestern flair was due to there being a skirt steak marinating in the fridge in lime & orange juice, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, and cayenne. I thought a nice Tex-Mex style mayo would do quite nice by a fajita-marinated skirt steak. I was right.

Some family came over for late evening snacks and the skirt steak was broiled to medium rare and sliced thinly on the bias. Set out family style, it hit the spot with a dab of mayo. Meat and food grease. Yum. There was going to be a photo, but deliciousness was quicker then photography.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Melted Onion and Potato Gratin

Pop quiz hotshot (bonus points for naming the movie): What is better than a TK recipe? Two TK recipes rolled into one! Its easy math, awesome + awesome = more awesome! I alluded to this magical marvel in the new Twitter box to the right of where your eyeballs are looking at this moment. Ha, made you look! It is there though actually, I am just not sure about it yet. Maybe it will grow on me, sorta like a fungus...

Anywho, the recipes at hand are two Thomas Keller's that I mastermindedly melded. And the self-explanatory title clearly indicates which ones; melted onions and potato gratin. The melted onions have been used many times in the past and if I was better versed in HTML I would have a snazzy link for you to click to transport you within the realm of fond. However I am not snazzy, so you have to scroll. Ghetto I know.

Step One is the melted onions for the gratin. I inadvertently bought onions and Yukon Golds (he recommends russets for this dish. I'm sorry!) when we already had some. So now I was faced with the problem of what to do with my excess. Potato and onion are a classic combo, kinda like Mork and Mindy, Jekyll and Hyde, bacon and anything else ever. The neat thing about melting the onions, as I am sure you have all discovered on your own...right?, is that they get kinda creamy. Now when you hear potatoes, onions, and creamy you think gratin/casserole/baked dish jobbie. Or at least I did. So, make some melted onions and then see Step Two.

Step Two is potato gratin where we sneakily will slip in the onions near the end. But first take some taters, peel, and thinly slice 'em. If you don't have a mandolin go out and buy one and some Band-Aids. Everyone cuts themselves once. And badly. Slice your spuds to 1/8 inch-ish and it helps to slice them directly into cold water to prevent discoloration. My cooking vessel was a 9" Pyrex pie dish and ruined the day for about 5 small to medium potatoes. Next they were layered into a pan and covered with cream. Now TK didn't specify what kind of cream and I had a little of a two kinds. So my gratin got Half&Half and 2% milk. I'm thinking heavy cream would have worked best. Either way it is important to heavily season the cream. This is the medium that is going to season some very bland potatoes. Salt, pepper, and nutmeg are good choices. Simmer the pot of potats until the slices are just slightly not tender. Strain the cream out and reserve. This is also a good chance to taste the seasoning of the cream again. A step I forgot to do. (There is that foreshadowing again!) Now I splashed in(or gently ladled depending on your mood) enough cream to coat the bottom of the pan and laid a layer of potato down. Next a layer of melted onion. Rinse. Repeat. Make sure your final addition is a enough cream to pretty much cover the tater-onion concoction and then sprinkle on some bread crumbs. Bake in a 375F oven until the taters are fully tender and bread crumbs brown and crispy. Let cool, slice, and feast.

A little background on my night of making this dish. I worked all day on not much sleep and was dragging pretty hard. I came home with grand intentions of a full meal for Wife Zube (who was working until later) but only made it through the gratin before succumbing to the call of a comfortable chair. So, as the post photo indicates, we had this for breakfast and it was perfect. Underseasoned, but it went really well with a nice runny egg yolk and salt. Enjoy!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Chinese style pork short ribs

Chinese takeout is a good idea until you get halfway through it. That lip-smacking MSG-laden goodness suddenly turns into a cornstarch paved highway to bloatedville. Even though your eyes are now glazed with that syrupy sauce that was recently a pure delight, you still keep eating yourself deep into the pit of "that was a bad idea". Sadly that is Chinese food as most Americans know it, including myself. At some point I am going to feast on authentic Chinese cuisine but until then I have to fend for myself.

I like Top Chef. That is my confession. It is also the extent of my reality television watching. I like to see what the chefs come up with (both good and bad) and to witness the guest judges "in person". When you see that many cooks coming up with two dishes a night per week for X weeks, there is bound to be some inspiration in the mix. A recent winning dish was Chinese style pork belly, pickled daikon radish, and watermelon "air". I didn't really like the overall dish or the winner, but Chinese style pork has me head over heels.

I got no belly, but I has me some short ribs. They are both fatty pork chunks that need long cooking, so that means we are green light on this mission! The only other ingredients are soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and water. I have it all but hoisin sauce, but I know my local grocer carries a couple of varieties.

Enter main obstacle for recipe accuracy: hoisin sauce. I push my cart down the fancy food aisle looking for the Asian section (gotta love Maine) and then peruse my choices of hoisin. *sigh* Wheat in all. Wife Zube and wheat equals no fun. I like fun. Ok. Do I abandon my endeavour or keep on keeping on? Grr, I want my Chinese pork! I will make my own hoisin (or at least pretend to) and reap the rewards of slow-cooked porcine flesh!

So now I look up hoisin recipes on the internet, read a couple, and then completely ignore them. I'll just make some barbecue sauce and use some Asian ingredients (mainly Sriracha hot sauce)to make it Eastern. Should work out right? *quiet laughter in the background* Or maybe not. My Asian barbecue sauce was just downright weird. It didn't taste bad, just weird. Guess what? Didn't stop me...

I got the ol' short ribs browning in my trusty dutch oven while loving the sweet smell of pork and daydreaming of the end product. Once sufficiently browned I deglazed the pan with some chicken stock and poured in my soy sauce, imposter barbecue sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and water. Its looking pretty insipid despite the powerful flavors in the mix, but we charge on ahead irregardless.

I am going to take this short station break to point out, if you had missed it, the blatant tone of "hey this isn't quite right, but I am sure it will work out fine if I just close my eyes and keep on cooking like I got Chinese skillz". Nothing like foreshadowing eh? (<--- props to Honors English for that technique.)

Out comes the pot a few hours later and when I take the lid off I am pleasantly surprised. I have a nice darkly lacquered piece of pork staring up at me in a sufficiently thick sauce. Perhaps the close-your-eyes-and-cook-like-you-know-how approach worked?

We plated the pork up over garlic green beans and a rice/veggie combo. Drizzle some sauce, sit down, grab a fork and say, "Huh... kinda weird." Next time the main ingredient is hoisin sauce I am either going to find a gluten-free product or something else to cook. Zube's Asian Barbecue will not be going to market soon. Not bad, just weird.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

School Lunch!

Sometimes you just need an excuse to use your Fry-Daddy. Fortunately for us we found an excuse tucked into the back of a cabinet. Ceramic lunch trays with the compartments and everything! Wife Zube found these a few years ago at Marden's and couldn't resist their allure. She brought them home and we both agreed that we could do some fun food ideas with them. Then we promptly put them away and forgot about them for two years.

So yesterday with our dust encrusted lunch trays in hand we pondered what to make. If you take just a couple of minutes to reminisce about your own school lunch experiences, you'll discover there are plenty of options. We went with chicken nuggets, tater tots, fish sticks, and green beans. Wife Zube made up a batch of gluten free brownies for desert as well.

Obviously something had to be done to elevate school lunch from the wincingly painful memories we have of gluey potatoes and grease soaked everything. The whole point of serving food on lunch trays would be lost if it actually tasted as poorly as school lunch did. Jamie Oliver would be very upset too.

Operation Chicken Nugget: I have been perusing my copy of Ratio lately looking for inspiration and by golly I found some! I made my chicken nuggets by following the recipe for a basic chicken mousseline and folding in chunks of chicken breast. In retrospect it wasn't the best technique for the application, but it got the nuggets fried if you know what I mean. Mousseline is a fancy French technique for more or less pureeing a protein with some stuff into a paste. You can then use your meat paste (actually called a farce, but I couldn't resist typing meat paste) as dumplings, ravioli filling, sausage, etc. Or for a chicken nugget!
Get your food processor cold, and by this I mean I put mine in the freezer. You need 8 oz of chicken thigh meat, 1 egg, pinch of salt, and 4 oz of heavy cream. Pulse the chicken, salt, and egg until pureed and then drizzle in the cream slowly. Bam! Meat paste. In went some diced chicken breast and then I was stumped. The farce was way to loose for me to shape into nuggets and bread. Huh. So I read Ratio for a second and got my next wave of inspiration via Ruhlman! I plunked gobs of them into a pot of simmering water, pretending they were dumplings, and let them cook enough to set into shape. Out of the water, cooled/dried on a rack, and presto they were breaded and fried!

Tater-Tot Mania: Michael Symon does a side dish of crab tater tots. I just omitted the crab, but put in a whole head of roasted garlic instead! This is a pretty straight forward recipe. If you need to fancy it up you can talk about making a pate a choux and folding in pomme de terre. (I think that is French for potato...) Melt two tablespoons of butter in 1/4 cup of water and when it simmers whisk in 1/4 cup of flour. It will bind up instantly and you want this so don't scream and run away like I did my first time. (Boy that was embarrassing.) Let it cool a bit because you need to mix in an egg and scrambled doesn't really work here. After the egg is incorporated you can congratulate yourself on making pate a choux and then fold in one cup of mashed potatoes and a head of roasted garlic. Shape into tots, bread, and fry.

Fish Stick Fiasco: I didn't do anything creative with the fish sticks. I cut up cod and made a batter of club soda and flour. The bubbles in the soda make the batter a little lighter. Sorry, but that's all I got for these sticks.

Green Bean Berets: Simply sauteed with garlic and onion. I thought about frying these also, but too much of a good thing crossed my mind.

Our selection of dipping sauces were homemade tartar, homemade barbeque, and some San-J spicy thai peanut sauce. K and E were the guest of honor so they went first in line and got to wear the hair nets!