Wednesday, January 30, 2008

“Chutney” Sauce for Pork Chops, Chicken Cutlets, Turkey Scallops …

I’m not entirely sure how it happens, but any refrigerator I’ve ever owned somehow becomes a halfway house for partially eaten jars of preserves, jams and marmalades. I have already confessed to an affinity for cooking and canning jams and such, so I suppose I have to take responsibility for creating an environment where these scraggily jars of fruity goodness might feel so totally comfortable to crash and nod about, forgotten in the junk yard of Smucker’s and such.

And while I’m claiming responsibilities, I have another small confession. As much as I enjoy creating preserves and purr like a fat ol’ cat counting up the jars on my basement shelf, a jeweler with his gems… I really don’t eat them so often. I think they taste incredible; it’s just not usually what I want first thing in the morning. And I’ve yet to schedule enough time for afternoon high tea. Though just the mention of it does make a lot of sense!

So it was with serious smug satisfaction that I was struck with inspiration last night as I studied a pair of naked pork chops destined for dinner. Now, when I begin to think about how to serve pork, my Midwestern heart opens up to fruit of any kind. I suspect this may be better attributed to Mama Gladys than the Midwest. To that lady, serving ham without applesauce was somehow as inappropriate as serving scrambled eggs raw.

I have plenty of friends whose kitchen history speaks more to pork chops with vinegar peppers, or thin fried pork chops smothered in gravy. But for me, I’m always looking to add some fruity sweetness cut by spice, smoke, citrus or herb. By now you see where I’m going, no?

Discretely bathing in the 40 watt glow of the top shelf of my refrigerator was a partial, dare I say half FULL, jar of Chambord Four Fruit Preserves from France. Gourmet quality the label boasted. Before it could say “Mon Dieu”, I had snatched it up and was headed toward the stove. A little onion, some left over red pepper, a few staples and I was on my way.

Try this on pork chops, of course, but I think it could also perk up grilled chicken breasts, sautéed turkey paillards, ham or maybe even grilled shrimp – depending on the fruit preserve you choose and adding lemon juice. Save any leftover sauce for sandwiches. It should last a week or more refrigerated.

Chutney Sauce for Pork, Chicken or Turkey

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup onion, finely diced
1/3 cup red pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 large garlic clove, minced
¼ cup vermouth or wine, red or white
½ cup preserves or marmalade – any flavor
½ cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon demi glace (useful if using canned broth, but optional)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon picante smoked paprika (or chipotle chile powder)
½ teaspoon whole mustard seeds
salt & pepper to taste

Heat a medium sauté pan over high heat. Add oil and then onion and peppers. Sauté, stirring often until onion begins to soften. Add chile flakes and garlic. Stir for 1 minute. Add wine to deglaze pan. Then add preserves, stock, water, demi glace and spices. Simmer over high heat to reduce and thicken. When it reaches your desired consistency, season and serve.

I just know you are going to get some mileage out of this my lovelies. I’m not sure this will be successful with jellies, but beyond that, feel free to push the envelope. Make it just for sandwiches. Serve it with your cheese platter. Go guava, go fig, push pineapple, who said mango?

Later you beautiful people…
Contented eating,
Big Mary

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cabbage and Cauliflower with Orange Spice

Often, in my desire to cook in sync with the seasons I overlook obvious vegetables. Such was the case the other day when I discovered a forgotten half head of cabbage in the vegetable drawer earlier this week.

While I happily indulge in the occasional German Braised Red Cabbage, I instinctually relegate green cabbage to cole slaw. Something I really love, but that big green head deserves to relish in its full 15 minutes of fame. Maybe even a half hour or more, as I really love the richness it gets from slow cooking.

I have long been a fan of braising a thick cut shred of cabbage with butter and stock, which I then fold into rough mashed potatoes. An around the corner homage to Colcannon, a classic Irish dish. And I’m on it like clockwork every Saint Paddy’s day with my Corned Beef and Cabbage.

However, a few days ago, my discovery of the forgotten cabbage in the fridge coincided with my inkling to make a chicken curry dish. I dimly remembered dinners past in the curry mall of E. 6th Street here in NYC. Every dish it seemed , arrived with braised cabbage and dhal (yellow split peas). So, no blind monkey here, I recognized the potential for a happy marriage of the cabbage and the curry.

As the curried chicken was big on flavor, I was looking to create a dish that had enough balls to hold it’s own, while adding sufficient mystery to round out the plate. I happily submit the results.

Cabbage and Cauliflower with Orange Spice (serves 2 or 4)

½ cup onion, chopped
¼ head small green cabbage, cut into one inch squares
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & pepper
3 whole cloves
1 ½ cups cauliflower florettes (approximate)
1 teaspoon tangerine zest (or orange)
¼ cup dry vermouth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and when hot add onions and cabbage. Sauté, stirring constantly to avoid browning. Add salt, pepper and whole cloves. If needed, add a tablespoon or two of water to slow cooking. When Cabbage is about halfway cooked, add cauliflower, zest and vermouth. Cover and continue to cook over medium low heat. After 2 minutes toss in the butter, swirl it around and return to heat with cover. Continue to cook until cabbage is soft and cauliflower is cooked, but still has a “bite”. Check seasoning, remove the whole cloves and serve.

And so my niblets, I encourage you to grab a “head” and get busy. Cabbage is just mild enough to be the canvas, yet present enough to tint the paint.

Contented eating and sassy sautéing,
Big Mary

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Indonesian Style Beef Brisket Rendang

Oh, ya know, sometimes I just need to shake it up! Big Mary’s been cooking without a major audience for several months now. Much as I don’t miss the daily grind of shoveling hotel pans of tilapia and pounds of pasta salad of the day out the door, I must confess to falling into a routine of home cooking that doesn’t exactly keep my tasting spoon at the ready.

That is why, when faced with a lovely, beefy cut of brisket the other day, I stopped myself from grabbing the classic mirepoix and instead sat myself down in front of my library. If you are anything like me, you have cookbooks you’ve forgotten you ever bought, let alone really read. Case in point, Fire & Spice – 200 Hot & Spicy Recipes from the Far East by Jackie Passmore. When I first found this book, (in a marked down section of some used bookstore no doubt), I was immediately drawn to the HUGE flavor profile all of the recipes have. If you’ve ever graced my table, you know I’m no timid flower when it comes to flavor. So, all her talk of Asian chilies, sambals, lemongrass, kaffir lime, Szechuan peppercorn and coconut milk were a siren’s song of Southeast Asian seduction to me.

That being said, one I managed to resist for years, given the build up of dust on the binding! Nevertheless, there I was, brisket in hand, searching for inspiration. Oh Lord, what a picture! I was caught by her recipe for Beef Rendang, a dish I’d made years ago for an Indonesian ristafell. Beef Rendang is normally a somewhat dry, braised dish of beef strips, glazed by a reduction of coconut milk, spices and onion. Why not, I thought, treat my beautiful brisket in this manner. Turns out, it was an inspired perversion. Here is my Indonesian Beef Brisket freely adapted from her recipe.

Beef Brisket “Rendang”

2 ½ pounds beef brisket, cleaned and trimmed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper (szechuan pepper if possible)
2 small dried bay leaves
1 1/3 cups coconut milk
1 small tomato - peeled, seeded, chopped (or ½ cup canned diced tomato)
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
¼ teaspoon whole szechuan peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoon whole coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 medium onion – chopped (1 very generous cup)
2 medium garlic cloves – chopped
1 stalk lemongrass – cleaned and tender section chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger – peeled and minced
2 tablespoons cilantro stems
1 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind paste (thick Indian style)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Preheat a medium skillet over high heat. Season the brisket with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in skillet and brown brisket on both sides to a rich deep brown color.
Transfer beef brisket to an oven proof dish with lid. Add 1 cup coconut milk, bay leaves, tomato and soy sauce. Cover dish and put in the oven for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, toast Szechuan peppercorns, coriander seed and cumin seed in a dry skillet over high heat. Set aside to cool and grind in spice grinder until finely ground. Add ground cinnamon.
Put prepared onion, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, cilantro stems, spices and Sriracha sauce into a blender. Add remaining 1/3 cup coconut milk. Process until smooth.
Heat a sauté pan and add the onion coconut milk mixture. Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or so. Sauce will darken slightly.
Remove beef from the oven after the 15 minutes, and add the onion coconut milk mixture. Pour the mixture over the beef, stir to combine and return to oven for another 2 ½ hours or so. Beef Brisket should be fork tender.
Remove from oven and stir in Tamarind paste and brown sugar. When cooled 30 minutes or so remove brisket and slice thinly across the grain. Serve with re-warmed sauce from the casserole and basmati rice. Garnish with chopped cilantro leaves.
Note: can be made 1 or 2 days in advance and reheated.

You’ll still want to make your Mamaw’s version of Braised Brisket when that’s what you want, but this will likely become your alternate version for “shaking it up”.
Contented Eating and Inspired Cooking my sweets.
Big Mary

Monday, January 14, 2008

Roast Salmon with Yogurt and Horseradish

Over the holidays, we had a superbly delicious dinner at Tanoreen, a Palestinian restaurant deep in Brooklyn. I would have never known about it without an invitation from one of my dear friends and great Chef, himself a Mid East mutt with a trans border heritage of Israeli, Palestinian and Greek. The place is a small, table packed, home style jewel run by an enthusiastic Nazareth native as a paean to the cooking closest to her heart.

As she circulates, only occasionally, through the restaurant to check on her customers, she does so with the immense pride of someone who KNOWS “how everything is”. She’s just too much in control of her kitchen not to know. Yet that tight reign seems to have a gentle hand, and in fact that’s what makes the food so bright in flavor, so light on the tongue. This food manages to taste familiar, at the first bite. No matter if you grew up, as I did, in deep Midwest, generation upon generation removed from a grape leaf or chickpea. I feel this is all a reflection on the honesty with which Chef Rawia Bishara treats her ingredients.

Should you ever have the treat of visiting her restaurant at 7704 3rd Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, spend a few moments with Chef Rawia tableside and learn a bit about how she approaches cooking. It’s easy, just ask her anything about how a dish is made, or where that new/old familiar flavor is coming from in the lamb shank, or the kibbeh, or the cauliflower salad. That’s how I learned they make all of the yogurt they use, in house; cultivated from naturally occurring bacterium. The difference is delicious.

Inspired by her purity of flavors and commitment to quality, I have been dusting off my spice grinder and sifting through the middle eastern markets of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Though not quite ready to whip up a batch of home cultured yogurt, I was excited to find a quart of whole milk plain yogurt with which to make some yogurt cheese. While you can make yogurt cheese with the more common lowfat yogurt typically found in supermarkets, you’ll enjoy a much richer result if you can source a full fat/whole milk product. Try natural food stores or ethnic markets.

Making yogurt cheese is second only to boiling water when it comes to ease of preparation.

Find a clean sieve and set it over a larger bowl where it can rest securely with sufficient clearance beneath to catch the draining liquid. Line the sieve with 3 or 4 layers of cheesecloth. I have also substituted coffee filters for the cheesecloth with great results. Place the plain yogurt in the lined sieve, cover loosly, and refrigerate the entire contraption for at least 12 hours.

The consistency of the yogurt cheese is entirely up to you, depending upon how you wish to use it. If I plan to make it into Tzatziki, I might let it drain a little more than if I plan to use it in my salmon recipe. It’s all up to you. My talented Chef buddy who introduced me to Tanoreen lets his drain for several days until he can roll bite sized yogurt cheese “truffles” which he marinates and cures in his special sourced Israeli Olive Oil. These are precious gifts he shares with his friends, of which I am happily and graciously one.

I’m not going to give you exact recipes as I want you to find the balance of flavor that seems perfect to your palate. I will give you an indication of what works for me.
Set aside 1 cup of drained yogurt cheese. Peel one large cucumber and cut it into 3 inch sections. Using the large holes of a box grater, coarsely grate one section of the cucumber, stopping when you reach the seeds. Rotate the cucumber until you have grated all of the “meat” and discard the center seed section. Continue until you have grated all of the cucumber pieces. Place the shredded cucumber in a bowl and toss generously with kosher salt. Use at least 2 teaspoons. Place the cucumber in a sieve, place plastic wrap directly on the cucumber then cover with a plate and something to weigh it down. I find canned good work great. Place the weighted sieve over a bowl to catch the juices which will be released form the cucumbers. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minimum of 20 minutes, but an hour is better.
Meanwhile, take one small clove of garlic and mince it finely. When it is finely chopped, add a few pinches of salt. Using a table fork, mash the garlic with the salt until it forms a paste. Add this to the reserved yogurt cheese. In addition, add about ½ teaspoon of dried mint leaf. Set seasoned yogurt cheese aside.
When cucumber has rested and drained, remove sieve from the bowl (reserving drained cucumber juice) and rinse the cucumber thoroughly under cold running water. Squeeze the cucumber dry and mix into yogurt mix. Stir in a tablespoon or so of excellent extra virgin olive oil. At this point I like to stir in a bit of the reserved cucumber liquid. Not traditional, but I enjoy the boost of cucumber flavor. When the Tzatziki is at your desired consistency check for salt and pepper, season to taste and enjoy. It is great served with warm pide bread or pita toasts. Also delicious as a relish for grilled meats.

Another use I have developed for yogurt cheese is …

Salmon with Yogurt and Horseradish – serves two

¾ pound salmon filet
1/3 cup yogurt cheese
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, lightly squeezed
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon fresh dill, finely chopped (optional)
salt & pepper

Preheat convection oven to 350*, conventional oven to 375*.
Clean salmon filet of pin bones and remove skin. Cut into two portions, season with salt & pepper and set aside. Combine yogurt cheese, horseradish, nutmeg and dill (if using). It should be about the consistency of cake frosting. If the yogurt was drained to an extremely thick texture, you may want to add a tiny bit of water. Cover the tops of the salmon portions with the yogurt mixture, as if frosting a cake.
Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast for 5 – 10 minutes depending on thickness of filets. My preference is for the salmon center to be still rosy. It will continue to cook after it leaves the oven.
This is delicious served with orzo, all grains, even tabouleh.

Now go have fun and experiment with yogurt cheese. It keeps for over a week if the yogurt was fresh when you bought it.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Pecan Chipotle Soup

Breaking a long held and deeply cherished tradition of isolationism, Big Mary and the handsome Venezuelan hosted a New Year’s Eve dinner last December 31st. Nothing too boisterous, just a tasteful dinner for 6 of our best friends, a careful assembly of personalities and intelligence that would encourage a smooth yet entertaining entry for the New Year.

Now you should know about me that the mere mention of a party of any sort sets into motion a temporary storm of “Bi-Polarism” that forms a black cloud over my head and follows me into any nook or cranny where I might hide. I love the idea of cooking for friends and feeding them, yet I equally hate the idea of risking serving a dish less than perfect. I love the idea of serving a table full of interesting, perfectly purchased cheeses, cured meats, breads, smoked fish and condiments, but I hate my imagined belief that my friends are arriving, expecting me to whip up something truly show stopping. I love the idea of sitting with friends for a leisurely repast of simple foods and outstanding wines, yet I seem incapable of creating a menu that allows for me to be anywhere other than stove-side assembling said “leisurely repast”. Well, by now you have the idea.

True to form, my first menu for the evening consisted of 3 hors d’oeuvres selections, followed by 8 courses of small plates, dessert and petites fours. All lubricated with five wine selections, port and prosecco. It’s like a disease!
But thank the Goddess, at some moment the little voice in my head began to wail and keen with grief over the apparent loss of my mind, and that somehow got my attention. With the calm presence of someone flirting with reality, I was able to edit this meal into a feast that was celebratory yet didn’t require two intermissions.

Here is the menu I ended up with. Still a bit over the top, but it shows gallons of growth for me!

Crudites of Haricots Verts, Radish and Sugar Snaps with Lemon Dill Aioli, Sweet and Savory Roasted Almonds and Walnuts, Plantain Chips

Pecan Chipotle Soup – Served in DemiTasse

Seviche of Sea Scallops with Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange
On Shaved Fennel, Hearts of Palm and Avocado Salad

Braised Boneless Short Ribs of Beef
On Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes and Celery Root

Baby Arugula with Roasted Beets, Pistachios and Proscuitto
Pistachio Vinaigrette

Caramel Roasted Pears on Sesame Pastry Disc with Sour Cream Gelato

The Soup was pretty much universally applauded, so I have included my recipe for it below. It is adapted from a recipe of Iliana de la Vegas.
It’s outrageously rich , so small portions are in order. Depending on the quality of your blender and how finely you strain it, this soup can be presented anywhere on the spectrum of high-end finesse to homey and soul warming. I prefer it somewhere in the middle.

Pecan Chipotle Soup – serves 6 - 12

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced
½ cup onion, finely chopped
8 ounces pecan pieces
2 ounces country white bread - not sourdough – cut small
3 medium canned plum tomatoes
4 cups whole milk
1 ½ cups strong chicken stock
2 tablespoons canned chipotle chiles in adobo – chopped
1 pinch fresh grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, pecan pieces and bread and gently sauté until all ingredients are toasted and aromatic. About 8 – 10 minutes.
Transfer pecan mix into a blender. Add tomatoes, chipotles, and some of the milk. Puree until VERY smooth.. Return to the pot and add the remaining milk, stock and nutmeg. Warm and check seasoning for salt & pepper. Strain through a sieve, discarding remaining solids. Soup may be cooled and refrigerated at this point for several days.
When ready to serve, rewarm gently, add lemon juice, check for seasoning and serve garnished with cilantro.
NOTE: This soup may be made vegetarian by substituting more milk for the chicken stock..

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Chicken with Leeks and Fennel

Once again, a New Year; which means economy; both financially and calorically. Normally this would be enough to send me into a two week spiral of bitterness and revenge. After all, what’s Life without treats?

On the other hand, my freezer really has been begging for reorganization and restoration. And this will be the last chance to use up those extras from the New Year’s Eve soiree.. So I thought a refrigerator surprise dinner might be just the challenge I needed to snap me out of my feelings of deprivation.

After jettisoning a few freezer burned pork chops, regretfully dismissing some of last summer’s tart cherries that never made it to the preserving pot, and tossing several sauces that refused current identification; I was left with some forgotten but still useful pints of chicken stock, pancetta scraps that will come in handy for flavoring braises to come, and chicken thighs that were still in serviceable shape.
The refrigerator enjoyed a similar purging of the forgotten and unusable, and rewarded me with a few leeks, half a bulb of fennel, rosemary remnants and leftover cauliflower. I liked what I saw, and began to feel more pampered than deprived as I set the chicken thighs to defrost.

Braised Chicken Thighs with Leeks and Fennel
Roasted Cauliflower and Brown Rice
– Serves 2

4 Chicken thighs on the bone – skin removed
1 Leek - sliced thinly crosswise and WELL washed – about 2/3 cup
½ head Fennel – core removed and thinly sliced
Rosemary – finely minced – about ½ teaspoon
White Wine and Chicken Stock
Cauliflower – cut into medium florettes
Brown Rice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cook brown rice according to package directions. When finished, stir in some chopped scallion if desired and keep warm.

Heat a small/medium sauté pan. Over medium heat, brown the seasoned chicken thighs in oil. Don’t let the pan get too hot, and patiently achieve delicious color on the thighs. When browned on both sides, throw about ½ cup wine into the sauté pan. After the wine has simmered up, remove the chicken thighs to a small casserole. Scrape the pan to get up all of the flavor and then pour the reduced wine over the chicken.

Return sauté pan to heat, add a bit more oil and heat to medium. Add leeks and sauté for a minute or so. Add the fennel and rosemary, season with salt & pepper and continue to sauté until vegetables are beginning to soften. Add chicken stock and heat until simmering. (Note: adjust seasoning if using canned chicken broth. Homemade stock will need more salt typically) When hot, pour mixture on top of chicken thighs.

This dish will cook best when it loosely fills the casserole. Too tight and it won’t cook evenly, too much space and the flavor will be weak. Cover casserole tightly or wrap with foil and set in preheated oven. Cook about 30 - 40 minutes, until chicken is very tender, but still lightly clinging to the bone. Remove from oven and keep warm in the covered casserole.

Raise oven heat to 450 degrees. Place a foil lined baking sheet in the oven to preheat. Toss cauliflower lightly with oil, salt and pepper. When oven is preheated, remove baking sheet, pour cauliflower on sheet and place in oven. After 6 minutes toss cauliflower to achieve even browning and return to oven until cooked to desired consistency.

Serve chicken thighs over rice accompanied with cauliflower.