Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who really likes a roasted turkey at Thanksgiving?

Okay, so I know this post is about 3 weeks late.  I've been doing some traveling, lots of working, and some cooking, but just haven't had the time to post anything.  It's very easy to document what I'm cooking, but then it comes time to sit down and post the pictures and . . .

. . . laziness sets in.  Anywho, I'll try to be more diligent.  Enough procrastinating and onto the post.

Seriously, who really likes the obligatory bird at Thanksgiving aside from the fact that it's . . . well obligatory?  Most people buy the cheapest frozen turkey they can find at the local grocery store.  Then, they defrost it for days (otherwise you will end up with salmonella soup trying to quickly defrost that big of a beast).  On turkey day they throw it in the oven around 7 a.m. and then cook the #$&* out of it.  Seriously, I know people who cook it at 350 degrees for like 6 hours for a 20 lb bird.   Then, inevitably the breast meat is over cooked, and very dry, and people cover it up with subpar store-bought gravy.  Ah, all in the name of tradition...

Not this year. 

 This is really the first year that I had the chance to cook Thanksgiving myself.  My wife and I travelled to VA to have a bit of a family reunion with her side of the family during Thanksgiving.  Since it was my first year cooking Thanksgiving, I decided to buy a fresh, organic free-range turkey from Whole Foods.  In addition to wanting to support free-range poultry, I was hoping that a superior turkey, combined with some roasting know-how would create a seriously delicious bird.  Did it?

Well, sort-of.

Of course I can blame user error, but I'm also going to conclude that roasting a whole turkey (even correctly) is just a plain bad idea no matter if that turkey is free-range, frozen, shot yourself, or gilded in gold.  

Don't get me wrong, the turkey was good.  In fact, it was better than other ones I've had before (except for my brother's fried turkey, but that's a whole other topic).  But it wasn't stand on top of the table good.  I followed James Patterson's roasting suggestion in Glorious French Food for roasting the turkey (unstuffed) for about 9 minutes a pound at 350 degrees.  For a 18 lb turkey that's about 162 minutes or close to  2.5 hours.  The turkey came out very well browned and the skin was quite excellent.  The other thing that was quite nice were all the pan juices that I combined with some homemade veal stock I simmered with the turkey neck to make gravy with.  

The other thing I did this year was instead of carving the turkey, I removed the wings, drumsticks, and whole breasts.  Then I sliced each breast separately.  This yielded much more meat than carving the turkey and you could get much bigger slices of meat.  I would definitely recommend it.

I also made whole wheat stuffing with free-range pork sausage and dried cranberries, caramelized onion mashed potatoes, sauteed mushrooms with slab bacon and thyme, and roasted root vegetables.  At the end of the day is was all good, but the company was the highlight.  And I guess that's the point of it all.  

But still, next year I'm scraping the turkey and doing a standing rib-roast...

And now, your yearly dose of turkey pictures. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rustic white bean soup with sausage and caramelized fennel with arugula-almond pesto

So now that fall is essentially gone from NYC, the weather has been pretty overcast, cold and rainy.  Just the perfect weather for a hearty soup.  I had some pork sausage that I needed to use (also from Whippoorwill Farm in CT) and since fennel seeds are often used to make pork sausage, I thought it would be great to caramelize some fennel and add it to the soup.

The night before making the soup I soaked about 1.5 cups of cannellini beans  I bought from Fairway Market in NYC.  Unfortunately, the last couple of weeks at Fairway they have seem to stop carrying dried cannellini beans so I think I have to find a new place.  If anyone news a good place, drop me a line.

Anyways,  after a good soaking, I dropped them in a big pot of cold water, added a few pieces of leek tops I'd been saving in the freezer, some fresh rosemary, and a few cloves of garlic.  

I slowly simmered them until they were soft and creamy.  I let them cool in their cooking liquid.

Next, I diced up a couple of carrots, some leeks, and sliced some fennel.  Here's the mise en place:
I then started to caramelize the fennel.  I'd say it took about 25-30 min on low heat and resulted in a really rich brown:

Next, I browned the sausage.  I wanted to have fairly large pieces of sausage in the soup instead of having ground sausage.  Therefore, I just used a spoon to spoon out irregular sausage pieces into a pan.  After they were brown I removed them to paper towels:

Next, using the same pan with the fat and fond from browning the sausage, I added the leek and carrot dice.  I let this sauteed for a few minutes, then added the caramelized  fennel:

Then, I deglazed the pan with homemade veal stock, scraped up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan and then added the cooked white beans and the cooked sausage.  I brought it up to a simmer and let the flavors meld:

While the soup was simmering, I got started on the arugula-almond pesto.  Well, actually it wasn't really a pesto.  It was just arugula+almond+garlic+olive oil.  Taking these ingredients, I put them in a blender and blitzed them.  Unfortunately, the other weekend I broke my food processor so I had to use a blender.  I ended up having to add too much olive oil to get everything to mix and so the result wasn't really what I was looking for, but it still did the trick:

Next, I toasted some slices of baguettes and spread some of the faux-pesto on each slice.  Then I put the soup on the bowls and served it with the pesto-topped-baguette.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Coriander two ways: crusted and pan seared pasture-raised NY Strip Steak, chickpea hash and puree of celeriac with cilantro.

My thinking behind this dish went something as follows:  chickpeas, crispy chickpeas, chickpea hash (what the hell is that?), celeriac, green celeriac, cilantro celeriac, coriander, coriander beef, coriander crusted ny strip steak.  Sure, let's put it all together.  You might as well name this dish the four C's: chickpeas, celeriac, cilantro, coriander.  The alliteration is killing me...

As you can see, it was a very scientific approach.  

The first thing to do is to prepare the chickpea hash.  Now, you may be asking yourself.  What the hell is a chickpea hash? In fact I was asking myself the same thing when I decided to call it that (before I made it).  It still might not be the best name, but it's all I got and I think it kinda fits.  Essentially it's a chickpea patty (with lots of good stuff in it), that gets breaded and fried; kind of like a falafel.  I'm skipping ahead, but here's a picture of it finished:

Okay, so on to making this self-proclaimed chickpea hash.  Essentially it is a chunky hummus with more spices that's bound with an egg and then fried.  Getting the consistency is the only tricky part because otherwise it will fall apart when you have to pan fry it.  

The first thing I did was to roast a couple of garlic cloves for around 35 min in a 380 degree oven.  They are here:

I then combined the roasted garlic with about one-half a can of washed chickpeas, some olive oil, a bit of salt+cracked pepper+one farm egg.  I blitzed this in the food processor until it was smooth.

After getting it nice and smooth, I transferred the hummus-like mixture to a bowl.  I then added the other half of chickpeas and another whole can to the food processor.  I just pulsed these chickpeas to get them to break up and be chunky.  I added that to the pureed chickpeas and then added some chopped green onion, shallot, and about a teaspoon of ground cumin.

After mixing well, I covered a plate with aluminum foil, got out two metal pastry crust molds, and poured in the chickpea mixture.  Here's what they looked like.
These bad boys went into the fridge for about an hour or so.  The mixture was pretty soft and the fridge helps them firm up.  About 15 minutes before frying them, I put them into the freezer to firm up even more and to make them easier to handle.  Even with all this hullabaloo, they were still very difficult to handle, but the taste made up for the effort. 

While the chickpea mixture was in the fridge, I got started on the celeriac.  I personally think celeriac is wonderful.  Its other name is celery root which tells you basically all you need to know.  It has the flavor of celery, but a little milder, and without the crunch or strings that come with celery.  It is often added to mashed potatoes, or roasted with other vegetables.  I think it can stand up on its own though as it does here.  Here's a picture of the gnarly root.

After top and tailing it, you then peel it using your knife and end up with this:
which you cut up exactly like you would do with a large potato.  Since I'm going to puree this with cilantro, I decided to blanch the cilantro to bring out its green color even more.  Since I have to boil the celeriac, I used the same pot to blanch the cilantro.  Here's the set up for blanching the cilantro:

For blanching, all you do is place the vegetable in question in a boiling pot of water (some need 30 seconds like cilantro, others like green beans can go minutes) and then immediately put the vegetables in a bowl of ice water.  You should see the vegetable immediately pop with more color.

Using the same boiling water I cooked the chopped celeriac for about 15-20 minutes until they were soft.  I then transferred the celeriac to a food processor with some cream+black pepper
After blitzing and adding more cream, or olive oil, to get the desired texture, I added the blanched cilantro:

and pulsed to combined.  I checked the seasoning, added a bit of lime juice and some kosher salt.  I then put it aside while I went to prepare the steaks.

I decided to pair all of the above with a pasture-raised NY strip steak.  As I talked about in my last post I get my pasture raised beef from a farm in Lakeville, CT called Whippoorwill Farm.  Here's a picture of the package:
And, after trimming:
Then, I toasted a bunch of coriander (the seed of cilantro, hence the two ways), crushed them in a mortar and pestle, combined it with cracked black pepper + kosher salt and then pressed this mixture on all sides of the strip steak.

I let this rest while I got started on frying the chickpea hash. In actuality, I made the chickpeas and the steak at the same time, but I'll present both of them separately. I took out the chickpea hash from the freezer and coated both sides with freshly toasted bread crumbs.

This part was a bit chaotic for me as I realized that turning these buggers was going to be a big challenge.  I'm guessing I didn't have them in the freezer long enough because there was no hope of turning it over without the filling running out.  Therefore, I just patted the breadcrumbs on the top and hoped for the best when I went to fry them. 

 I put about 2 tablespoons of oil in a hot fry pan and then gingerly set the chickpea hash down.

I let them fry on one side for about 5 minutes or so (they definitely take longer than the steaks) on about medium heat.  After I thought one side was done, and I was totally guessing, I decided to try to flip them.  Now, these things are like lava; hot hot lava.  And the damn metal ring around it doesn't help.  Actually it does help because it keeps everything intact, but that metal is also damn hot.  So my strategy (because I only have one spatula), was as follows.

I used a spatula to slide underneath one of the suckers, then, using a metal pastry knife on top, I quickly flip the whole thing over onto the metal pastry knife using some sort of kung fu body origami with my hands.  It eventually worked but resulted in a few close calls.  These things took longer to cook than I anticipated so I had to flip them a few times and got better every time.  Here's what they look like after one side got nice and toasty.

Since this was my first time making them, I had no idea how long they would take.  I was a little bit worried that they egg would still be raw in the center, so I actually used an instant read cooking thermometer to check the center of the hash.  When it came to about 165 degrees I took them off the stove and removed the rings.

As for the steak, I simply pan seared it in an extremely hot pan on all sides.  The sides with the largest surface area I seared for around 2 minutes, and the smaller sides I seared for around 1.5 minutes for a total of around 7-8 minutes.  Here's the progression:

And then I let it rest for around 5 minutes while I finished the chickpeas.

After letting it rest for about 5 minutes, I sliced the strip for plating.  This can be seen here:

The steak was really perfectly done; a nice crust on the outside and still red/pink in the middle. 

 Next up, I started to plate.  I started with a round of the celeriac/cilantro puree (which had been reheated)

on top of which I placed a chickpea hash.

And then I added the sliced strip steak with a spring of cilantro:

Let me just say, this dish was awesome.  It was really terrific.  The coriander crust on the steak added a really nice lemon/herbal taste that didn't overpower the beef at all.  The chickpea hash had a great texture and taste and of course the celeriac/cilantro puree added a creaminess to the crusty chickpeas.  If I do this again, I'm definitely going to change the way I make the chickpeas.  Instead of cooking it on the stove the entire time, I'm going to treat it like a piece of meat and cook one side on top of the stove, flip it, and then bake it to continue cooking it.  I think this will solve a lot of the problems I had with it.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Braised Short ribs, fried green tomatoes, braising liquid

Braised Short ribs + fried green tomatoes?  Sounds disgusting right?  Well, not exactly.  Granted, I didn't start out to make this dish, but when I went the farmer's market, my usual farmer wasn't there, and no other produce looked good except the green tomatoes.  Since I was already dead set on making short ribs (in fact they were already braising at home), I had to think of something and this is what resulted.

I promise that it actually turned out well.  There was a nice acidity in the green tomatoes that counterbalanced the richness of the braised short ribs.  

Short ribs are one of the easiest cuts of beef to make and you can pair them with lots of good stuff.    The beef I used was pasture-raised (and dry-aged 30 days) and came from the Whippoorwill Farm in Lakeville, CT.  If you are anywhere near CT, it's worth the drive to see their farm and pick up some of their beef.  They also smoke their own bacon!  I mean, FRESH FARM BACON! How awesome is that.

Now, onto the recipe...

The first thing you have to do is to trim the short ribs. Short ribs usually come in one of two cuts; English cut or flanken cut.  In English cut the bone is long and the meat follows along it (think traditional ribs).  In flanken cut, the cut is a cross section of a few bones which means once you get the ribs home it's easier to cut yourself.  My short ribs where flanken cut ...

I then proceeded to slice the ribs between the bones to make nice portion sizes.  This will help browning and braising because it's easier to completely cover the ribs with wine.  Otherwise your kitchen is going to look like something out of a horror movie with a big pot and all these bones sticking straight out of bubbling liquid.  But hey, if your goal is to freak out the neighbors, go ahead and invite them over...

Here's the portioned shortribs...

See all that juicy fat?  Yes, juicy fat.  That's one great thing about short ribs.  First, they generally have much more meat than regular ribs, and that meat is more unctuous.  Don't worry, a lot of this fat cooks off in the searing and braising.  It's there to act like an insulator and provide flavor.  If it doesn't melt away in the cooking, or you can pull the meat off the fat at the end.

Next, I browned them in a very hot pan.  This is the same pan I'm going to braise them in and I was looking for a fairly thick brown crust.  You don't want to burn them, but you want to give this step the attention it deserves because this is where a lot of the flavor comes from.  I'd say I probably let them brown for around 15-20 minutes total on all sides.

I didn't crowd the pot either.  If you crowd it, then the meat will end up steaming instead of searing.  Therefore, I did the browning in two step, or I could've used two pans.

Once I put them in the pan, I let them sit there.  I didn't touch them for a long time, around 4-5 minutes.

Here's what the look like after browning...

Next, I added some chopped red onion, carrots and whole garlic cloves and let them brown.

After the vegetables were sufficiently browned, I deglazed the pan with about a cup of red wine and scraped up all the bits of fond (the brown bits on the bottom of the pan).  Then I added the seared short ribs and covered it with red wine.

After bringing it to a light boil, I threw in about 10 black peppercorns, 2 whole star anise pods (I love beef+star anise) and about 10 coriander seeds.

Then, I put a lid on it and put the pot in a 310 degree oven for around 3.5 hours.  

After 3.5 hours, I took the short ribs out and strained the braising liquid into a skillet.  I then let the braising liquid reduce, added some kosher salt and a few springs of thyme.  While the liquid was reducing, I made the tomatoes.

Sadly I don't have any pictures of making the fried green tomatoes, but all I did was dip each slice in a mixture of fine ground cornmeal with cayenne pepper.  I then fried them in a skillet for about 2 minutes on each side.  

After placing a couple of green tomatoes slices on a plate, I topped it with the braised short ribs, and then swirled in some butter to the braising liquid.  I spooned this sauce around the plate.

There was more short ribs than we could eat in one sitting, so the next day I made a short rib ragu with the leftovers.  Reduced tomatoes + leek+garlic+red wine+short rib until a thick sauce was amazing on top of homemade pasta.  I topped it with a bit of goat cheese and it was heavenly...