Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Postcard from Abroad

Just got back into town from Switzerland. Sadly, not really a 'What I Did On My Summer Vacation' entry, as I was there to attend a funeral. I truly wish that I could have cooked something over there. Not just because of the ready supply of beautiful meats, cheeses, wines, and produce...but...beyond family celebrations like weddings, holidays, housewarmings, etc., it's important for those of us who cook to feed and nurture those we care about in times of sorrow, as well. Eating a good meal together is welcome and warranted under any circumstances.

On a sunnier note, though, Switzerland is a) gorgeous! and b) in Europe...where they just 'get' food and eating better than we do over here in the States.

Walking around Nyon, I was struck by the number of really great looking butcher shops, cheese shops, and bakeries that one really needs to go out of the way to find here in our country. OK...fine...your supermarket has 'everything'...but does it? I can rarely find at...oh, say...Stop & Shop the fish or meat cut called for in that tasty-looking Bon Appetit recipe I want to try. And, sorry, meat and fish purveyors of metro-west, those few butcher shops and fishmongers we have left locally, you rarely cut it. (Literally...I suppose.)

Strolling around the streets of this smallish city (town?) in Switzerland, I came across boucherie after boucherie. I'd stop in one boulengerie and get a sandwich or croissant, only to find another one a few doors down that looked better. Here at home, I can walk around the block and find...three lackluster pizza/sub-shops and a Dunkin' Donuts. There is a quote-unquote Butcher Shop in Watertown that informed me, the last time (quite literally) I called them, that they don't carry lamb.


The nearest shops I can go to for "non-standard" fish or cuts of meat are in freaking WELLESLEY! However these places rock, so support them: John Dewar and Company, Capt. Marden's Seafoods.

I have to say, though, there were some disappointments across the pond. Never got a decent croissant anywhere in Switzerland...and they speak a LOT of French over there, so...one would think... And I rarely feel competitive or want to slag a fellow cook, but whomever runs the kitchen of the lovely Hotel La Barcarolle has NO idea how to season food. (Salt, mon ami, SALT! There's such a thing as too much and too little, and you are equally adept at hitting either end of the spectrum.)

However, I ate at one restaurant that is, frankly, worth the trip to Nyon alone: Le Maitre Jacques. Mon Dieux! Classic European bistro fare. The kind of place I would want just down the street where I could eat weekly (cue the theme to Cheers, played on a tiny accordian...and Jacques would sit at my table and tell me what he was making for me, as Claudine, the sassy waitress brings over a glass of wine and an amuse bouche...). I'm not sure, but I believe our hosts at this dinner simply told the establishment a large group was coming and to prepare a dinner for us. (But, Coco & Harry, if you picked this menu then all kudos to you.)

(Again...not having seen a menu, I'm ballparking here...) About twenty of us, all seated around a long stretch of tables set out on the cobblestones in front of the restaurant, we began with a vichyssoise that had mussels and some other seafood down at the bottom like sunken treasure. Then roasted tomatoes on a small circle of puff pastry, topped with pesto alongside a light salad of greens. The main course was a tuna steak topped with a sort of corn-based salsa, accompanied by perfectly braised and seasoned baby bok choi, and The Mystery Croquettes. Deep-fried, certainment!, but what?! Popular opinion was potato and cheese, but they were too light for that. I suspect there was egg and, possibly, pureed cauliflower involved, but they were DELICIOUS. Dessert came out looking like little mugs of cappuccino, but they contained a mocha-ish creme brulee, topped with whipped cream and what we think was a shot of espresso lying underneath. C'est fantastique!

Let's see...other food memories:

Many street vendors selling sausage au veau. Straight up. You got a (giant) white-ish sausage, on a plate with a slice of bread and some mustard.

Filet de perche - perch caught fresh from Lake Geneva - is the local specialty. Much like Boston and its surrounding's ubiquitous clam chowder, EVERY restaurant offers it and there are good versions and bad. (Mercifully avoiding claims of being 'the best!'. I love seeing five adjacent restaurants on the Cape boasting "voted the Cape's number one chowda!!") The one I sampled was lackluster. (Thank you, lame La Barcarolle chef!)

My second hotel, the Ambassador, offered what most hotels here call a 'continental breakfast.' Sampling both their beautifully fried sunny-side up eggs and scrambled eggs, I looked around on the tables for some salt or pepper and found none. No need! Perfectly seasoned by the woman who prepared this fairly simple breakfast each day - before, God love her, she went on to clean everyone's rooms. (And who could show the chef at La Barcarolle a thing or two about seasoning food. End of rant...)

Frites are everywhere! B. loves himself some French Fries, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure they necessarily had any business accompanying the really tasty veal marsala I had there on my last night.

And, something I need to try this Fall: we've all, at this point, had some form of the warm goat cheese salad. (And, frankly, I'll take goat cheese in ANY form...) But I could not understand why the one I had prior to the aforementioned veal was so tasty. Most of the restaurants were serving outside this time of year in Nyon, and so in the semi darkness I really had to get down close to the table and dissect this delectable goat cheese to discern what was going on. (With all due apologies from the strange acting 'Ugly American' to the French family eating one table over.) I believe this chef took a slice of apple, topped that with a bit of grated gruyere-type cheese, THEN sat a slice of goat cheese on top of that and threw it all under the broiler. Wow! Warm, soft, salty and sweet - offset by cold, dressed greens. Try it. So good!!

Au revoir, Nyon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Here's Your Fresh Hot Pizza...Summer Style

It's grilling season, folks. (When isn't it? This is New England...we've all fired it up in the snow before. Haven't we?) If you've never tried making grilled pizza before, give it a go this summer. It's a great way to enjoy homemade pizza without heating up your oven in those balmy temperatures, and a nice way to spend an evening with friends.

It might seem a tad risky tossing a disc of soft, pliable pizza dough on the grate of your grill, but it works. Sure...you're gonna have an accident every now and then...but that's life on the grill. Summer is not the time to sweat a topping (or, uh, an entire pizza...kabob...burger, what have you) falling between the cracks. Laugh it off and tell someone to mix you another drink.

Going into tech week for my last show, nothing could have been nicer than being invited over to Jeff and Brad's (great friends and cooks both!) for some grilled pizza. (OK, fine...and a lot of wine...) I scored a great recipe for pizza dough off of Brad that works really nicely on the grill and has almost a flatbread type quality as opposed to a more traditional (spongier?) pizza dough. (My apologies for not citing its exact source. It may be from the esteemed Steve Raichlen and/or some 90's Food Network show.)

You can make your life easier, if you have a KitchenAid standmixer with a dough hook attachment. Just dissolve the yeast in the water then add all the ingredients to the mixer bowl and have at it with the dough hook. However, I'd urge you to give the hand mixed and kneaded method in the recipe a try at least once so you know how to do it - as you may find yourself, as I did last weekend - 'roughing it' in a kitchen in the Berkshires sans KitchenAid. I'm placing another dough recipe that I use a lot for indoor or outdoor pizza later in this post for those of us too lazy to hunt down johnnycake meal which is still manufactured in Rhode Island, Home of the Johnnycake.

Grilled Pizza Dough Recipe Passed Down from So and So to So and So to So and So...

1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
1 cup warm water
pinch sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup johnnycake meal
1/4 cup fine ground white corn meal
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour (more as needed)

1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water with sugar. After 5 minutes, stir in the salt, johnnycake meal, wheat flour and oil. Gradually add the white flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until a stiff dough has formed.

2. Empty the dough onto a floured board, and knead it for several minutes, adding enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. When the dough is smooth and shiny, transfer it to a bowl that has been brushed with olive oil. To prevent a skin from forming, brush the top of the dough with additional olive oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place, away from drafts, until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

3. Punch down the dough and kneed once more. Let the doug hrise again for about 40 minutes. Punch down the dough. If the dough is sticky, knead in a bit more flour. Dough should be very soft however.

4. Divide dough into 4-5 pieces and roll out or hand-shape into 10-12 inch circles (or rectangles...whatever...) and store on inverted lightly oiled cookie sheet. Go for uniform thickness around 1/4-inch thick.

For toppings, set out a spread of your favorites. The pizzas are not on the grill for long, so make sure any toppings that SHOULD be cooked are cooked beforehand, as they may not have enough time and heat on the grill as they would in a traditional oven. I'd suggest the usual suspects: cooked and crumbled sausage, mushrooms, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, but anything goes. Try sliced grilled chicken, grilled shrimp, sundried tomatoes, anything.

Same goes for cheese: mozzarella, fontina, parmesan, romano...sure! But play around with brie, goat cheese, smoked gouda, gorgonzola or any other cheese that strikes your fancy.

Pizza sauce is not required, but welcome. Other options might be pesto, salsa or just a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil. Essentially, where all topping/saucing is concerned with grilled pizza, take the less is more approach. You want to avoid making them too heavy and unmanageable with toppings, and also don't want to make them soggy with liquid or so over-loaded that the toppings can't melt/heat up before the dough starts burning on the grill. This is all a general balance you'll find with experience (and you'll find it pretty quickly, never fear...).

The basic method is this:

1. Make your dough and have your shapes (perfect circles absolutely not necessary) rolled out on a board or the back of a sheet pan. Have your toppings all meezed out, preferably at room temperature and ready to go.

2. Over a medium gas or charcoal grill, spray grill grate with cooking spray or brush with olive oil, then use your fingers to lift a disc of dough from the pan to the grill grate. Quickly give a light brush of olive oil to the top side of the dough. Cook the dough for a few minutes until you see grill marks beginning to appear when you lift the edge a bit with tongs.

3. Flip the pizzas over on the grill and top the pizzas with whatever sauce/cheese/topping combo you feel like. (It helps if you've kept a part of the grill cooler than the rest; you can flip them over to the cool side while you top the pizzas, then slide them back over to the warmer area.)

4. Check the bottoms by lifting the edges with tongs. You want color, even a little black is good for flavor and character, but you don't want 'burned.' Guage how hot and melted your toppings are getting. If you feel like they're not cooperating, you may want to go lighter on the toppings and close the grill cover after you've topped the pizzas to give more of an oven effect. Just keep checking the pizzas so you don't burn the bottoms.

For a different take on the pizza dough above, and slightly quicker prep as there's only one rise, try:

B.'s Basic Pizza Dough

1 envelope (or 1 scant T.) active dry yeast
3/4 - 1 C. warm water
1 t. salt
2 - 3 C. all-purpose flour

1. Dissolve sugar or honey in warm water, then stir in yeast and let it rest for a few minutes.

2. Put remaining dry ingredients in bowl of KitchenAid mixer fitted with a dough hook and pour in wet ingredients. Mix dough, adding flour as necessary, until it is smooth and springs back some when pressed with your finger. (Uh...yeah...turn off the mixer when you attempt this, please...)

3. Scrape dough from bowl/hook into a bowl coated with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for an hour or so until doubled in bulk.

4. Punch down the dough, divide into two sections for larger pizzas or four for smaller pizzas. Let the dough rest on lightly floured surface (this is known in bread-making parlance as 'benching') before you attempt to roll it/shape it.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Among the Missing...


I know it's been a while. Sorry. More life stuff. Been co-directing a show with my friends at Mill 6. Try and check out Bunbury: A Serious Play For Trivial People, if you can. It's in its final weekend. Also in rehearsal for On The Verge at the Nora Theatre Company in Cambridge. Come by and say hi after.

Stay tuned...hope to get out an homage to grilled pizza over the next few days.

Meantime, keep cooking.

Friday, March 27, 2009

When I Bite Into a Pork Caramel-Braised Patty, I Get the Sensation...

Continuing, I suppose, with something of a Pork-aissance here at The Kitchen Chronicles: here's another dish I tried recently that I LOVED. (Again from the Sunday Globe Magazine...I must be highly suggestible early on Sunday mornings. And again from Adam Ried...who I SWEAR I am not stalking, related to or otherwise shilling for...)

The name, Vietnamese-style Caramel Braised Pork Patties, is a bit of a mouthful and, well, there's something that doesn't scream 'romantic dinner' or the like when you're serving up "pork patties" (unless you are romancing an ancient, plastic-capped elementary school cafeteria lady) - but these are really...REALLY...tasty and interesting to make. What's more, they're even better a second time. I vacuum-sealed and froze a couple servings to see how they'd fare for clients. (It's true: I'm selfless. I made these for THEM...not me! Oh, no!!) The defrosted and re-heated test subject last night was just as good, if not better than I remembered it. So, yay for pork patty craving clients everywhere.

The patties consist of ground pork seasoned with shallots, chilies, garlic and fish sauce (a common ingredient in Vietnamese and Thai cooking). They reminded me a little bit of the filling for Peking Ravioli (a.k.a. Potstickers in some parts of the country) and...well...I am a sucker for a good dumpling. After the patties are shaped and browned, they are braised in a very interesting, savory caramel sauce which contains tamarind pulp. You may be more familiar with tamarind in Indian cuisine. Tamarind chutney is that sweet, dark condiment ubiquitous on the table of many Indian restaurants.

This is more of a weekend dish to make. It involves more steps than you'd care to take on after work during the week. (BUT, as I said earlier, you can make a big batch and freeze some for the future.) You get the hands-on fun of shaping the patties, if you've got kids who like to help in the kitchen. Plus, if you've never made caramel from scratch, now's your chance to play mad kitchen scientist.

Sugar is dissolved in water, then heated until caramelization occurs.

Simmering or braising savory foods (pork, chicken, shrimp, eggs, tofu, etc.) in a caramel sauce (nuoc mau) is a staple method in Vietnamese cuisine. Andrea Nguyen, author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, on her blog calls the method "one of the cornerstones of Vietnamese cooking." Don't think of this at all as the caramel sauce you may have had on your ice cream sundae at Brigham's. This one is salty (courtesy of the fish sauce), dark and adds real complexity of flavor to your dish.

The browned patties are placed in the braising sauce.

After twenty minutes or so of braising.

Looking forward to trying the other recipe in the Globe piece, Vietnamese-style Caramel Braised Fish, and finding other dishes to incorporate this technique into the B. Home repertoire. You should add it to your own, so have at it!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

High Fiduea-lity

OK, so maybe I haven't been doing a lot of blogging lately...but I HAVE been doing a lot of cooking.

Recently tried a recipe I'd socked away after reading in several places about fiduea, a Spanish dish - similar to paella - that uses short, thin pasta in lieu of the usual rice. The pasta is first toasted, to bring out it's flavor and add color. The method is not unique to Spanish cuisine, but also used in Mexico and the Middle East, among others. No doubt, those of you who've made your own rice pilaf - or, those of you who rely on that sturdy pantry staple, a box of Near East Rice Pilaf - are familiar with the toasted vermicelli or orzo that cooks with the rice.

With fiduea, the toasted 1-inch or so pieces of thin pasta are added to a highly seasoned broth with seafood, meats and/or vegetables, partially cooked on the stovetop, then finished in the oven until the broth is fully absorbed into the noodles. It's yummy.

Kudos to Adam Ried for his article and recipe in the Boston Sunday Globe Magazine.

I tried his Fiduea with Chorizo and Mushrooms and think I fell a little bit in love. (Adam...call me.) First off, let's just start with the fact that the dish starts with cooking bacon, then the chorizo is cooked in some of the bacon drippings. C'mon...bacon AND Chorizo? For me, this is sort of like getting the chocolate/vanilla swirl at Dairy Joy. (You don't HAVE to decide on a favorite...you can have BOTH!)

While we're on...ok, near...the subject, let's talk for a moment about chorizo.

If you are a frequent reader of this (in-)frequent blog, or you just know me, you know that I have a deep and abiding love for all things pork. Bacon...sausage...prosciutto...ham...and so on. And, in fact, I bow low to the gods of all charcuterie: those who practice the old forms of preserving meat before the days of refrigeration. I bow low to them when I taste a really beautiful bacon or ham. I even say a little thank you when I snap into a Slim Jim (admittedly rare...but sometimes at a rest stop...in the middle of the night...on one long haul of a road trip, one cannot resist) or a piece of jerky. (And, hey, who DOESn't like to say 'jerky?')

I imagine that there are vast variations of similarly preserved meats, seafoods, etc. - each unique in process and seasonings to its home town or country. Surely that can be said of chorizo - a latin style sausage. My first exposure to cooking with it - and the most readily available around these parts, I believe, in the supermarket, was Gaspar's Chourico. A Portuguese version that has the size and texture, of...say...kielbasa, perhaps. However, it was nothing like what I had tasted in some Mexican restaurants. Fortunate to have some Latin-American markets near where I live, I made a pilgrimage this weekend and picked up two different versions of Chorizo. One Mexican - which I used in the Fiduea, and one Guatemalan - which I now sleep with under my pillow...er...I mean, which I will use in a future dish yet to be named. The Mexican version felt in the package similar to the Portuguese, but - upon opening it - I found its resilience came from its plastic casing. Once removed, it was very soft and would not hold up to slicing. The Guatemalan more resembles Italian sausage in look and feel. Even still, I don't think either is quite close to other chorizo's I've had in restaurants, so...we'll keep looking and (insert put-upon sigh here) keep trying new ones.

The Mexican version was heavily seasoned, particularly with annato, and fell readily apart when it hit the pan - taking on the texture of broken up, browned ground beef. And for this dish, there is nothing wrong with that.

As for the noodles themselves. You could use, as Mr. Ried's recipe states, vermicelli or angel hair that you break up yourself, but Goya has bags of Fiduea noodles readily available and will make your prep easier. And I did like his method of toasting the pasta on a baking sheet in a 375 degree oven, as opposed to dry in a skillet. Just bake it, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Anywhere from 11 to 20 minutes, depending on how thin a layer the noodles are in. (Keep an eye on them.)

Toasted noodles are added to a flavorful sauce and partially cooked on the stovetop.

Then baked off in a very hot oven until all liquid is absorbed.

Do yourself a favor and give Fiduea a try. (And do me a favor and invite me over when you do.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Mid-Winter's Pasta

OK...maybe I haven't been as attentive as I'd hoped, blog-wise...but I have a note from my teacher! I'm involved with another show; directing Reefer Madness: The Musical at Suffolk University. (What...you didn't know there was a musical based on Reefer Madness? I didn't either 'til a few months ago. What...you didn't know I directed musicals?? Um...I didn't either until a few months ago.)

So we'll break momentarily from our recent aim to cover some culinary basics with a recipe for you to try.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Right? A lot of times (particularly, you know, when you get home from a rehearsal around 10:30 at night and haven't eaten) one needs to throw together a dish with whatever you have on hand. We touched on this with the idea of Midnight Pasta. Invention and creativity in the kitchen, I'll confess, have not always been a strong suit of mine. There is...some risk involved. (The less said about the great Kraut Dog Burrito experiment of 1989, the better. However, I maintain: it was ALL WE HAD IN THE REFRIGERATOR.)

One night a few weeks ago, I found myself with several things on hand I thought could work together: Italian sausage, potatoes, and blue cheese and an apple. Feeling kinda New England-y, I decided to throw maple syrup into the equation. Here was the rationale: sausage and potatoes pair up naturally, as do apples and cheese, as do maple and pork. And pork with apples? Say it with me now, Peter Brady fans: "pawk shops...n'apple shaushe..." I have also really grown to like the presence of potato in pasta dishes, which may sound odd, but has - I believe - some traditional roots in Italian cuisine, and...is just good so you should try it. (Plus, necessity again, I only had one potato.)

Anyway, with other pantry staples on hand, I came up with this pasta dish - which I've tried a few times now, so as not to toss your way the latenight one-off of a starving man. I think it's nice and hearty. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

B's Mid-Winter Pasta

6 sundried tomato halves (if in oil, drained and chopped; dried - soak 6 minutes i
n boiling water, drain and chop)
1/2 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage, casings removed
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 t. crushed red peppers
1 (generous) C. diced peeled Yukon Gold potato
1/2 lb. orrechiette pasta or shells
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
3/4 C. frozen peas (thawed or frozen is fine, just adjust when you add them)
6 T. dry white wine
1 1/4 C. chicken or vegetable stock

2 T. maple syrup (with all due respect to Mrs. Butterworth - REAL please!)
3/4 - 1 C. crumbled blue cheese

1. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add uncased sausage and begin breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Continue to break it up and cook the sausage until browned (about 5-6 minutes). Remove the sausage to a plate.

3. If there's not enough fat left in the saute pan - or you want to drain it all - add a tablespoon of olive oil to the saute pan, return to the heat, add the garlic, and saute until it just starts to color. Add crushed red peppers and potatoes and saute one more minute.

4. Add wine to pan and scrape up any brown bits on bottom (deglaze). Reduce wine for 1 minute, then add chicken stock, sundried tomatoes, and 1.5 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 12 minutes (until potatoes are just starting to soften). Add maple syrup, apples, and cooked sausage. Cook until apples are just tender (about another 10 minutes). Add in peas and cook 1 minute more. (Check for seasoning and remember the pasta cooked in salted water and blue cheese will add a bit more saltiness to the final dish.)

5. Meanwhile, cook orrechiette in salted water according to package instructions. Before draining the pasta , reserve about 1 cup of cooking water. Add drained pasta to saute pan, along with crumbled blue cheese, and toss over heat for a minute or two. If too dry add a little reserved pasta water.

Try it and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

De Glaze! De Glaaaze!

Smiles, everyone, smiles!

OK. Enough with my seventies flashback.

Today I want to talk about deglazing.

Deglazing is one of my all-time favorite things to do in the kitchen. Why? Well, probably because it generally involves wine and...well...B loves his wine. But wait - that's not really it BECAUSE deglazing doesn't necessarily have to be done with wine. (Can you feel me frowning?)

OK. When you're cooking something in a pan - be it vegetables or some sort of protein (meat, seafood...) - bits of what you're cooking stick to the bottom of the pan and become this highly flavorful brown stuff referred to as 'fond.'

Fond is good. (So is fondue, but FOCUS, Sven.)

It means foundation. (Stocks are referred to as 'fond de cuisine,' as in the base of cooking.) And that fond in your pan can be the foundation of a quick pan sauce for whatever was cooking in said pan. And you get that sauce, or incorporate all the flavor of that fond into your sauce, by deglazing.

To deglaze a pan, you add liquid to the hot pan and stir, scraping up the fond from the bottom of the pan. That flavor incorporates into the liquid and the liquid also reduces over the heat, so you are left with a lovely, flavorful sauce.

et voila!

If you cook for any length of time, you're going to deglaze a pan at some point - if you, in fact, already haven't. It was one of the first cooking techniques I learned that actually made me feel like I was COOKING something. (It's true, mom, opening the jar of Ragu did not count! Sticklers...) The liquid makes this great noise when it hits the pan. The entire room fills with a fabulous aroma. I still can't resist bending over the pan and inhaling every time I add some wine to a pan of sauteing tomatoes and garlic. Mm-mm!

So...love your fond. (And, yeah, you can't really get good fond with your non-stick pans, so...) Grab the wine (or stock or water or what have you) and create yourself some pan sauces, amigos.

Sauteing the shrimp leads to...


And so we add some wine. (Say it with me, now: yay, wine!)

Look, ma, no fond!!