Thursday, August 30, 2012

Preserved Lemons 1.0

from Girl in the Kitchen by Stephenie Izard:

  •  2 1/4 cups coarse salt
  • 9 lemons
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vodka
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Boiling the lemons in batches for five minutes.

I never managed to get this crazy amount of salt and sugar to dissolve into such a tiny amount of alcohol.  Sure, I've super-saturated pickle brine with salt and sugar many times, but I don't use alcohol to do it.

Throwing the jar down my bedroom floor for two weeks.  Crossing my fingers that they don't come out smelling ammonia-y like Mark Bittman says they could get if something's gone wrong.
I also wound up using bottled lemon juice to top off the liquid so the lemons would be submerged.

Strips of the result muddled with some club soda.  Pretty awesome beverage.  If I was in the mood or I had company, vodka certainly wouldn't be out of place.  And hey, it's not full of sugar and chemicals and is WAY more interesting that water with a squeeze of lemon.

I titled this entry 1.0 because I have recently read three different techniques for preserving lemons recently.  Partly due to fear of failure (stupid salt and sugar), I admit, and largely through curiosity, I definitely want to try Bittman's recipe when I run out of this batch.  Izard's had a longer shelf life and seemed more interesting in terms of spicing (oh I guess I could've played around myself) so I went with that first.
Zak Pelaccio's recipe in Eat wtih Your Hands (which I recently read and will inevitably cook out of) doesn't involve a liquid at all but involves packing the lemons with salt.  This techniques demands fridge space though and I'd have to be in the right moment for that.  I see myself making one of his two recipes for bacon soon...

Thai Green Curry with Chicken, Broccoli, and Mushrooms (CATKTV)

Green Curry Paste
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 12 fresh green Thai, serrano, or jalepeno chiles, seeds and ribs removed, chile chopped coarse [Finally using a significant amount of peppers off the jalapeno plant my parents gave to me.]
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 medium shallots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, bottom 5 inches only, trimmed and sliced thin [Now, I realized I've gone too far with the peeling off of layers.]
  • 2 tablespoons grated zest from 2 limes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro stems
  • 1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

A large amount of prep went into all this this.

The paste was really blistering since I left all the seeds in ribs in. The recipe also left at least a cup of paste rather than a half cup the recipe calls for. I suspect that was due to my having used jalapeno pepper rather seeking out the more authentic and preferred Thai chiles.
Therefore half of it is sitting in my fridge.

Thai Green Curry with Chicken, Broccoli, and Mushrooms
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans unsweetened coconut milk, not shaken
  • 1/2 cup Green Curry Paste or 2 tablespoons store-bought green curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and sliced thin
  • Table salt
  • 8 ounces broccoli (1/2 small bunch), florets cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 ounces white mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • 1 Thai, chile, stemmed, seeded, and quartered lengthwise (optional)
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lime

Mise en place.

Whisk curry paste and 1 cup cream from the top of the coconut milk (it's weird how I haven't used coconut milk with really solid tops recently). Boil until almost all the liquid evaporates.

Add remaining coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar. Cook to meld the flavors and thicken the sauce.

Wound up using the pork loin I had from the earlier stir-fry recipe.

Everything looked all fine and dandy and then I decided to cover the pot even though I wasn't instructed to do so by the recipe. I was scared the broccoli wouldn't cook through, but it just might have. While allowing some the liquid the mushrooms were releasing to decrease.
Oh well, I still have 1/2 the Curry Paste to play with.

Even though trying to the curry paste before cooking the dish was blistering, the dish was remarkably mild and rather similar to what one would get in an average Thai restaurant. The pork was tough; maybe chicken will be better next time.

Lost my stage at L'Espalier for a stupid mistake I made that I would rather not talk about. For the last month, I have been miserable for several reasons that include the influx of interns there to roommate drama at home.
Maybe restaurant work isn't for me; particularly if my options are to start off as a dishwasher like Jen Y or spend $40,000 at culinary school and make less money than I do right now. Perhaps I'll wait a full year before enrolling in pre-reqs for nursing school; after that, clearly I'm never going to hear back again from America's Test Kitchen.
I'll continue trolling craigslist for opportunities. I nearly went to an interview today, but the distance from the train seemed far.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chicken Braised in Vinegar (BRW)

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped pancetta or bacon
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
  • 1 chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, cut into serving pieces, or 2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken parts, trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup good-quality red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Mise en place. Except for, notably, the chicken.

Browning the pancetta, herbs, and garlic in olive oil. An awful lot of olive oil.

Adding the rendered fat from the pancetta and browning the chicken, I was left with a crazy amount of oil left in the pan. After I reduced the sauce, it looked like all fat and I was right.
But one couldn't exactly pour out excess grease with all the aromatics.

The chicken was well cooked, but the sauce was quite useless. I accompanied it with some salted (to draw out moisture) and charred summer squash (at its peak in my repertoire, it's basically all I had for dinner).
If I was looking for a vinegar-y, Italian chicken dish, I'd probably just go back to the first dish I ever blogged about: Sweet and Sour Chicken, also from Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World. Though it was really really heavy.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stir-Fried Pork, Eggplant, and Onion with Garlic and Black Pepper (CATKTV)

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
Pork and Vegetables
  • 1 (12-ounce) pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and silver skin and cut into 1/4 inch strips [I used pork loin because the only tenderloin at Stop and Shop is pre-marinated.]
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 12 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1/4 cup) [Peeling and microplane-ing this amount of garlic took ridiculous amount of time.]
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 medium eggplant (1 pound), cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, halved and cut into 1/4-inch wedges
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Between peeling and finely grating the garlic, hand-grinding the black pepper, and picking off cilantro leaves, the prep involved was INVOLVED.
The other prep was a breeze later in comparison, and stir-fries are the opposite of a 3-hour braise.

Cooking through the slivers of pork in about 2 minutes.

Browning the eggplant until it is no longer spongy. I saw some graffiti eggplant at Trader Joe's yesterday. I wish I had been playing with that.

In goes the onions.
Also keep in mind, that everything is being cooked in stages over high heat. Most things cooked in just a couple of minutes. The eggplant just took a few minutes longer.

Clearing out the center of the pan and cooking the aromatics (in this case, garlic and black pepper) in the center of the pan seems like it's a pretty classic technique for cuisines ranging from Southeast Asia to Italy.

A strong stir-fry. It didn't wow me, but it certainly tasted cleaner than oily thing I might hope to expect to order in a restaurant.
Plus there's about 3 more recipes worth of pork loin in my freezer now.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mushroom and Pasta Frittata (FM)

  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • About 1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, preferably an assortment, sliced
  • Black Pepper
  • 8 ounces any long pasta, preferably whole wheat or about 4 ounces (2 cups) cooked pasta
  • 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

Raw mushrooms.

Cooked down until they release their liquid.

Add onion and garlic and cook until the mushrooms are dry, shrunken, and fairly crisp.  Attempting to do this led me to the conclusion that this may have been counter-intuitive to attempt to do this after adding more raw ingredients.

Tossed together with the pasta.  The eggs and the sage are beaten together and the frittata is cooked until barely set.

The dish was pretty good though barely a frittata with a quarter of the normal amount of eggs.
A frittata is much like a quiche without a crust.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lemongrass Chicken (BRW)

  • 2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 large shallots, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 small fresh red chile, stemmed and roughly chopped, or 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flake
  • 1 tablespoon nam pla or nuoc mam [Thai and Vietnamese fish sauce, respectively]
  • 1 chicken, 3-4 pounds, cut into serving pieces, or 2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken parts, trimmed of excess fat
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon corn, grapeseed, or other neutral oil.

Everything but the front piece that I've tried from a stalk of lemongrass is inedible. Sometimes I wonder how it occurred to someone to eat a particular vegetable or fruit or herb that doesn't seem inherently obvious.
Maybe I'll understand after reading Harold McGee.

Puree the first 5 ingredients for the marinade. Bittman suggests doing this a day in advance if possible. I don't usually re-read recipes until the day I cook something. is that so bad?

The chicken should preferably also be allowed to sit in the refrigerator for several hours before cooking. Didn't plan for this one either.

Browning the chicken in my cast-iron skillet which I'm using way more often these days.

The dish was very reminiscent of food memories of my mother's cooking. The recipe is basic enough that maybe it's more or less the exact recipe for whatever this reminds me of.
It probably would've hit me harder in the flavor department if I allowed all that time for flavor-melding and marinating.

Apparently this is based on a dish from Bittman's long-time friend Jean-Georges Vongerichten. I wonder if Jean-Georges' take is more elevated. On a recent trip to NYC, I had the prix fixe lunch at his ABC Kitchen.
It was quite a beautiful environment, and the waitstaff wore a casual uniform of jeans and well-fitting, bright country checks. I had the gazpacho with cherry tomatoes and watermelon (good and bright), ricotta and farm egg raviolo with a rich pork ragu, and the zucchini cake. I wasn't blown out of the water (though I'm always looking for that kind of experience), but the tiny candied lime on top of the cake was quite lovely.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Adobo de Pollo, De Lujo (Red Chile-Braised Chicken)

Most likely my last Rick Bayless entry for a few months since I cooked through all the main course recipes from his iPad app. However, his Authentic Mexican cookbook is lined up for a few months from now.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 2 1/2- to 3- pound chicken, cut into quarters [I just used a bunch of chicken thighs. Chickens sold at conventional grocery stores that my parents take me to are twice as heavy. Someday I'll be able to afford real meat.]
  • 1 medium white onion, sliced 1/4- inch thick
  • 8 unpeeled garlic cloves, roasted in their skins, then peeled
  • 4 ounces (about 8 medium) dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, toasted and rehydrated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds, preferably freshly ground
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground
  • 2 2/3 chicken broth, plus a little more if necessary (divided use) [I reserved a full 2-cup Pyrex of chile soaking liquid)
  • 1 pound peeled sweet potatoes, boiling potatoes (like the red-skin ones) or chayote, peeled if you wish, pitted and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 4 cup sliced (1/2-inch-wide slices), full-flavored greens (choose chard, beet, or turnip tops, lamb's quarters, collard or the like), well-rinsed (optional) [At least I know now, that a bunch of collards is pretty much 4 cups and I really didn't need that red chard.]
  • Salt

I got both of these packs of dried ancho chiles for about $4.50. Far less than what it would have cost me for one pack at Whole Foods.
I love my recent discovery of honest-to-god well-stocked bodegas in East Boston. Such places were ever present in my part of Brooklyn, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge. The former is one of the biggest neighborhoods for Mexican in NYC.

Cleaned according to Rick Bayless' direction which make somewhat more sense than those provide for Bittmans' Enchiladas with Mole a few weeks back.

Argh, I'm throwing out all this spicy goodness

The cleaned bodies of the dried chiles.

I toasted the chiles until they lightened in color and became more aromatic. I soaked them in hot water while I prepped everything else.

Unpeeled cloves of garlic.

I dry-toasted them in my cast-iron skillet, and in some areas, the skin and flesh fused together

I gave up at this point, figuring the sauce would be strained at some point anyway.


Mise en place.

Browning the chicken.

The remaining fat was still so hot that it continued to sizzle even after I turned the burner off.

Frying the onions. Ten minutes at medium in such an amount of hot oil strikes me as a little excessively hot, but they weren't burnt to a crisp.

Garlic, chiles, oregano, black pepper, cumin, cloves, and 2/3 cup of liquid pureed in a food processor. Though the recipe only called for a medium strainer to press the sauce through my roommate had moved out with that, and at some point I did spend the extra money to get a fine one for purposes like straining sauce.
Which I had never done before and I now realize is totally worth it. Well I guess I always knew it but hadn't gotten around to buying the equipment yet.

Stirring the SMOOTH sauce into the onions. Cook down until thickened and noticeably darker.

Stir in broth and vinegar and simmer for 15 minutes.

Adding in the sweet potatoes and chicken and cooking for 15 minutes on medium-low.
I had to add a lot more broth that suggested to reach what I thought a normal height for braising.

Add in greens and chicken breasts (if I was using them) and cook for 20 more minutes.

Set aside the chicken.

And boil down the vegetables and remaining liquid to a medium consistency.

A good dish though still not quite what I had back in Chicago.