Monday, August 31, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Vanilla Tomato Sauce

Vanilla extract.


I wanted a good, basic tomato sauce that I could easily use on pizza or as just tomato sauce. The...issue?...with pizza sauce is that it needs to be a tad sweeter than regular tomato sauce. "Need" might be a strong word here as it comes down to personal preference, but in my opine a pizza sauce should be a smidge sweeter than that you put on (or in between) your pasta.

I've gotten away from using refined sugar in my tomato sauce, and not b/c I'm an anti-refined sugar type (I'm anything but). When I read a Batali recipe that uses carrots to sweeten the sauce I said, "Yup, that fat bastard nailed it on the head!" I tried it and VA-VOOM! and from then on I've been using carrots as my sweetener in my sauce.

But the sauce still lacks something. It's not sweetness - it has the right tinge. It's also not any animal-based fat; a good tomato sauce should stand on its own without the fond and drippings from the Holy Trinity: sausage, pork and the blessed meatball.

So while sauteing the onions for this and thinking about a fantastic slice of peach pie and vanilla ice cre.........VANILLA!

I'm not kidding. It's not a lot of vanilla - just 1 TBS per 50oz of tomatoes - but man does it mellow out that tangy edge of tomato sauce and brings out that tomato flavor we all crave.

[Except for those weird-o's who don't like tomato sauce.]

1 box Pomi crushed tomatoes (26 ounces)
1 box Pomi strained tomatoes (26 ounces)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 TBS kosher salt
6 garlic cloves, shaved into thin slices
1 TBS vanilla extract
5 large carrots, peeled and cut in half, lengthwise
12 - 15 basil leaves, whole
2 TSP minced parsley

In a 3 quart pot bring the olive oil up to medium-low heat. Add the onion and salt and let gently simmer for about 15 - 20 minutes, until the onion is very, very soft. Add the carrots and garlic, mix, and simmer for another 3 - 4 minutes until the garlic softens. Add the vanilla extract and simmer an additional minute or two.

Add both boxes of tomatoes (carefully - they'll likely splash), stir to mix and then add in the basil and parsley. Turn heat up to medium to get to a simmer, then reduce to medium-low or low just so the sauce bubbles. Let sit for 1 - 2 hours.

Discard the carrots - or leave or eat them - and then you're done.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Hatch & Spinach Pesto

This is likely going over some pasta with shrimp and scallops but I can think of half a dozen other uses as well. Just alone over pasta would be enough, come to think about it.

When I make pesto I use cashews instead of pine nuts. The reason is simple: it's different. I also find that cashews tend to impart a more buttery texture to the pesto which gives it a nice mouthfeel.

Also, before embarking on adding peppers to this you need to judge the heat of them first. The heat here will build on you the more you eat of the sauce. In addition, the next day the flavors will have mellowed out with each other and result in a better tasting - and likely hotter - sauce. As there is a lot of fat in this (it is pesto, after all), said fat will line your mouth and deceive the presence of most of the heat...until it washes off your tongue and the capsaicin is left sticking to it as you eat more.

Resist the urge to add more garlic: the highlight of this pesto are the chilies. I know I know, I too am part of the more-garlic-is-better crowd but this is one area where less is, in fact, more.

10 oz baby spinach leaves
1 packed cup of fresh basil
2 - 4 roasted Hatch or Anaheim chili peppers
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup unsalted, roasted cashews
4 TBS grated Parmesan
~1 cup extra virgin olive oil
~1 cup of boiling water

Quick blanch the baby spinach by setting it in a large colander over the sink and pouring 2 quarts of boiling water over the leaves. Immediately run cold water over the spinach to cool. Squeeze out as much water as you can and then lay the leaves on a kitchen towel and roll the towel to dry the leaves. Give the towel a gentle twist to aid this.

Remove the skin and seeds from the chili peppers and dice into dime sized chunks.

In a food processor add the cashews and pulse a few times until they're chopped up. Add the basil, spinach, chili peppers, and peeled garlic cloves to the processor and run for about 30 seconds, stopping to push the mixture down the side. Do this about two times. Add the cheese, ¼ TSP of salt and pulse to mix.

With the processor running add the olive oil in a steady stream. You're nearly done adding oil when the pesto is no longer sticking to the sides of the processor and has become a smooth sauce with the consistency of...pesto. When this happens add another ¼ cup of oil. Finally, add about 2 - 3 TBS of boiling water to help incorporate and smooth out.

Lou's Most Excellent Spicy Tequila Succotash

I never say this when I make something before it's done, but while scooping this into the bowl - before I even tasted it - I said to Judy, "This is gonna be f'ing good."

Turns out I was right. So right that this morning Judy wanted this as her side dish for her sandwich this afternoon instead of Cheetos, which are pretty hard to pass up.

A lot of things went into this and I think some could even be left out if you don't have them, such as the parsley, chives, and Romano cheese. Otherwise this comes together pretty quick and is a different take on the classic succotash.

Two ears fresh corn
One medium zucchini
Two roasted Hatch or Anaheim chili peppers
One jalapeno pepper
3 TBS Tequila
1 TBS butter
2 TBS heavy cream
2 TBS grated Parmesan
1 TBS grated Peccorino-Romano
1 TBS minced parsley
1 TSP minced chives

Shuck the corn and cut off the kernels, set aside. Cut the zucchini in half, then quarter each piece and halve each of those; you wind up with each piece cut into eighths. Cut the inner wedge/seeds out of each by running a knife up each piece so you are only left with the skin of the zucchini with about ¼ inch of flesh. Dice the zucchini into corn-kernel sized chunks.

Remove the skins and seeds from the chili peppers; cut into dime sized chunks. Remove the seeds from the jalapeno and finely dice.

In a large, non-stick skillet heat to medium-high. Add the butter and allow it to brown, then add the corn and zucchini bits. Allow to sit for 3 - 4 minutes undisturbed, then quickly toss. Check to see that the vegetables are browning. If they aren't, let them sit longer prior to tossing. Do this for about 10 minutes; check for doneness by eating a corn kernel. Add the peppers when the corn is done and cook an additional 3 minutes.

Add the Tequila and mix, let simmer off for 3 - 4 minutes and then add the cream. Toss in the cheeses, mix, then add the herbs. Add salt to our case we didn't need any as all the flavors worked without the need.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Roasted Hatch Chilies

It's that MOST, won-der-ful tiiiiiime, of the year.....

It's Hatch Chili Pepper season and usually here in DC we get screwed on the deal: in the past we've smuggled them out of Texas by checking a case of them in as luggage...much to the strange stares of everyone.

But this year I FOUND some at Whole Foods and quickly swiped most of them up, screwing anyone else that might want some. So you may be asking, "Lou, what's so special about these Hatch Chilies?"

Well, it's a terroir thing: they only come from Hatch, New Mexico and there's something in the heat, soil, handling of Anaheim peppers there that turn them into Hatch Chilies. They're hot yet buttery smooth and form the foundation of all good things needing chili peppers. From enchiladas to scrambled eggs these things add that extra something special.

But before they can be eaten they must be roasted, and that's why we're here today.

Roasting Hatch Chilies, or any pepper for that matter, is pretty simple. You can do this in an oven, over a gas stove, or the real tasty way by over a raging fire. The fire is preferred because what you want to do is get the peppers to sear and blister; the skin of the pepper isn't too pleasant on the palate. Also, roasting them bring out their great flavors.

Wash the peppers first and get a kitchen towel that's soaked and squeezed damp in water. You'll need one towel per 10 peppers. Set up a little workstation as such:

With the fire now raging in the grill, put your peppers on. They'll start to pop and smoke up a bit almost immediately. You want to char these little bastards pretty good but not cook them through. All you're really trying to do is get the skins off. They're going to blacken pretty good but there will be some peppers - notably the curved ones - that just won't fully blacken in some parts. Don't force the matter because you'll wind up cooking it through instead.

When nicely toasted, place the peppers in the center of the damp towel and fold the towel over them in thirds. Soon you'll see steam coming off the towel and the smell of fresh roasted peppers will fill the air...even if you're outside. Allow the peppers to cool to room temperature underneath the towel. Start your next batch if you've got 'em.

When done, you can use the peppers immediately or store for later use. Prior to using the peppers you'll need to remove the skins, which should come just right off. If storing, put anywhere from 2 - 6 peppers in a Ziplock bag (skins on), remove as much air as possible, and freeze until you're ready.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Arugula & Scallop Risotto

I had a vegetarian version of this at New Heights recently and it was fantastic. We had a great time there - Sietsema from the Post recently gave it a very good review - but the service was pretty downright lousy. The food, however, was phenomenal.

Never in my life have I ordered a vegetarian entree unless it was eggplant parm or I was forced to go to a vegetarian Indian restaurant. I'm not a "meat & potatoes" guy but I do like my protein to come from things that once moved about. Thus, starting with a tomato salad and then the arugula risotto even raised eyebrows from Judy, my wife.

I've been thinking about that risotto for the last few days and now I'm doing it. Risotto is an überbitch to make as it takes constant babysitting. It's technically easy but you just have to tend to it constantly; be prepared not to leave your stove for about 30 minutes straight once you get going on this. But an added bonus to this dish is that it's moderately healthy: sure there's some fat from the butter and olive oil but with all the veggies going on you should get *some* credit here.

Risotto - and anything you wind up putting in it or on it - turns your kitchen into a mess. I had the processor out, several pans, lots of bowls, cutting boards, etc. Get ready for clean-up. This all said, don't be scared and here we go:

5 oz baby arugula, cleaned
5 basil leaves
6 sprigs of parsley
3 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
Extra virgin olive oil
Kernels from a half hear of corn
4 cups of chicken stock (or broth), simmering
6 large diver scallops
4 fresh, ripe figs, halved (I prefer the Calimyrna but any will do)
4 baby yellow squash, quartered and cut into dime sized pieces
1½ cups of risotto (arborio)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 tablespoons clarified butter (regular butter or olive oil will work)
¼ cup + 1 TBS freshly grated Parmesan
Dry white wine, at least 1 cup (Pinot Grigio or Orvieto work)
1 70 pound black lab

In a food processor add the arugula, basil, parsley and garlic. Pulse for about 10 seconds in 1 second bursts. Add about 3 TBS of olive oil and run the processor until the mixture becomes a paste, almost pesto-ish. Remove from the processor and stir in the ¼ cup of Parmesean cheese. Set aside.

Heat a large, high walled pan (a Dutch oven if you've got it) up to medium high. Add the clarified butter; if using olive oil or butter only heat up to medium. Wait till the fat begin to shimmer and then add the baby squash with a big pinch of kosher salt. Toss in the oil and let sauté, undisturbed, for about 3 minutes. Toss the veggies again - they should be browned by now - and cook a little longer to even out the brownness. Add the corn kernels, toss to mix, and then remove all from the pan into a separate bowl.

[Why clarified butter? Well, a) I had some and b) you can heat it hotter than regular butter and olive oil. And it tastes good too.]

Add the figs to the pan with the fruit side down and let cook undisturbed for about 3 - 4 minutes; you want them to sizzle. Remove from the pan once they begin to show signs of caramelizing...which you just want to reach but not achieve...if that makes sense. Set the figs aside. Tell the dog - again - to get out of the kitchen.

Turn the pan heat down to medium-low and let stabilize here for about 5 minutes. Add an additional TBS of butter and the onion and a big pinch of kosher salt. Sauté - constantly turning - until the onion is translucent, which is about 8 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium and get the onions sizzling - once this happens add the risotto and stir for about 90 seconds, coating the rice with the oil and onions. Add enough broth - about 1.5 cups - to this so the risotto is completely covered by broth but not drowning in it. Call the dog into the kitchen (you'll want his company now) and gently stir.


More and more.

When you're able to take your spoon and move it from one side of the pan to the other through the risotto and it stays parted from where you started, add more broth as you did before.

And slowly, gently stir.

But in between that....

Heat a skillet up to medium high. Add a smidge of clarified butter - just enough to lightly coat the pan. Sprinkle some sea salt on each side of the scallops. [Don't forget to stir and check your risotto....] When the pan is hot add the scallops - they should sizzle. Leave them be for about a minute then flip. Cook an additional minute or more pending your doneness preference. I like mine on the medium-rare side b/c they taste like scallops. Overcook a scallop and you might as well eat an eraser.

The risotto should be near done. Take a small sample; it should be nutty in flavor with a little bit of crunch. If you're there, you're done. If it's too hard, add more broth and keep stirring.

When you're there turn off the heat and add herb mix to the risotto, stir to mix, and then add the corn and squash. Gently stir to mix.

Get the drooling dog with the ferociously wagging tail out of the kitchen. Plate about one cup of risotto in a small mound and sprinkle with additional Parmesan if desired. Top with the scallops and figs. Grab a fork and go to town.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Grilled Lamb

Where your cute-soon-to-be-delicious lamb was born, raised, and ate affects just about everything about how Mary's Little Meal will taste. Firstly, a 'lamb' by most countries definitions is a sheep that is less than one year of age. Some countries get more specific; Australians further subcategorize lamb by how many teeth they have prior to slaughter. Lamb from Australia and New Zealand is often cheaper and has a more gamey taste than American lamb, which tends to impart more beef-like characteristics and is milder. Icelandic lamb - and there are a lot of them for which I can personally attest - sort of falls in the middle between the American and Aussie/NZ lamb. It's milder than their southern cousins but also leaner than the fatter US compatriots.

For Sunday dinner I decided on lamb as we were having Jim and his son Sam over. Lamb chops and ribs are easy to cook on the grill and prep'd in this manner represent a great, summery dish along side tomato/cucumber/feta salad, corn on the cob, and grilled raddichio. I wanted to do all ribs but some jackass who went to the Dupont Farmers Market that morning decided to buy nearly all of the ribs from Virginia Lamb before 9:15...only 15 minutes into the markets open. I thus was only able to get a 10 rib rack.

Either way, I picked up a few chops to top things off.

The "marinade" is quite simple:

1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil + extra
1 sprig of fresh mint
5 - 8 fresh basil leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
5 sprigs of parsley
2 cloves of garlic

Separate the herb leaves from their stems and put in a big pile on your cutting board. Add about 1 TBS of olive oil to this and using a rocking motion mince the herbs until none are larger than 1/8 of an inch. [By adding some oil to the mincing procedure this not only helps keep the herbs green but makes it a little easier by keeping them together.] Put this paste into a small container and add the rest of the olive oil. Mince the garlic and add to the herb mix. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Prepare the lamb. Cut the lamb rack into riblets of two each. Some like to do each individually; this is a pain since you have more to tend to on the grill and you REALLY risk over cooking them. Rinse all the lamb under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay all the pieces closely together on a large platter with the cut side of the riblets facing up.

Lightly salt and pepper one side of the lamb. Using a sharp paring knife, stab each piece once in the thickest, meatiest area. With a small spoon and your fingers, add about 1/2 teaspoon of the marinade into the hole. Rub half of the remaining herb paste into the lamb. Flip the pieces over and repeat. Set in the fridge for at least two hours but not more than four, uncovered.

One hour before cooking remove the lamb from the fridge; get your fire going. I've recently been experimenting with cooking only with wood. It's great because you get a real hot fire and it winds up being easier to manage in terms of heat and length of burn. However, it does take some management and as I lost attention to it yesterday it wound up nearly burning out. Have no fear though - throw another log on the fire and it's up and ready in 15 minutes.

Put the lamb on the grill over the fire. You don't want high flames here so wait until it's died down a bit. The lamb will cook fast...assuming you want it rare to medium rare. If not, stop reading this recipe and go to McDonald's. Sear each piece about 2 minutes on each side - you be the judge based on chop thickness - and remove to the cool side of the grill. My buddy Jim grilled his radicchio shortly thereafter. In the interim, Bailey The Bad Dog decided to lap up the butter off the table - a good half stick of some nice Icelandic Smjör while we screwed around with the lamb.

I was wondering where he'd went.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Insalata Caprese

There's really nothing to make here: you either have good tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and olive oil or you don't. Any one of these four legs of the stool go missing and it all falls down.

For this I used three different types of heirloom tomatoes (even the Roma's were an heirloom variety). Any good farmers market will have them this time of year; I got mine at Whole Foods since the damned Dupont Farmers Market is open on Sunday and not Saturday, which is when I went shopping. At least I tried to go local.

Buffalo mozzarella works best for this dish but if you can't find it choose your best cow's milk variety. Cut the cheese fairly thick and let sit on a cutting board for about 5 minutes to let residual liquid drain off. Cut the tomatoes to the same thickness as the cheese and stack them how you please. Sprinkle JUST A LITTLE flake-style sea salt over the tomatoes, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and garnish with whole basil leaves.

These flavors carry their own. This is one dish were less is, in fact, more.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Kitchen Tips: Kosher Salt

Mistakes happen, and a common one is the substitution of table salt for kosher salt.

First, there is nothing really "kosher" about kosher salt. The salt gets its name because it's used in the koshering process, and in terms of meats it's used to pull the blood out of meat to make them kosher. Now, I'm not Jewish so I'm totally ignorant of kosher this and that. But, that's what I know. [Also, kosher salt tends not to have iodide in it too.]

As this picture shows, however, there is a definite size difference between a kosher salt flake and your typical table salt crystal. The kosher flake is that dandruff looking thing on the left. If you can't see the salt crystal, it's near the pen tip.

Since the kosher salt is bigger and "flakier" you get less actual salt per volumetric measure than you do with table salt; think of how a cup of lead weighs more than a cup of water. Thus, if you just use regular table salt in place of kosher salt, get ready for a dose of the Pacific Ocean in your mouth.

To substitute table salt (or vice versa, kosher), use 1/3 to 1/4 less table salt than kosher. The box of kosher salt will also tell you how much less to use and this can vary by brand so pay attention. In general, I use 1/3 less and if things aren't salty enough, I just add more salt at the end.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Mojito

The summer mojito is typically some sick concoction of corn syrup, artificial lime juice (if you're lucky) and cheap rum. It's too bad because when you offer a mojito to someone they'll say, "Ugh." Not mine.

In fact, my brothers out in Arizona, who are beer drinkers, wanted me to make something summery for them and I whipped up my take (which really isn't a take) on the mojito. A few weeks before I was bartending a friends party and this was the signature drink.

Over ice, on a hot and humid summer day, this is great drinkin' from inside an a/c'd house looking out at all the suffering fools who decided to brave it. Like those who decide to go for a run in 95 degree heat or some stupid shit like that.

[Makes one, 16 ounce mojito, which is all you may need. Like, since when does one measure booze in 'cups'?]

1/3 cup dark, aged rum
1 lime
1 large sprig fresh mint leaves, separated from stalk
Club soda (at least 8 oz)
Simple syrup (1 cup water:1 cup sugar, boiled till dissolved, cooled to room temp)
1 TBS granulated sugar

Roll the lime to soften and cut it in half.

In a 16 ounce tall, sturdy glass, add the mint leaves, sugar, and squeeze half a lime into this. Using a pestle or a muddler, grind the mint leaves into the sugar/lime juice until the leaves appear bruised and the liquid from the mixture turns a little brown. Do your best not to mash the leaves, you just want to bruise them up. This should take about 30 seconds.

Add the other lime half and push it with your muddler, further adding more juice from the lime. Top to the top with ice and then add the rum and about 2 TBS of simple syrup. Top this with club soda and mix with a spoon or whatever is around your person (often, this is the knife with which I cut the lime with). You'll need to use an agitating motion as you won't be able to stir due to the contents. If not sweet enough, add more simple syrup.

Drink immediately and often........or at least until your teeth get numb.

You can make these in bulk too. I've done pitchers of mojito's and this works quite well. The modification is to just not add the club soda until you serve each glass. In other words, mash it all up and pour into a pitcher, add rum, then some ice to keep cold. To each glass just throw a lime half into it along with the ice etc. etc. etc....

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Excellent Key Lime Cookies

I found this recipe on the web the other day since Judy needed some cookies for the office.

They're quite easy and tasty; a nice summery cookie when chocolate chip just won't do.

How to Make Key Lime Thumbprint Cookies |