Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Tagliatelle Primavera




This was originally going to be entitled LME Everything But The Kitchen Sink. What started as just shrimp + garlic + oil + pasta turned into this when I started rummaging through the fridge.

Notice the absence of onion from the tomato sauce. The reason for this is quite simple:

I didn’t have one.

1 pound 16-count shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 pound tagliatelle pasta
1 small head radicchio
4 oz Italian marinated artichoke hearts, quartered
¼ cup dry red wine
1 bunch spinach (about 8 oz.)
15 – 18 dry cured olives, pitted and halved
1 10 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper
Herbs de Provence

Clean and wash the spinach. Cut the radicchio head in half and remove the wilted outer leaves; cut out the core from the radicchio and peel off the leaves, tearing large leaves in half.

Drain the artichokes and reserve the oil.

In a small saucepan (1.5 quart) add the artichoke oil over medium heat. Add the garlic all at once and remove from heat. Open the tomatoes and using a sharp knife coarsely cut them up in the can. Add the tomatoes to the saucepan along with 1 TSP of herbs. Add about 1 TSP of salt and 5 – 8 cranks of fresh pepper. Add the wine and artichokes into the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, covered.

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to boil for the pasta. When boiling, begin cooking the pasta while proceeding on below.

In a large skillet heat ~ 2 TBS of olive oil over medium heat. Toss the shrimp in and sauté each for about 1 minute per side. Remove shrimp, add ~ 1 TBS of olive oil and gently wilt the spinach for about 2 minutes; it should still maintain its greenness and texture. Remove the spinach and then add the radicchio and more olive oil, if necessary. Sauté the radicchio for about 2 minutes, about the point where the smaller leaves begin to turn a deep purple. Add about ¼ TSP of balsamic vinegar and toss together.

Add back the spinach and the olives, toss together, then the shrimp. Pour in the tomato sauce.

Drain the pasta and top with the sauce. Serve immediately and with grated Parmesan, if desired.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Provolone Chicken

Grilled chicken can be one of the most boring things around. Brining (see LME Chicken Brine) helps a lot as does marinating in other concoctions.

If you know how to grill chicken, however, salt & pepper are enough to do the job. A little of these sprinkled on the chicken, cooked over a nice fire, works wonders. Now, that all said….

Here’s a recipe that’s quick, easy, and yields a flavorful chicken breast that can be used in multiple ways. There are few ingredients; the prep of this makes the chicken come out great tasting so pay attention. This goes great on top of a green salad, on a bun, or even as a main course with corresponding sides.

A thing about provolone. There’s provolone and then there’s provolone. Domestic provolone tends to be mild in flavor. Here in the US most commercial makers have it in their minds that all provolone is destined for some incarnation of the Italian sub so it has to slice nicely and musn't upset the masses. A hearty, aged provolone is very difficult to slice; it can have the texture of block of Parmesan if it gets old enough. It will have a very sharp – near 5 year cheddar-like – bite and feel like there are patches of salt crystals within, like an aged Gouda. This is often labeled as provolone piccante and is typically aged 4 - 12 months.

THAT, my friends, is provolone.

4 boneless chicken breasts
¼ pound Italian (i.e. imported) sharp provolone
1 TSP Herbs de Provence
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
Juice of ½ a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Take the herbs and add 2 TSP of hot tap water to them. Set aside for 15 minutes to let them rehydrate. While this is going on….

Rinse and pat dry each breast. Using a very sharp, thin knife, insert the knife down the length of the breast from the thick end down ¾ of the way toward the thin end, creating a 1” wide, deep pocket. Cut the provolone into ½” wide ¼” thick strips about half the length of the chicken, two strips per breast.

Add 4 TBS of olive oil add the herbs, garlic, 2 big pinches of salt, 5 cranks of pepper and the lemon juice. Whisk together.

Rub some of the marinade over the cheese strips. Insert two strips of provolone into each breast. [It’s OK if it’s sticking out a little.] Add the breasts to a bowl and cover with the remaining herbed olive oil. Set in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Cook chicken on a grill using the indirect method (on the side of the heat, not over it), with some hickory pieces thrown in for flavor. Place the chicken on the grill and pour the remaining marinade over. Grill closed for about 20 minutes, perhaps longer for thicker pieces.

Goes great on a salad, in a bun, or just on the side.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Guacamole

What is guacamole?

For starters it's about 95% avocado. And that means if you've got crappy avocados you're going to get crappy guacamole. QED: you need great avocados. A great, ripe avocado is somewhat soft to the touch. The kind of soft that if you pinch too hard you get a little worried you damaged it.

That's a ripe-I'm-ready-for-guacamole avocado. Anything harder don't bother with. Really...and I'm sorry to say that if that's all you got...you ain't having great guacamole tonight.

Avocado's originate in the New World from the tree Persica americana. Avocado's are not a fruit but rather a berry: it's a long story and I'm not getting into it as it has to do with ovaries and such with plants. Speaking of "such," the word 'avocado' derives from āhuacatl, which is the Azetecan/Nahuatl word for 'testicle'.

Nice!

Anyways. There are two main types of avocados found in the US: Haas (the black, rough ones) and Fuerte (the big green ones with smooth skin). The Fuerte's tend to be much larger so adjust as necessary as this recipe is written for Haas berries.

3 ripe (and I mean ripe) Haas avocados
½ yellow onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Jalapeno, finely chopped
1 Roma tomato, seeded and chopped
2 TBS unsalted butter
Juice of one lime
Salt

In a small skillet sweat the onion with three big pinches of salt in the butter over medium-low heat. It should barely be simmering. You're goal here is to make the onions translucent without browning. This will take about 5 - 7 minutes. In the last 30 seconds add the garlic and Jalapeno.

Let cool to near room temperature, about 15 minutes.

Peel the avocados and put the pulp into a bowl. Add the onion mixture and lime juice; coarsely mix then add in the tomatoes. I like my guacamole with a few chunks of avocado in it and not fully pureed.

Add additional salt if needed.

To store the guacamole without it browning, put a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the guacamole, trying to remove as much air as possible. Store in the fridge for up to two days; remove from fridge 30 minutes prior to serving.

Lou's Most Excellent Food Facts: Lemons

Lemons originally come from Asia with India thought to be the originator, perhaps as long ago as 2000 BC.

The classic lemon tree has a pretty obvious name that’s un-Jeopardy worthy: Citrus limon. The word “lemon” is fairly similar across multiple languages which helps trace the lemons introduction to cultures. In Persian, līmūn and Arabic shares a similar derivative. The Italian’s called – and still call them – limone and the French and Old English share limon.

Commercial lemon production started in Italy but India is the worlds largest producer of lemons. More than 13,000,000 tonnes of lemons are produced annually worldwide.

Christopher Columbus is credited for having introduced lemon seeds to Hispanola.

The experiment conducted by James Lind testing whether lemons prevented scurvy in 1747 is one of the earliest clinical experiments ever performed in medicine. However, his research did not identify that vitamin C was the preventative agent but that high citrus fruits were. Thus it was thought that highly acidic foods would also prevent scurvy.

Ironically, his work was not widely recognized as a “preventative” for scurvy until decades later by Gilbert Blaine who in 1794 prescribed daily a mixture of lemon juice and grog (a rum-like liquor) to his crew. Twenty three weeks later with a smelly, rowdy crew: no scurvy.

Limes were later substituted for lemons since fewer limes were needed and the crews preferred them; limes are actually sweeter than most lemon varieties and contain up to four times more vitamin C than a lemon. After that British sailors could then be called "limey's." I'm not sure if they were ever "lemony's."

Contrary to much popular belief, limes are not immature lemons (immature lemons look like limes). Limes are in the same family as lemons but are a completely distinct species (Citrus aurantifolia).

Lemon trees continuously bear fruit. On a single tree you’ll find multiple stages of lemon development.

A type of lemon called a “rough” lemon are often used as a rootstock with other citrus fruits. Rootstocks help maintain soil conditions for other plants and are often very hardy. Over time, the desired plant and the rootstock combine their tissues yet remain genetically distinct.

Lemons are packed with vitamin C but 8 hours after squeezing lose about 20% of it.

The ladies of Louis XIV’s court used lemon juice to redden their lips. Louis XIV would also send lemons as gifts to demonstrate his wealth.

More than 25 varieties of lemons exist ranging in size from golf balls to grapefruits; these 25 are categorized as either sweet or acid.

The most common acid lemons in the U.S. are either Eureka and Lisbon lemons as they are both very tolerant to environmental and physical extremes. Eureka lemons have a very thick skin and appear pitted. Lisbon’s are smooth and also seedless.

Sweet, Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and an orange (or a mandarin) and were discovered in 1908.

Letting lemons come to room temperature (or microwaving for 10 seconds) makes it much easier to extract the juice.

One lemon has about 25 calories.

Store lemons in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to three weeks. At room temperature they may keep for up to two weeks.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Chicken Fajitas

According to Rob Walsh in "The Tex-Mex Cookbook," the first fajita originated in 1973 at Ninfa's, located on Navigation Street in Houston, TX.

Of course, any claim like that is surely met with controversy as others claim it was invented much earlier, perhaps the 1940s when Hispanic ranch hands using typically undesired cuts of meat (head, intestines, diaphragm) would marinate these in lime juice and serve them on flour tortillas with all the fixin's. At an outdoor festival in 1969, Sonny Falcon took skirt steak, some salt and pepper, and cutting against the grain made little chunks of meat out of it and wrapped it in a tortilla. On and on and on....

Here is a great recipe for chicken fajitas. It has some elements of the classics and then some. You can do this with skirt steak too; just follow the same procedure except cut the steak against the grain when finished. This is also one of the few instances where I use a commercial spice blend in my cooking: Stubb's Chili-Lime Spice Rub . It's quite good.

1 pound of chicken breasts, filleted
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 TSP table salt
1 TBS ground cumin
2 TBS olive oil
Juice of two limes (lemons can be a sub)
Stubb's Chili-Lime Spice Rub

In a bowl large enough to put the chicken in, add the garlic and salt and with a spatula mash into a paste. Mix in the cumin, then the olive oil and then the lime juice. Toss in the chicken and coat; place in fridge for 30 minutes.

Get your grill going. You can do these on the stove too but the grill is preferred. A hickory-based fire is awesome here.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and sprinkle some Chili-Lime rub to each side (as much as you want). Gently press the rub in with your fingers.

Grill chicken over direct heat for about 1½ - 2 minutes per side. You don't want to over cook it, hence why you filet them to start with. Cut each piece of chicken, along the grain, into about 5 - 6 strips.

Serve immediately with warm flour tortillas and your favorite condiments, such as salsa, sour cream, cheese, and the suggestions below.

Pico de Gallo
- ½ medium minced yellow onion
- 2 Roma tomatoes, seeds removed and cut into ¼ inch bits
- 1 Jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and minced
- Juice of one lime
- Combine all the above ingredients and add a big pinch of salt

Grilled Onions & Peppers
- 1 medium yellow onion, halved and cut into ½ inch strips
- 1 bell pepper (color doesn't matter), halved, seeds removed, and cut into ½ strips
- 2 Jalapeno peppers, seeds removed, and cut into ¼ inch strips
- Combine the onion and peppers in a large bowl.
- Sprinkle ½ TSP salt and 7 - 10 cranks of black pepper, toss, and then toss in about 2 TBS of olive oil.
- Rest for 10 minutes then grill over high heat in a grill basket or a hot pan.
- Get a good char on these but take them off before they get floppy. You want them to stay crunchy.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Blue Cheese Dressing

You are not going to find a better blue cheese dressing than this.

Anywhere.

Really - you won't.

Once you have this you will never go "back to the bottle" and will sneer in mild disappointment at every restaurant that has blue cheese dressing as an option.

I got this from my buddy Jim who in turn got it from a cookbook by Paul Prudhomme, whom I had the honor to meet for all but 14 seconds at the 2008 Fancy Food Show.

"Hi Chef Paul - I'm a big fan of your blue cheese dressing."
"Thank you. I have a new one that you should try."
"Really? Great! I'd like to know..."

And by then he was talking to some other schmuck and giving his autograph.

I've modified it a tinge (more garlic and chili powder). Also make this eight hours or even a day before you need it: it's much better the second day as the flavors have had a chance to blend together.

½ large white onion, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, coarsely minced
1 egg
½ cup buttermilk (lowfat or fat free - doesn't matter)
2 cups canola oil
6 ounces of crumbly blue cheese (typically Danish)
1 TSP ground white pepper
1 TSP table salt
½ to 1 TSP cayenne pepper
¼ TSP chili powder

In a food processor add the onion and garlic and puree until smooth, about one minute. Add the egg and salt and process for 30 seconds, then pour in the buttermilk while the processor is running.

With the thing still whirling away, slowly pour in the oil in a continuous stream. Add 2 ounces of the blue cheese and white pepper and process for another 15 seconds.

Pour the dressing into a glass bowl (if you use plastic it will wreak of blue cheese forever). Add the remaining blue cheese and the cayenne and chili powder.

This comes out pleasantly spicy with a tinge of smokiness. You can leave the cayenne and chili out, or reduce the amounts, and you still have a great dressing.

Serve on a wedge of cold iceberg with bacon bits, chunks of tomato and red onion. Good times, good times.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Kitchen Tips: Grilled Pizza

I make a pretty mean grilled pizza. It's really not that hard to do if you have a grill and some gumption. It does take some attention to detail as even slight variations can really mess this up.

The following tips are more of a guide for grilling pizza rather than an actual recipe. I've included a dough and sauce recipe that I've used many, many times that works well. However, if you have access to a local wood fired pizza shop, see if you can buy some dough from them. They've spent the better part of their career perfecting their dough and will likely sell it too you cheaper than what it would cost to buy the ingredients.

Avoid pizza dough from your local grocery, including Trader Joe’s. These have been handled a bit too hard and you may not know how old they are (a dough shouldn’t be held at fridge temp for more than three days). What results from grilling these is a chewy, undercooked crust that’s often difficult to work with.

It is important for the dough to have a high gluten content - this allows you to stretch the dough easily. Since you're aiming for a thin crust that's critical. Typical high-gluten flours are general "all purpose" types.

I cannot stress that enough: thin crust. As in nearly ½ to ¼ inch thin. With a relaxed, high gluten crust this won't be difficult.

Everything you want on your pizza should be ready in advance and within easy reach. From rolling the dough to topping to on the grill should take no more than 5 minutes. An assembly line is ideal.

Ingredients should be at or near room temperature too.

Equipment: cutting board, thin cookie sheet or pizza paddle, large metal spatula, grill tongs, grill mitt.

The grill. The hotter the fire the better. Gas grills, because they’re prone to condensation and do not get as hot, are not ideal for cooking pizza but do the job. Make sure it’s been on for at least 30 minutes before using it.

A BIG indirect fire is what you want, meaning, the coals/fire is on one half of the grill and the other half is empty.

Use real wood if you can and quartered splits if you can find them (hickory preferred). Splits last longer and burn hotter. If using briquettes use a lot of them - about 8 - 10 pounds. Lump charcoal is great but the fire will burn out quickly; be prepared to continually feed it if using lump.

Count on at least an hour to have the fire ready; longer if using splits.

Do not use a pizza stone on the grill unless the stone says you can. Most stones are not rated for temperatures above 600 degrees.

When rolling the pizza dough be generous with flour to prevent sticking to the rolling surface and easier manipulation on the paddle. Corn meal also works to prevent sticking; use this when done shaping the dough.

Shaping. I tend to make my pizzas in the shape of a 14 inch oblong “football.” Roundness works but I find that with the haste of getting this done shape isn't so much a worry. I've made pizza shapes that would make Picasso envious. A) It's still gonna taste the same and B) gives it some more homemade character.

Also make sure the crust isn’t too big. You should make it so you have at least 2 - 3” of clearance from the sides of the grill to allow easier manipulation and more even heat distribution around it.

Since the pizzas are small count on one pizza per person. This is part of the fun: you're making multiple pizzas so you can experiment with different toppings and combinations.

You CAN have too much when it comes to toppings. Decorate your pizzas thinly. Now is not the time for extra cheese, double pepperoni, sausage, ham, meatballs and extra sauce. Go thin on the sauce, the cheese should just barely cover the sauce, only about 6 - 8 thin slices of pepperoni, etc. Limit overall toppings to four max.

Toppings like sausage, bacon, shrimp, meatballs, chicken, broccoli and others that require long cook times should be precooked. Cut large chunks into bite sized pieces.

Force yourself to do just a classic cheese pizza first. This is the experiment and will give you a good gauge on how things are going for your baseline.

Some great combos:
- Cheese, tomato sauce, pepperoni, fresh garlic, mushroom
- Cheese, olive oil, fresh garlic, dried oregano
- Cheese, ricotta, tomato sauce OR olive oil, spinach leaves, fresh garlic
- Cheese, ricotta, tomato sauce, sausage
- Cheese, Parmesan, pepperoni, tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, arugula (add this when finished)
- Classic Neopolitan (mozzarella, sauce, basil, olive oil drizzle)
- Classic Margherita “DOCG” (buffalo mozzarella, crushed tomatoes, basil leaves, olive oil drizzle)

Cheeses. Mozzarella (both regular and buffalo), provolone, fontina, ricotta, Parmesan all work great. A favorite blend of mine is a 75/25 mix of mozzarella and provolone.

If you have a big active fire in the grill it's not ready yet. You want the fire to die down some to mostly hot, glowing embers. Fire = burnt pizza. (Duh)

The pizzas will cook fast. Slide decorated the pizza onto the side of the grill with no coals and then close the lid for about 3 minutes. Open and using your spatula lift up the side closest to the coals; if it's browned rotate the pizza 180 degrees and close the lid again for 3 - 5 minutes. By now all the toppings should be melted. Let it set at room temp for about 2 minutes then serve immediately.

Troubleshooting
Pizza cooking slow. It's due to one or both of two things: pizza is too thick or the fire isn't hot enough. The corrections for this are easy...thinner crust or boost your fire.

Crust too thick and you can't thin it out. Low gluten content in the dough and there are a couple options here. Roll out the dough and place it on the grill with no toppings. After it's cooked some (bubbles will start to appear on the crust), flip it, and then decorate the pizza directly on the grill. You can also roll the dough out in between two sheets of parchment paper.

This is a bit tricky but it works well. When thin enough let it rest for about 5 minutes then peel off the parchment and place on the floured work surface. Work quickly.

Toppings melted, crust not crispy but chewy. You've got a low gluten crust most likely. A quick fix is to move the pizza over the fire when finished. This will crisp up the crust but will yield a pita-like consistency. If you don't say anything your guests won't know the difference.

Recipes

Lou's Most Excellent Pizza Dough

Before starting note this is an overnight recipe and you need a heavy duty electric mixer.

4½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 packet instant yeast
2 TBS honey
2 TSP salt
Extra virgin olive oil

In 1.5 cups of babywarm water add the yeast, stir, and set aside for 10 minutes. If this does not begin to foam at the top after 10 minutes start over as your yeast is probably old or the water was too hot.

Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and attach to your mixture with the dough hook(s). Add the yeast+water, honey, and 2 TBS of olive oil. Turn the mixture on low to combine. Now...pay attention.

The above is a very very very crucial step in pizza dough making. You don't want to overwork the dough here. If the mixer is "fighting" it too hard, meaning having a tough time, you need to add more water (if dry) or flour (if wet) by the tablespoon. The dough is done when it balls up into one solid lump and the hooks move it around the bowl. When that happens turn the mixer off for 10 - 15 minutes and let it "relax."

After this first 10 - 15 minutes turn the mixer back on for about 2 minutes. By now the dough should be somewhat of a solid clump - not too sticky, not too dry. It will have a wet appearance but will hold together. This will "feel right" almost by instinct so trust yourself here.

Plop the dough onto a floured work surface. Using a very sharp knife cut it into six equal parts and form balls out of them. Rub some olive oil over them, place on a large parchment lined cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and set at room temp for about 15 minutes. Place the cookie sheet in the fridge overnight.

The next day take the rounds out at least one hour before you plan to do anything with them.

Lou's Most Excellent Pizza Sauce

Simplicity is the key here so don't screw around with this too much. I don't add any sugar to my pizza sauce - it doesn't need it. If you want a sweet sauce just order Pizza Hut and call it an evening.

1 quart/box of crushed tomatoes (Pomi brand is my favorite)
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
4 - 6 basil leaves, chiffoned
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Heat about 2 TBS of olive oil over medium heat in a 2 - 3 quart pot. Add the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds, then pour the tomatoes in and add the basil. Give about 4 big pinches of salt and a few cranks of pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Lou's Most Excellent Cold Chocolate

Should be more appropriately labeled as Heart Attack In A Shot Glass. People love this, especially those who appreciate spicy foods.

[As far as the 25% rule (see right hand Disclaimers) try not to be too off on this one.]

½ cup of milk + extra
½ cup of "table" cream
½ cup half and half
8 ounces 68 - 72% chocolate (dark), broken into small pieces
4 ounces 35 - 42% (milk) chocolate, broken into small pieces
2 Ancho peppers, coarsely chopped
½ TSP superfine sugar (optional)
Salt

In a small sauce pot add the milk, cream and half and half together over medium heat. Once small bubbles begin to form – about 10 minutes. [Be careful not to bring this to a boil; it should just get to barely a simmer. If you do start all over.] Add the Ancho peppers and stir until peppers are covered in milk, cover and remove from heat. Let steep for 15 minutes.

Strain the peppers out reserving the milk (duh). Warm milk up to medium and add a pinch of salt. Add the chocolate in 2 ounce increments, stirring each time until dissolved before adding the next round. If the chocolate is very thick (it will be much thicker than hot chocolate) add more milk to thin as desired. You want it the consistency of maple syrup.

Taste and decide if you would like additional sweetness. If so, add the sugar. Chill at least four hours in the fridge.

Serve in small portions (a shot glass works best) since a little goes a long way. Works great as an amuse bouche for dessert or part of a dessert trio.

You can serve this hot if you want. I find that chilled works best since the heat from the Ancho pepper provides a nice little bite to the back of the throat while the smooth, cool chocolate takes the harsh sting away from your tongue.

Lou's Most Excellent Kitchen Tips: Steak

With spring and summer coming I figured these tips would be handy.

There are eight USDA grades of meat: Prime, Choice, Select, Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner. The grading is done via visual inspection by a trained USDA inspector. Prime is the highest marbled grade and there are three gradations of Prime and Choice marbling (+, standard, and -). Choice and Select are what you find at most grocers. Standard and Commercial are usually reserved for store branded products. Everything below that is typically used in processed foods (think Slim Jim’s).

The cut used by inspectors to determine the grade is the rib eye.

The age of the cow has a direct effect on the marbling. The older the animal, the less marbling and the tougher the meat is.

Angus bulls (four of them) were first imported to the US in 1873 from Scotland. Black Angus (sometimes referred to Aberdeen) are from the original breed but due to cross breeding no original progeny are available today in the US. Red Angus have been selected out from the Black Angus population. Angus cattle are also hornless.

While the “Certified Angus Beef” label has been in use since 1978, Angus beef still must meet quality standards that have been set up for Angus and labeled “Certified Angus Beef” which are separate from USDA grading.

Kobe vs. Wagyu? Kobe is Wagyu. Wagyu in Japanese means “Japanese cattle.” Kobe is Wagyu from Kobe, Japan, which is so finely marbled some cuts look near white and go for $300+ per pound.

The first importation of Wagyu cattle into the US was in 1976: two Kumamoto Red Wagyu bulls and two Tottori black Wagyu. The next importation didn’t occur until 1993 and then 1994. American Wagyu have some resemblance to Kobe, but in this writers opinion doesn’t even come close. Worth $80 for four one ounce pieces?...........kind’a.

If you don’t know how to cook steak don’t bother with Wagyu. You really need to know what you’re doing.

The term "hanger steak" got its name from butchers who when cutting up the animal off a hanging meat hook always had this piece as the last one. It is the last piece "hanging."

Most taste tests have the rib eye coming in first for flavor and texture. Strip steaks, like the NY or Kansas City strip are often the close second. Filet mignons, while being the tenderest of cuts, do not have that beefy flavor you get from a rib eye or strip.

The rib eye comes from the rib roast, which is usually referred to as "prime rib." There is nothing "prime" about prime rib unless it is USDA prime. What the market calls "prime rib" is actually rib roast and is likely choice grade. . How "prime rib" got its incorrect name is probably due to choice cut rib roasts still costing a minor fortune.

Always rinse your steaks quickly under cold water and pat dry with paper towels prior to doing anything with them. Trace amounts of residual blood from the steak makes its way to the surface leaving a metallic tasting residue due to oxidation.

The best seasonings for steak are salt, fresh coarse pepper, and a little extra virgin olive oil. Garlic works too: just rub a cut clove on to it. Do not use minced garlic on the meat as it will burn while cooking and not taste good.

Remove your steaks from the fridge two hours prior to cooking. Generously salt and pepper and set them on a cooling rack uncovered at room temperature. This process mimics dry ageing. Rub with just a little olive oil prior to cooking so the steaks don’t stick to the grill.

Dry ageing is an easy way to add tenderness to your steaks. You can take a cheaper cut of meat and make it nearly taste a grade better if you do this 2 – 3 days prior to cooking. Set them in a fridge, uncovered, on a cooling rack over a plate. This is OK – you won’t get sick from it. They may start to look a little funky but don’t worry. For larger cuts of meat dry age times of 10 – 21 days are not unusual. Do not attempt this unless you have very controlled conditions which you likely don’t since the equipment is often specialized.

Contrary to popular belief both Ruth’s Chris and Morton’s wet age their beef, not dry. Wet ageing does not take as long (about half the time as dry), cheaper, and more economical since the steaks do not shrink as much. Nearly 90% of the “aged” meat on the market is wet aged. In this process, steaks are placed in plastic bags, vacuum sealed, and stored in the fridge for 7 – 10 days. The steak comes out tender but the flavor profile is not as intense as dry aged beef since the beef doesn’t shrink and concentrate flavors due to moisture loss.

Save marinating for cheap cuts. If you want additional flavors for your steaks make sauces and serve them on the side.

Cooking steak is more art than science. Too many variables exist: quality, cut, thickness, temp of steak, heat of grill or stove, outdoor temp if doing this outside, air flow over the grill, chef’s confidence, etc. This is something you just develop a green thumb for and one you can develop fast. Learn some basic principles outlined here and soon it will be effortless. You’ll soon become the King of Steaks.

The more variables you remove the more likely this will become reproducible.

Best way to cook a steak? Whatever tastes best to you.

My top choice is an open fire grill with lump charcoal and/or real wood. Lump charcoal or wood gives you a searing hot fire that’s much hotter than briquettes or propane. Light about 50% more charcoal than you think you need. The charcoal is ready when it’s just about to ashen on top. Place your grate about 3” from the fire and throw the steaks on 3 minutes later. Sizzle for 2 – 4 minutes, flip to a hot part of the grate, and sizzle 2 – 4 minutes more. Two minutes for flank steaks, 4 minutes for 1.5” rib eyes or filet mignons. Shoot down any flare ups with water as the burning oil/fat will affect the flavor albeit some folks are into that. Cooking time is dependent on steak thickness.

This method will give a very rare steak, pending thickness, but will be warm in the center if you let it sit out 2 hours prior to cooking. For more doneness, move the steaks to the other side of the grill where you don’t have a fire. Close the lid to just a crack and let them cook there.

Lump charcoal burns at around 1250 degrees Fahrenheit, hardwoods around 1100 – 1500 pending on wood and dryness, briquettes around 900, and a 36,000 BTU propane/natural gas grill around 600. All of these figures are highly dependent on airflow and design of the grill. The temperatures of the broilers at Ruth’s Chris approach 1800 while those at Morton’s are 800.

It takes a 36,000 BTU gas grill about 20 minutes to reach 600 degrees. It takes lump charcoal 30 minutes, from lighting to grill, to get to 1000 degrees. Think about that when considering how much time gas grills actually save.

Listen, the fact of the matter is that gas grills are for pussies. I don't care how big and shiny your "outdoor stove" is or how much you spent or how convenient you claim they are. You're a pussy, you know it, and just fess up to the fact you've got balls the size of peanuts. Us charcoal guys have a level of respect equivalent to that seen in pack animals and you're at the back of the pack cowering while we lead.

And your wife knows this too.

I like my steak served hot on my plate – I don’t go for this letting it rest at room temp for 5 minutes before dishing it up. Prior to plating I throw it back on the hot side of the grill for about 30 seconds on each side.

A cast iron pan is a fantastic way to cook steak too. No need for olive oil rub here either. Preheat your oven to 350 for one hour. Heat the pan up over medium high/high heat for about 8 - 10 minutes. Pour about 2 TBS of clarified butter per steak into the pan, let butter burn a little, then put the steak in, giving each steak at least 1” of room on all sides. Sizzle undisturbed 1 – 4 minutes, add 2 TBS more butter, and flip again. Remove pan from heat and place in oven for 8 – 12 minutes pending level of doneness desired.

Steaks only need to be flipped once and should be minimally manipulated while cooking. The reason is that the cooking process is melting the intramuscular fat that makes the meat tender. The more you fuck with the steak the more you screw that process up through squeezing and mushing it. You want the fat to melt and stay put where it melted. Never, never, never push the steak down onto the cooking surface while cooking it.

Testing doneness. You can use a meat thermometer but for that you need one where the temperature sensor is actually in the TIP of the instrument, such as a ThermaPen. Most meat thermometers have the sensor about 1” – 2” up from the tip. I use the “pinched finger” scale. Touch your thumb and index finger together and pinch the fleshy part of your skin in between them with your other hand – this is rare and if your steak feels like that you’re done. Middle finger to your thumb is medium and pinky to thumb is well done.

A steak will continue to slowly cook once removed from the heat for about 2 – 5 more minutes. Remember that. This is especially true with steaks cooked to the medium range.

If someone says they want it really rare or "mooing" (ugh...please...) and are absolutely adamant about it and making a scene...just do it. They’re either a) really serious or b) have a small dick. You'll know which by how much they eat of it.

Well done steaks are not worth cooking. If someone wants well done use a cheaper cut of meat and slather it with some kind of A1 product – they may even “ask for it by name.” It’s not usually their fault they’re like this: they’ve just never had a good steak. I’ve converted many well-done types to medium/medium rarers over the years by making them a good steak.

Lou's Most Excellent Spaghetti Carbonara

Too many people mess with this dish up by adding additional ingredients, like cream and onion. I’ll eat it, hell, I’ll even order it knowing that it may come out not like mine unless I know in advance it has peas in it. WTF is that all about?

I’m a big fan of fresh pasta except here. The preparation can be a bit tough on delicate pasta so dried works best because it has a higher crunch factor. Also, fresh pasta takes on a lot more water than dried and can wind up becoming gummy here.

I’m always one for adding more stuff to everything I make…except this. Carbonara shouldn’t be fucked with and everyone loves my carbonara and that’s the proof. Try this recipe and you’ll see why. Proof to my obsession with this dish? My old roommate in grad school (Liz) and I tried to coteam on making carbonara and we got into a huge fight about it. There wasn’t enough bacon and I flat out didn’t want to help her because of that reason alone. Happily we laugh about it today. But…well…still…never mind….

This recipe happens quickly, like restaurant kitchen quickly. Assuming no distractions you can easily have this done in 15 minutes or less (once you have the water boiling) from start to finish.

1 pound spaghetti
½ pound of pancetta (substitute thick cut bacon if unavailable)
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
3 large eggs, room temperature
¼ cup dry white wine
¾ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
2 TBS fresh grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
2 TSP minced parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Extra Parmesan for serving, if desired

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil according to the pasta directions. You will cook the noodles to al dente, which is critical to great carbonara. Start cooking the pasta when you’re ready to proceed below.

Heat the 2 TBS of olive oil in a skillet over medium/medium-high heat. While heating, cut the pancetta into dime sized chunks. Add the garlic cloves and pancetta and cook until browned; discard the garlic. Drain the oil, reduce heat to medium and add the wine. Simmer until the wine is cooked into the meat, about 5 minutes.

While pancetta is cooking, in a very large bowl scramble the eggs. Add the cheeses, parsley, and 5 – 8 cranks of fresh ground pepper. Mix thoroughly.

By this time your pasta should be near al dente. When ready, QUICKLY drain and then pour the pasta – still a little wet – into the cheese/egg mixture. With salad tongs quickly toss – don’t stir – the mixture together; the egg mix should start to coddle. Sprinkle the pancetta over and toss together.

Serve immediately on warmed plates.

If using pancetta instead of bacon you may need to add a little more salt. Also, if you don’t have Pecorino-Romano you can do without; just add more Parmesan. The trade off is you won’t have the flavor bite one should get with carbonara – it should sting your nose just a little with some pungent aroma in the steam rising off the plate. That bite, along with the bite of the al dente pasta and crisp pancetta, is what makes this great dish.

But it’s still great without.

Lou's Most Excellent Enchiladas Verde

This isn’t my dish – Judy got it from some guy named Ed Ward. But it’s her dish and I just started making it and ‘took’ it from her. It’s a slight issue between us. She’s probably fuming at the fact I’m calling it a Lou’s Most Excellent dish because I would have never gotten it if it wasn’t for her.

Judy? You there?

The recipe is on an old piece of oil stained yellow paper with near chicken scratch for writing. As the oil stained recipe condition indicates, this dish is an absolute mess. It’s also helpful to have someone help you when it comes to rolling the tortillas as it’s a) a lot of rolling and b) you can easily set up an assembly line (one person dips, the other rolls) to make it go by much faster.

If you’re tired of lasagna and looking for a casseroley thing to do try this. Note: this is a very spicy dish. If you find that the Anaheim’s and Poblano’s give enough heat, skip the jalapenos.

If you’re fortunate enough to have access to Hatch chili’s, definitely use those instead of the called for Anaheim’s. The Hatch peppers give the sauce a great, smooth-heat profile. Hatch’s are seasonal and pretty hard to find outside of the southwest US. We often pick up a case in TX and check them in as luggage on our trips to and from there.

In a departure from the original recipe, I add a half-pound of Poblano’s to give it some extra punch. I also add the garlic toward the end of the onion sweat; this helps preserve the garlic flavor rather than sapping it all out. I do this for all my dishes.

I’ve recently come across expeller pressed corn oil from Spectrum Naturals. The oil is really orange and not yellow like that near chemical-grade stuff. And guess what? It tastes like corn - really. If you can find this use it.

The flavor of garlic results from an aromatic compound called allicin, which is released from garlic when stressed (chopping, cooking, etc.) from the combination of alliin and an enzyme called alliinase. Generally, the more you cook an aromatic compound, the more you lose it: if you’re smelling your aromatics you’re actually putting your flavor into the air rather than keeping it in the dish.

This will likely yield more sauce than you need. Try remaining sauce in an omelet. Or over grilled chicken, on a grilled chicken sandwich, or even a burger. There's a lot you can do with this stuff so don't throw it out. This sauce also freezes well. If you're going through the effort you might as well double it and freeze the remainder. I do.

1 pound of Anaheim peppers, roasted, peeled, and chopped into dime sized pieces
½ pound of Poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, and chopped into dime sized pieces
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped and diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
20 oz of chicken broth
2 TBS flour
1 package (30 – 36) of corn tortillas
18 oz freshly grated Monterrey Jack cheese
Corn oil (a lot)
Salt
Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 for one hour.

In a large skillet add about 5 TBS of corn oil to the pan over medium heat. Add the onions plus two big pinches of salt and sweat for about 8 – 10 minutes, do not brown or come close to browning the onions. When the onions are nearly translucent add the garlic then 30 seconds later add the flour. Gently stir until slightly pasty, then slowly pour in 1 cup of chicken broth and stir until the flour is dissolved.

Add the peppers, stir and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, uncovered. If the mixture is very thick add some more broth; it should have the consistency of a light tomato sauce.

In a small 6” skillet, heat one TBS of oil over medium heat. Once hot, dip a tortilla into it and push down with tongs until it starts to blister, about 5 seconds. Flip the tortilla and cook for 5 seconds more. Transfer the tortilla directly onto the sauce and gently flip to cover.

Place the tortilla in a 13 x 9 baking dish and add a good finger full of cheese, about ¼ cup. Roll the tortilla and move to one end of the dish. Repeat this process until the dish is full (about 20 – 25 tortillas). Add more corn oil as needed too (about every 4 tortillas).

[You can stop here and continue a few hours later if need be. Store the enchiladas in a fridge until ready.]

Cover the tortillas with remaining sauce and sprinkle any left over cheese on top. Place in the oven and cook uncovered for 15 minutes (if going from a cold plate cook for 30 minutes, covered for the first 15 minutes).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Chocolate Brownies

I spent about a year developing this recipe as part of the Brownie Development Project (BDP) years ago at an old job. I would bring my concoctions to work and part of the deal was that if you were having something from the BDP you had to give me some feedback. It was usually positive – no one ever said anything sucked or tasted like crap (although I had a doozy in there every-so-often).

In the BDP trials I found there was a key success factor to make great, chewy and fudgy brownies: make your brownies out of fudge. This recipe is very hard not to eat while making since the initial step (making fudge) is in your nose for a while.

When I’m making these I use an 8x8 pan to get real thick, near gooey brownies. If I’m using them as a base for ice cream (either in it or for brownie sundaes) bake in a 13x9 pan.

With regards to the notes and disclaimers below, baking is one area where I do measure as slight variations can me a huge difference.

You could just stick with 60% chocolate in this recipe; no need to get technical about it. You can even use chocolate chips – Ghirardelli makes some really nice ones. “Baker’s” brand I find has a funny, sinewy taste about it so skip it.

BTW - do follow the measurements here. Although the disclaimers on the side say you can be off by 25%, with baking that doesn't follow suit.

½ pound unsalted butter
8 oz semi-sweet (60%) chocolate, chopped into coarse pieces
8 oz dark chocolate (72%), chopped into coarse pieces
2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 TBS instant espresso or 1 TBS instant coffee; one shot of espresso would work well.
2 TBS water
1 TBS vanilla extract
1 cup of sugar
½ cup of flour
2 TBS unsweetened cocoa powder
½ TSP baking powder
½ TSP salt (not kosher)

Preheat your oven to 350 for one hour.

In a double boiler over medium heat, add the butter and chocolate pieces and melt, stirring occasionally. When melted remove from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes to cool. In a separate bowl forcefully mix the eggs, water, sugar, espresso, and vanilla extract all at once. Slowly mix the egg mixture into the chocolate base and further cool to room temp (about 30 min).

Mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together. Add this in two batches to the chocolate mixture, mixing well between each addition.

For thick brownies:

Butter an 8x8 pan and lightly dust with flour. Pour the mixture into pan and set in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 then an additional 25 minutes at 300. Cool at room temperature for at least an hour. If using a 9x9 pan, reduce the last cooking time to 18 - 20 minutes. A toothpick will come out slightly sticky, with a few bits stuck to it. If it’s gooey it’s really not done.

For thin brownies:

Butter an 13x9 pan and lightly dust with flour. Pour the mixture into the pan and set in the oven at 350. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes (a toothpick should come out clean). Cool at room temperature for at least 45 minutes.

Variations

Nuts or no nuts? If you want nuts in them, walnuts are great. Add about 1 cup of chopped walnuts to the mixture when adding the flour. Almonds are great too – just make sure you toast them before doing so. Macadamia's are nice too - keep them whole so people get a big bite of one; it's a nice bonus. But nuts in brownies are like religion though: some people just don’t go for it. Dried cherries are also a nice addition.

You could also add an additional 4 oz of chocolate pieces or chips to the mixture prior to adding it to the pan. Peanut butter chips are fun here too. Skip the M&M's - bad, bad idea.

Add some heat. A ½ TSP of cayenne pepper into the flour will do the trick.

Experiment with liquors. Substitute the vanilla extract with 2 TBS of bourbon or Kahlua.

Like minty brownies? Add about three drops of peppermint extract after the vanilla.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Greens & Pasta

I love pasta and I think I’ve said that multiple times. But “pasta” is not a vegetable and you gotta eat your veggies.

Escarole, fortunately, is a vegetable. In fact, it’s a pretty rough vegetable in that this stuff will clean. you. out. And done right – famous last words – it’s pretty damned tasty.

done-right (dŭn rīt) v. 1. Cooking something otherwise healthy with ingredients that typically are artery clogging. adj. 2. Any food product not worth eating if described as such.

Here is a pretty good side dish that will give you a good dose of veggies and satisfaction of a nice, starchy thing-you-wanna-eat. If “done right” and you can keep the calories and fat down on this so you don’t have to feel so guilty about eating it.

As described below you prepare the pasta and escarole at the same time. This requires a fair amount of stove power and coordination. If you’re not into that (or only have one six quart pot), prepare the escarole first and then the pasta.

½ pound pasta, preferably linguini
1 large head of escarole
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ sweet onion, sliced very thin
¼ cup dry white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Salt
Pepper

Bring two-six quart pots of cold water, four quarts in each, to a boil simultaneously.

Cut the bottom ¼ of the escarole off, separate all the leaves and give them a quick rinse with cold water in a colander.

Add 1 TBS of salt to each pot. Add the pasta to one; cook per directions on the box MINUS 1 minute. At the same time add the escarole to the other (you may have to do this in three bunches as it won’t all fit at once).

Cook (blanch) the escarole for about 90 seconds then pour into the colander and run cold water over it for about one minute to cool it. Carefully squeeze out excess water while being careful not to crush the escarole.

Heat 3 TBS of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 2 minutes…then the garlic and cook for 30 seconds…then add the escarole and wine. Simmer until wine cooks off, about 3 minutes. By this time…

…the pasta should be done. Drain well in the colander and transfer to the pan with the escarole. Turn heat up to medium high. Once the ingredients start to sizzle cook for two more minutes, continually tossing. Season with black pepper, red pepper flakes and salt as desired.

I recently served this as a bed for sable fish that was cooked with some white wine and shitake mushrooms: it was pretty tasty.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Kitchen Tips: Grilling Chicken

Grilling chicken is, in fact, rocket science. Too many people blow grilling the bird by steering from some basic principles and all rocket science is based on one simple principle: F=ma*. I hope these help in you obtaining legendary grilled chicken that turn an ordinary tasteless piece of meat into something folks will crave.

The bird matters, period. Where the bird came from, kind of bird, what it ate growing up, how it was processed and how it finally arrived on your door is the biggest factor to great chicken. Chicken is the main ingredient in “chicken,” after all.

Purdue and Tyson are good for feeding a crowd cheaply; store brands even more so. But if you’re looking for chicken that tastes like chicken, you’ll need to spring a few bucks. Small organic producers, such as Eberly here in the upper mid-Atlantic, are wonderful. A bit costly worth it. Bell & Evans, a national brand, is also good too.

Buying these brands is also “greener” but all that is lost once you fire up the grill and put the chicken over the top of cancer-causing charcoal fumes. So for all you organic best-for-my-body types you should think about that.

But why?

Prepare your chicken. Prior to doing anything with it rinse it under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Try to blot as much moisture off the skin too – this will (marginally) help in achieving a crisp skin.

Whole bird? Quartered? Pieces? No matter what you should consider brining the bird. Brining is pretty simple and has been around as long as Jews have roamed the earth. Seriously. Brining – and in Judaism it’s typically a dry brine – is part of the Kosher process.

A basic brine is just salt and water usually in the proportion of ¼ cup of salt to 1 quart of cold water. Mix the two together (adjust volumes as necessary to cover all the pieces) and add the chicken. Brine for 30 – 50 minutes, pending pieces/amounts. See LME Chicken Brine for more details.

(I hope) It goes without saying you should not brine kosher chicken.

Flavoring the bird. Add any rubs or pastes underneath the skin of the chicken, not on top. Garlic in olive oil + red and black pepper is great. Jerk rubs. Even just herb flavored butters.

You can put flavorings on the outside too but if you have a lot of oil in the flavoring most will just drip off. Dry rubs/seasonings only for the outside.

This may sound counter intuitive but the hotter the fire the better. Reason is that you’re not cooking the chicken on (direct) but next (indirect) to the fire. Chicken is delicate so treat it that way.

Trim the legs. With a sharp knife, cut around the leg right below the ankle of the leg, ensuring you cut through the tendons. As the leg cooks the meat shrinks up to where it looks like you have a meatball on a stick. In this case it’s a very, very tender meatball.

Is it done? Again, many variables here but in general put the fatter ends toward the fire and thinners toward the back.
- Whole chicken. Place legs toward the fire. It’s likely done in about 50 minutes.
- Parts (bones in). If you put your boned-in breasts closer to the fire and quarter parts (legs, thighs) further and you have a pretty hot fire, count on 40 minutes.
- Parts (no bones). Put the boned in pieces (legs, thighs) closer to the fire and the breasts toward the rear. Figure 30 – 40 minutes.
- Boneless breasts alone. 20 minutes, if not sooner (pending thickness).

A thermometer is a must here for beginners. Chicken should be cooked to an internal temp of 160oF. Measuring this is tough since you can’t touch the bone of the chicken so insert the thermometer at angle in the fattest parts of the meat, which are the top of the breast and the upper thighs.

When removing the thermometer the juices should run clear. If somewhat pink it’s not fully ready but getting close.

Right before removing the chicken I place the pieces over the fire (direct side of the grill) for about 3 minutes to sear the skin up a bit more.

Try not to manipulate the chicken too much while cooking it. You should leave it relatively undisturbed on the grill, covered (vents ¼ to ½ open). And NEVER press the pieces into the grill while cooking.

Hickory is a great wood for adding flavor to chicken. Throw a few soaked chips or chunks into it. Applewood and maple are nice too. Mesquite and pecan are a bit strong for chicken and I don’t recommend it. You also only need a handful of chips/chunks to get the flavor in.

BBQ sauce. Mistake 1: putting the sauce on prior to cooking the chicken. Bad idea. Mistake 2: putting the sauce on when your completely done. Add BBQ sauce on to the chicken about 10 minutes before you’re finished. This helps cook the sauce a bit onto the skin.

You can – if desired – add the sauce then place the pieces directly over the fire to caramelize it a bit if you’re into that.

Let grilled chicken cool for about 5 minutes before doing anything to it (10 minutes if it’s a whole bird). This lets the meat relax a little and helps in keeping it tender.


*F=ma, Newton’s Second Law. Force = mass*acceleration where a = dv/dt (which is the acceleration of an object is proportional to the force applied, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Caulipotatoes

Judy and I joined a service that delivers veggies to your house every week. It’s not a CFA since you can join and quit at anytime. On our second delivery we got something I wasn’t expecting: two heads of cauliflower.

Great. Cauliflower. Another one of those things that only tastes moderately good even when fried. And two damned heads of the shit.

Judy mentioned that when she was doing the macrobiotic thing (which always results in a subconscious roll of the eyes) they used to make “mashed potatoes” out of cauliflower. What a laugh. Mashed potatoes out of cauliflower? That’s like an atheist blessing the meal: it’s blasphemy.

Still, I had two heads of the stuff. The concern I had was, “How will you get the depth needed to make ‘mashed potatoes’ out of cauliflower?” The answer was simple: add a potato.

And cream, and butter, and crème frâiche….

I was also worried that not having a ricer wouldn’t get me the creamy texture I wanted. My buddy Jim said no worries – just run your food processor for a long time. He was spot on.

2 heads of cauliflower
1 small yellow potato, sliced paper thin
¼ sweet onion, sliced paper thin
8 oz crème frâiche (substitute sour cream)
1 TBS fresh chives, minced
2 TBS unsalted butter
¼ cup heavy cream
Salt
Pepper

Bring a large pot (4 quarts) of salted water to a boil.

Cut the first inch of outer layer of the cauliflower off. All you want is the outside - the brainy parts. Set aside.

For the potato and onion, when I say paper thin I mean PAPER THIN. When cutting through them you should see your knife blade clearly through the slice. We’re talking about 1/16 of an inch here, if not less. If you’ve got moderately good knife skills you can easily do this without adding knuckle skin to the mix. If not it will take some time – be careful; a mandoline would really help but there’s not much here to warrant that mess. Unless you’re OK with that.

In a medium skillet add the butter and bring to slight bubble over medium heat. Add the onion, potato, 5 cranks of pepper, two big pinches of salt and lightly sauté – DO NOT BROWN – over medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the heavy cream and crème frâiche, stir to mix, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Put the cauliflower into the boiling water. Boil the shit out of it: about 8 minutes. Strain in a colander and then spread out the florettes into a thin layer in the colander. Let it steam for about 5 minutes. [LME Tip: The point here is not to cool but let excess moisture come off. There’s a difference.]

Add the florettes to a food processor and grind for about one minute, stopping to push down if necessary. Add the cream/potato/onion mixture all at once, and with the processor off, and continue to process for about 2 – 3 minutes…maybe longer. Go until the processor is effortlessly cutting through it and then go an additional 30 seconds more. The texture should be smooth and creamy.

Serve immediately and sprinkle some chives on it. You can also put it back into a pot and hold over low heat until ready.

It would be easy to lighten this dish up too. Lower fat sour cream, a little less butter, and 2% milk would work. It wouldn’t have the mouthfeel of this version but still good.

I served this with some butter-poached monkfish medallions. You could do the same with shrimp. Or as a side to steak. Anywhere you'd normally serve mashed potatoes. The more I think about it, these are probably more versatile as a side than classic mashed potats'.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Margarita

Just about 99% of all Mexican/Tex-Mex/Bars that make a Margarita destroy it.  The history of how the Margarita came into existence is wrought with debate: no one really knows.  But here's what we do know:

THERE. IS. NO. MARGARITA. MIX. IN. A. MARGARITA.  

How "mix" came into it is pretty astounding considering that a Margarita only has three ingredients: tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice.  I guess some marketing genius said, "You know, three steps takes too long.  People only need two steps: "mix" and tequila.  Plus, we got all that corn syrup laying around...."

From the Food Lovers Companion, a (if not the) definition of a Margarita:  a cocktail made with tequila, an orange-flavored liqueur (usually triple sec) and lime juice.

I saw a Margarita recipe once that had all the good stuff in it - and two other things - with one of the other "things" being Sweet & Low.  

Sweet & Low?!?!?!

Ingredients matter here as do all recipes when you have less than four of them.  For the below the recipe is given as "parts" so you can easily figure out how to scale it.  If you did it as "shots" you'd have one knock-you-on-your-back Margarita.

2 parts "good" (silver) tequila (Corazon, Patron, Herradura...)
1 part Cointreau or Grand Marnier
1 part fresh (and I mean FRESH) squeezed lime juice.

Put all ingredients in an ice filled shaker and let sit for about 1 minute.  Vigorously shake for about 30 seconds, strain into your favorite salt rimmed glass (or not) and you're done.  Garnish with a lime wedge if you've got some laying around.

Watch it with these though.  A - it's an expensive drink.  If you go and order it as above, you're likely to run up a drink that's going to cost near $20.  What's more sad is that your average bartender will look at you funny saying you want a Margarita made this way.  But B - this is highly potent.  You only need a couple of these before you're having a grand time.  So if making them by the pitcher for a party do warn your guests.  Otherwise you're going to have what looks like Sangria all over your floor....

You can experiment with this.  Say some aren't too fond of tequila?  Make the ratio 1:2:1.  It's a bit sweeter and still tastes great - I like tequila so I go with the 2:1:1 but for large groups I tone it down.  Figure what works best for you and I guarantee you'll never use a mystery mix again.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Skinny Omelet

I love a runny, egg over easy. The warm yolk covering my eggs and plate are great, especially when you have an ample bread product to mop it all up. Mmmmmm.

Unfortunately a single egg has about 220mg of cholesterol and current guidelines recommend that an adult consume no more than 300mg in a single day.  So, a three egg omelet cooked in butter with ham and cheese served along side a bagel loaded with cream cheese?  Maybe some bacon or sausage for good measure?   Do yourself a favor: don't do the math and just enjoy the glorious moment.

But back to my original recipe here.  I love a runny, egg over easy.  In fact, I like two of them.  Duck eggs preferred (these are WONDERFUL) to tell the truth but they're sometimes hard to find.  So this morning, having woken up with a mild hangover due to two gin & tonics followed by a Lou's Most Excellent Margarita courtesy of Manuel at Guapo's of Tenleytown, I needed help.

I needed eggs.

Here's a great way to get that runny yolk - from one egg - but the fullness of three.  Yes, yes, it's not the same as three whole eggs but it's as close as you might get.

3 eggs
Non-stick spray
Salt & Pepper

Heat a 6" non-stick skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Throw a few drops of water in and if they sizzle, you're ready. Give a light coating of non-stick spray, more if your skillet is a little older.

Crack one whole egg into one side of the skillet.  The egg should start to bubble upon hitting the pan.  Crack two egg whites into the other side.

With your spatula, GENTLY move the yolk-containing egg to the center of the pan while tilting in the opposite direction, allowing the runny whites to move to the other side.

Once the white has begun to fully set, break the yolk with your spatula and spread it down the middle of the frying egg.  Fold it along this line like an omelet and serve immediately.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Poached Pears

A pictorial of this recipe can be found on Angela Potter's food blog, Red Wine Poached Pears

I’ve adapted this from two recipes – one out of the Silver Spoon and another from Michael Chiarello. The recipes have similarities; I think poaching pears in red wine is pretty standard. While this recipe looks complex and long it’s actually quite simple. Little things make a difference and I’m just pointing them out.

This recipe takes some time and concentration - it's very easy to miss a step and creates a huge mess in the kitchen. YET it's not that difficult. Review it first, get your shit together, then proceed. It's a major crowd pleaser and an impressive presentation, as you can see from Angela's pictures.

It’s important to use ripe pears so buy them about 2 – 3 days before you need them. While unripe pears will work OK – the poaching softens them up – you won’t have the sweetness you desire. If this is the case, add additional sugar to the poaching liquid.

Bartletts work best for this recipe due to their shape, flavor, and availability. You could also use a D’Anjou or another similar sized fatty. Boscs and red pears also work but I don’t decore them; I halve them instead since removing the core with a corer would remove too much pear. Instead, remove the core with a melon baller and fill it during presentation (I’ve done it with ice cream in the past). With a Comice pear I’d do the same since the pear is large and poaching it whole would be inefficient. Also, the longer you poach the more likely the pear will fall apart so you want to keep poaching to 15 minutes or less. I’ve also used Seckels – which are smaller but very sweet. You have to be very gentle with these and not poach as long.

I tried this with Asian pears once – not good. The texture was very gritty.

Chiarello finishes his sauce with some butter. I’m certain this adds depth but I left it out since I wanted the syrup to be closer to a mock balsamic rather than a creamy syrup. Plus, the creamy sauce with the filling I think compete with each other. You could probably use this syrup as a sub for balsamic in a salad dressing, now that I think about it....

As you can see this recipe makes quite a mess in the kitchen but it’s very simple. I’ve been using the “Thomas Keller” method of sauce making: anytime you go from one container to another, filter, no matter how mundane the change over may be. It’s a bitch but it really does make a difference.

The pears alone are great too so if pressed for time skip the filling.

Poaching the pears
6 ripe Bartlett pears
1 bottle cheapish red wine (I usually use a Rioja)
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of one lemon
3 cinnamon sticks
1 TBS black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 coarsely crushed cloves (smashed with flat part of knife)
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Filling
8 oz mascarpone, softened to room temp.
1 pint whipped cream
3 heaping TBS honey
1 heaping TBS whole lavender

Soak the lavender buds in 2 TBS of hot tap water for 5 minutes then drain saving the buds. In a quart pot add the whipping cream and it to the point of where it just starts to steam a little; do not bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, add the lavender, stir then and cover for 5 minutes. Filter through a wire mesh filter lined with cheesecloth into a new container and place in an ice bath.

Pour the wine, 2 cups of water and sugar into a pot you know will hold the pears and bring to a light simmer. Add the cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, bay leaf, and cloves.

While the wine is simmering, cut the top part of the pear off (save the stem) and about 1/2 inch from the bottom so the pear stands up straight. Peel and remove the core using an apple corer. I use a vegetable peeler instead of a knife since it leaves more of the outer flesh in tact, which is the sweetest. If the pears are ripe the corer should go right through them, if not you may have to force it a bit but be careful not to damage the pear. After peeling/coring each pear, lightly rub with lemon juice to prevent browning. Save the residual cores.

Bring the wine mixture to a boil and gently add the remaining lemon juice and pears using a slotted spoon. It does not matter if the pears are upright or on their side – just covered with the liquid. Return the liquid to a light simmer, cover, and poach for 15 minutes. GENTLY remove the pears with a slotted spoon and stand each upright on a plate to cool. It helps to use a chopstick inserted down the hole to help since the pear will be hot. Some of the pears may have a peppercorn or clove stuck in it; if so gently pry out using a toothpick. Cool to room temperature then cover with plastic wrap.

Add the pear cores to the liquid and using a potato masher CAREFULLY break the cores apart to release the extra juices and simmer for five minutes. Carefully pour the hot wine mixture into a new pot through a cheesecloth lined fine wire mesh filter to remove the spices and pear bits. Add the vanilla and salt and return to a high boil and reduce to a final volume of 1/2 a cup. This will be very syrupy. Run the syrup through a mesh filter again (no cheesecloth) into a new container. Set aside, taste what you made, and then clean your jeans.

Using a heavy spatula, mix the mascarpone and honey together. In a separate bowl whip the whipping cream to stiff peaks. [You only need a 1/2 pint of the whipping cream but it’s hard to whip a 1/2 pint so do the whole thing.] Gently fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone.

Place a pear on a plate and fill using a pastry bag or a Ziploc with a hole cut into the corner. Add some syrup to the bottom of the plate, just enough to lightly cover it, and then place a stem on top of each pear. Serve with extra cream on the side if desired…which it will.

Lou's Most Excellent Spinach Apple Pie

What fun is spinach? It’s boring and your mother used to make you eat it. But what if you could make it taste good?

I’m not saying your kids are gonna eat this, but I certainly would’ve given this a shot if my mommy put it on the table………maybe.

I still, for the most part, hate vegetables. I know I have to eat them and dousing them with Cheeze-Whiz and cream isn't the right way to do it. But I'm trying.

11oz baby spinach, cleaned and drained
1 sweet apple, such as a Braeburn or Fuji, sliced in 1/8 inch pieces
¼ medium sweet/Vidalia onion, sliced paper thin
1 head of fennel, thinly shaved
2 TBS Zante currants soaked in 2 TBS rum for 15 minutes
¼ cup plain bread crumbs (fresh, coarse cut preferred)
Juice of one Clementine (or ½ an orange)
Balsamic vinegar
Unsalted butter
Salt

Blanch the spinach in salted boiling water. Drain, quickly cool under cold water. When cooled squeeze excess water out and set aside.

In a medium non-stick skillet add 2 TBS of butter over medium heat. When butter melts add the apples, onion, fennel, currants + rum, ½ TSP balsamic vinegar, ½ of the Clementine juice and a big pinch of salt. Sweat the mixture until the apples turn tender and floppy, about 8 minutes.

Toss in the spinach and mix well. Move the mixture to the center of the pan into a pile and toss on the bread crumbs. Pour remaining Clementine juice over this and simmer over medium heat for an additional 2 minutes.

Quickly mix the whole thing together and serve immediately.

Lou's Most Excellent Kitchen Tips, Part I

Bar Keepers Friend will safely clean your stainless cookwares from anything that gets stuck on it. All kitchens should have it.

When reheating meats, place them in a deep baking dish, cover loosely with foil or a loose lid, and reheat in the oven at 225oF for 45 minutes. When finished, remove from oven and then resear in a hot pan quickly, if you want to recrisp the outside (such as steaks or chicken skin). This method reduces the drying out.

The following knives are essential: chef’s 6” knife, a 4” paring knife, and a bread knife. You’ll use these 99% of the time. Everything else is fluff.

If you want more fluffy knives: a cleaver, a 10” carving knife, a 10” long knife. These will complement your three basics for special jobs.

If you can’t cut through a tomato skin without mauling the tomato your knife isn’t sharp. Fix that soon.

The following pots and pans are essential: 5-6” non-stick skillet, 10 - 12” skillet, 10 - 12” non-stick skillet, 2 quart pot, 4 quart pot, and a 6 quart pot.

Additional pots and pans: a 12” cast iron skillet, 5 quart Dutch oven, 4 - 5 quart sauté with lid.

Everyone should have a copy of “The Joy of Cooking” and “The Silver Spoon” (the Italian "Joy of Cooking”). From these two books you can make anything.

A fish spatula will be your favorite – and soon to be only – spatula. Get a plastic and metal one.

Kitchen gadgets for the most part are useless. I have a bunch but the one I use most often is a garlic press. They're fun the first few times but you wind up spending more time cleaning them than actual use.

Making your own ice cream is well worth the effort.

When hosting a dinner party, praise your spouse before, during, and after the party if they’re doing everything but the cooking. Your cooking won’t mean shit without that back end support.

If you 1) follow the directions and 2) use some additional common sense you can fry a turkey in your backyard and not burn your house down.

Be wary of impressing new guests with a uber-gourmet meal on the first visit to your home if you don’t know them. They may feel intimidated and not invite you to yours. Of course, this is an excellent way to have that invitation not extended either….

Never blanch spinach in boiling water. Instead, boil about 4 quarts of lightly salted water and then pour over the spinach in a colander. Run cold water over the spinach to cool, if necessary.

If you get garlic wet it’s easier to peel. If a recipe calls for garlic, double it. However, I wouldn’t do this for recipes entitled “Chicken With 40 Garlic Cloves.”

Always use fresh ground pepper.

Cooking and drinking go hand-in-hand. If you burn yourself - or your house down - cut your consumption by about 25%.

Lou's Most Excellent Orzo & Ouzo

Judy and I were talking about the glories of the classic rice with cream of mushroom soup combo our moms used to make. I had a head of broccoli, mushrooms, and other stuff laying around. I didn’t feel like making rice but I had some orzo. Close enough.

The Ouzo in the “duxelles” started as an accident. While sipping Sambuca making this the dog did something that made me cough and simultaneously go into bad dog discipline mode. In doing so I accidently spit a mouthful of Sambuca into the duxelles. It became a perfect match. Also, no worries about having a black licorice flavored concoction here - it tones done the earthiness a bit while adding some sweet.

Also, these “duxelles” are my quick and simple take on traditional duxelles. I would not sub these duxelles for ones you’d use in a beef wellington. Plus, with the spit and all….

8oz your favorite mushrooms, stems removed
½ medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 head of broccoli florettes
¾ cup uncooked orzo
½ cup of heavy cream or half and half
1 TBS minced parsley
Ouzo, Sambuca, Pastis, Raki or some other anise flavored liquor (saliva optional)
Unsalted butter
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Pepper


In a large pot of salted boiling water, add the broccoli florettes and blanch for about 2 minutes. Drain, run under cold water until cooled, and set aside.

At the same time cook the orzo according to the package directions minus two minutes. Drain, run under cold water, dump into cold water and set aside.

Making the “duxelles.” In a food processor add the mushrooms, onion, garlic, and 1 TBS of olive oil. Puree until the paste appears like refried beans with absolutely no chunks, about 1.5 minutes or longer. You may have to stop the processor at times to push down the sides.

Place the puree in a non stick pan, add 4 cranks of a pepper grinder, two pinches of kosher salt, and set over medium-low heat for about 8 – 10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes or so with a rubber spatula. [The point here is to get rid of the excess liquid in the duxelles, not cook them. If the duxelles begin to change color your heat is too high.]

When you’re able to move your spatula across the bottom of the pan and the duxelles stay separated, add 2 TBS (the equivalent of a mouthful) of Ouzo. Mix well and place the duxelles into a small bowl. Set aside.

In a large pan add 2 TBS of butter over medium high heat and drain the orzo well, running your fingers through it to encourage more water to come out. When better begins to bubble add the orzo. Sauté until orzo begins to lightly brown then add the broccoli. Sauté an additional 4 – 5 minutes. Add cream, mix well, then add duxelles and stir to mix for about 2 - 3 more minutes. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Chickenfatless Chicken Gravy

I had left over chicken, no chicken fat, and I needed a gravy. Earlier my friend Allison was seeking help on how to make taco seasoning since she had none. I suppose that inspired me here.

About 2-palm sized amounts of chicken skin
1.25 cups of 2x chicken broth*
1 TBS olive oil or butter
1 carrot, chopped
Flour, about 2 TBS
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 TSP chili powder
1/2 TSP chipotle powder
Dried oregano
Salt
Pepper

In a 2 quart sauce pot over medium high heat add the oil (or butter) and heat to shimmer. Add chicken skin and carrots along with a heavy pinch of salt and about 4 - 6 cranks of coarse ground fresh pepper. Saute until chicken is crispy, about 8 minutes, and then remove and reserve the chicken skin and carrots in a small bowl leaving the fat in the pot.

Add one TBS of the flour to the remaining fat and stir until mixed. Add more flour and mix until it resembles the texture of glue. [A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY HERE.] Once thickened keep stirring until the mixture becomes medium brown.

Reduce heat to medium and add 1/2 cup of chicken broth and stir until mixed. Slowly add the remaining broth in 1/4 cup intervals making sure to mix well after each addition. Add the garlic, big pinch of oregano, chili and chipotle powders and combine. Add the skin and carrots along with residual juice.

Reduce heat to low, add salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for about 15 minutes to let the flavors combine. Serve gravy (and skin and carrots, if you want) over chicken.



*2x broth can be made by either a) taking 2.5 cups of chicken broth and reducing over high heat to 1.25 cups OR b) use Trader Joe's chicken broth packets and add 2 to 1.25 cups of very hot water.

Lou's Most Excellent Utica Greens

A great side dish or appetizer. Found throughout the Syracuse - Utica area, these "greens" have a great amount of spice and are hearty on a cold day. Very good with crusty bread as an app or right on the side of anything.

Perhaps even on a slice of pizza too.

2 - 3 heads of escarole
3 - 6 hot Italian pickled cherry peppers
6 slices of thick cut salami, cut into 1/4" chunks
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TSP red pepper flakes
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 TBS grated Parmesan (or more, pending your preference)
Extra virgin olive oil

Bring a VERY large pot of salted water to boil. While waiting....

Quarter the cherry peppers and remove the seeds. Coarsely chop half of them, leave the other half quartered.

In a large (6 quart, if you've got it) saute pan over medium heat add about 3 TBS of olive oil and get it to shimmering. Add the salami and saute until evidence of crispiness shows. Add the garlic and and saute for about a minute, then add the cherry peppers. Saute over medium heat for about 2 more minutes and then remove from heat.

Take the escarole and chop off the bottom 1/4. Add the leaves to the boiling water, pushing them down after each addition. Blanch for about 1 minute. [There's no need to wash the escarole prior to blanching - this will take care of it.] Strain the escarole and immediately run cold tap water over to cool the leaves down.

Bring the salami-pepper mix up to medium high heat. Squeeze excess water out of the escarole and add to the mix with the red pepper flakes along with some additional juice from the cherry peppers pending your heat tolerance. Add more olive oil as desired (by this point I've got about 1/4 cup total in there). Toss to mix and saute for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over this, toss a few times, and then serve with grated parmesan on top.

Lou's Most Excellent 750ml Wine Stew

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, ‘Hearty Beef Stew’

Make this stew in a large, heavy-bottomed soup kettle measuring at least ten inches in diameter. If the kettle is any smaller, you may need to cook the meat in three - four batches rather than two.

Also, this recipe takes just about all day to cook. If having it for dinner you’ll need to start around 10ish.

Why a whole bottle? I think I was on my second bottle while making the original and wound up adding all of said second bottle instead of one cup...accidently. I wouldn't call it a discovery of superglue moment but I think it ranks up there. I make a thicker roux to compensate for the thinness so you still get something hearty.

The short ribs are a nice little addition. Call them a bonus for folks that get one as they just melt in your mouth.

Maybe.

4 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1.5 inch cubes
3 beef short ribs (optional)
1 TBS kosher salt
1 TBS fresh, coarse ground black pepper
5 TBS vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped into half rings
5 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 TBS tomato paste
6 TBS unbleached all-purpose flour
1 bottle (750ml) red wine (preferably cheap cab sauvignon, cab franc, or camenere)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 TSB dried thyme
8 small boiling potatoes , peeled and quartered
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup frozen peas (6 ounces), thawed
3 TBS minced fresh parsley leaves

Heat oven to 225 degrees. Place beef cubes in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat in large oven proof, nonreactive soup kettle or Dutch oven; add beef to kettle in two to three separate batches. Brown meat (and short ribs, if using) on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch, adding more oil if needed. Set meat aside.

Add ~2 TBS oil and onions to now empty Dutch oven; sauté over medium heat until slightly softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste; continue to sauté about 30 seconds longer. Stir in flour; cook until pasty and lightly colored, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add stock, bay leaves, and thyme and stir until thickened and bits on bottom of pan mixed in too; bring to simmer. Add wine, bring to simmer, then add meat and remaining juices; return to simmer. Cover and place in oven; simmer undisturbed for about 4 hours.

Remove from oven, add potatoes and carrots, cover, and return to oven. Simmer about 2 hours. Add peas and allow to stand 5 minutes. Stir in parsley, adjust seasonings, and serve.

[Can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated up to 3 days.]

Lou's Most Excellent Pork & Broccoli Pasta

For a quick, weeknight meal if you've got the sauce - or any sauce - made or in a jar. Inspired from the book "Urban Italian."

3 cups of Lou's Most Excellent Tomato Gravy
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, casing removed
1 can of chickpeas
1/2 pound broccoli rabe florettes
1 handful of fresh basil leaves
1 TSP fennel seed, coarsely ground in mortar & pestle or spice grinder
1 TSP or more, red pepper flakes
1/4 pound thin cut salami, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Grated parmesan cheese
Penne pasta, rotini, rigatoni, or some other tube pasta.

In a sauce pan add ~ 3 TBS olive oil and two minced cloves of garlic. Saute over medium heat until the garlic starts to sizzle, about 30 seconds. Add the sausage and saute until done, breaking the meat up into small, dime sized pieces while cooking.

While this is cooking drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid, and add 2/3 of the peas to a blender and all the liquid. "Liquify" for one minute.

Add LME Gravy, basil and fennel seed and bring to a gentle boil. Add chickpea puree and cover reducing the heat to simmer.

Blanch the broccoli rabe florettes in boiling salted water for 60 seconds, drain, and cold shock into an ice water bath. Drain well and set aside.

Begin cooking pasta.

In a frying pan add 2 TBS olive oil and remaining garlic. Add salami pieces and cook until just a little crispy, then add florettes, remaining chickpeas, and red pepper flakes. Saute on medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Set aside.

Drain pasta quickly and return to the pot or a new bowl.* Add one large ladle - about 1/2 cup - of sauce and toss.

Serve pasta with pork sauce and top with cooked florettes. Add Parmesan as desired.

* If using long noodles like spaghetti, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining. After draining, add back this water to the pasta before tossing with the sauce.

Lou's Most Excellent Salad Dressing I

This takes minutes and is pretty danged tasty on a weeknight.

A major mistake people make with salads is overdressing them (although one could argue that for a blue cheese that's never an issue). Here you just want to lightly dress it - the leaves should be covered enough. If you have residual dressing on the bottom of your tossing bowl you over dressed it, dipshit.

[Which I've been called many times....]

Four big handfuls of lettuce mix (mache, radicchio, frisee)
Five chopped Medjool dates OR 1/2 of a sliced ripe pear OR fennel OR all OR peach...
1 TBS macadamia nut oil
1/2 TSP honey
1/2 TSP balsamic vinegar
1 pressed garlic clove
Juice from 1/3 of lemon
Salt & pepper

Wash and dry lettuce in a salad spinner. In a big bowl add the oil, honey and vinegar together. Whisk until emulsified then add garlic. Toss in lettuce and gently mix until covered, then add lemon juice and lightly toss. Add a pinch of salt and about 4 cranks of ground pepper. Add dates and/or pear.

Top with slices of parmesan.

Lou's Most Excellent Tomato Gravy

[Inspiration from Jim Shahin.]

LOOKIE! No sugar! The sweetness comes from the carrots and onion. Throw in some meatballs here and you're all set.

2 boxes Pomi chopped tomatoes
1 box Pomi strained tomatoes
3 TBS tomato paste
1 chopped large yellow onion
5 medium carrots: 4 quartered and chopped, 1 shredded
3 TBS finely chopped parsley
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 bone-in quick fry pork chops
1 large bone-in beef shank* OR 3 oxtails (bigger the bone the better)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

*Could use osso buco but the price doesn't justify the end.

In a flat bottomed 5 quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat add 2 tbs olive oil. Generously salt and pepper the pork chops and the beef shank; add more oil if necessary. Sear each (may have to do this in batches) and remove meats to a bowl when finished.

Turn heat down to medium and let pan cool to that. Add 1 TBS of oil, the onions and 1 TBS of Kosher salt. Sweat onions (do not burn) for about 4 minutes, until they are about to turn slightly translucent. Add the chopped carrots and continue for 5-6 more minutes. Add garlic and shredded carrot and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes, then add the boxed tomatoes and 1 box worth of cold water.

Bring to boil and reduce heat to low. Add meats and meat juices, 1 TBS fresh ground pepper, parsley, and simmer on low, covered for 1.5 – 2 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use as you would for spaghetti and meatballs, etc.

Meats can be eaten (they should be very tender) but their principle means is to add flavor...but they’re damned tasty I tell ya’. Ultimate sign of success is the missing marrow from the beef shank; if it's gone it's in da' sauce.

Lou's Most Excellent Pork Rub

This is a pretty good rub for a pulled pork (Carolina style). It's simple and stores well if you choose to make a lot of it. I've tried it on ribs and wasn't too jazzed by it so stick with butts, blades or picnics. What's written below is enough rub for two 5 pound butts and then some.

5 TBS light brown sugar
2 TBS kosher salt
2 TBS fresh ground pepper
2 TBS hot paprika
1 TBS crushed red pepper flakes
1 TBS onion powder
1 TBS ground cumin
1 TBS dried thyme
1 TBS dried oregano
1 TBS garlic powder
1/2 TBS cayenne pepper

Mix all together and store in an airtight container until ready for use. For pork rubs I rub it in at least the night before and wrap tightly. By the next day the flavors have infused well enough into the meat that the resultant bark and smoke ring everyone is clamoring for.

Lou’s Most Excellent Tomato Cream Vodka Sauce

Jarred vodka sauces are just lousy. They’re too liquidly: it’s like tomato soup. I also think they rely on too much cheese for their flavor (which is wrong). I think I’ve helped solve that problem here.

I love this sauce. It’s great on its own or with pancetta, shrimp, blanched veggies, or any of those combos. Last night I made a version with langoustine tails that I found at Trader Joe’s.

I’m not sure how much the vodka actually contributes to it. Vodka is tasteless for the most part assuming it’s well distilled. You could probably skip it now that I think about it. That said: why? But also you’re not gonna get buzzed off it either. Whatever.

This recipe makes a lot so it’s great for having leftovers available when you need something quick for dinner. I aliquot remaining sauce in 1 quart Ziplock’s and freeze.

I also like Pomi brand tomatoes. They’re the ones in the box and I find they don’t have a metallic taste about them. Second favorite is Bionature but use whatever is available to you.

No olive oil here either: you want creamy and not earthy.

¾ sweet onion, finely chopped (about 1¼ cup)
4 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
3 TBS unsalted butter
1 TBS red pepper flakes
2 TSP finely ground black pepper
1 TSP kosher salt
2 TBS tomato paste
3 TBS flour
1 box or can (28oz) crushed tomatoes
1 box or can (28oz) strained tomatoes
8 fresh basil leaves, chiffoned
¼ cup fresh grated pecorino-romano cheese
¼ cup port
¼ cup vodka
1 cup half & half
Salt
Pepper

Over medium-low heat sweat the onion in the butter and two big pinches of salt for about 10 minutes, until it’s almost mush. Do not brown the onions. When the onion is softened add the red pepper flakes and black pepper, cook for a few minutes more, then add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.

Add flour in 1 TBS increments and stir to mix – this will start thicken like paste. Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, mix in the tomato paste and cook an additional 5 minutes.

To this add half of the tomatoes and stir until the paste mixed into solution then add the other half. Mix in the basil, cheese and port – combine – and then the vodka. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat and then lower to low/simmer. Stir in the half and half and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes. Add additional salt & pepper to taste.

If adding additional thingies to it here’s what I recommend. Cook them first separately and then set aside. Prior to serving, gently warm them up and add to the sauce. If you let them sit in the sauce too long they’ll overcook (shrimp are a classic case here).

For ultimate laziness you can use precooked shrimp here too. Really. Warm them up in some very hot water right from the tap for about 2 minutes and then throw them in. Voila.

Lou's Most Excellent Chicken Brine

Use this brine for your chicken prior to cooking, unless the chicken is to be used in a sauced based dish. The meat stays tender and moist while the addition of the veggies and herbs enhances the flavor of chicken so it’s not “just chicken.” This recipe makes enough brine for a whole roasting chicken. If just doing a few parts you can easily halve it.

Chicken brined like this tastes great coming off the grill, especially if you’ve thrown some hickory into the fire.

Many brines call for the addition of sugar, the theory being the sugar helps crisp the skin. I say that’s bullshit and hence no sugar.

½ cup kosher salt
1 TBS coarse ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves, crushed (skins on are OK too)
½ medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf, crushed
5 whole parsley sprigs, coarsely chopped
1 TSP dried oregano
1 TSP dried or fresh chives
1 TSP dried thyme
1 TSP dried rosemary

In a 4 quart bowl or pot fill with 2 quarts of cold water. Add the pepper and salt and stir until dissolved (this will take a bit of time)., then the onion and garlic. Take all the herbs - fresh and dried - and coarsely chop together. Add chicken and place in fridge according to times below. Try not to exceed these times as the chicken may become too salty.

Boneless chicken breasts: 30 minutes
Bone in chicken parts: 40 minutes
Whole chicken: 60 minutes

Rinse chicken under cold water prior to doing anything.

Lou's Most Excellent Chicken n' Rice

It’s such a bummer that when grilling season starts in the spring (correction: it never “stops,” it just slows down in the winter) many of those oven dishes that you reacquaint yourself over the winter months disappear.

I’m a fan of white trashy recipes, such as the classic Chicken & Rice made, of course, with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom (or Broccoli) soup glop. The whole thing is perhaps four ingredients: chicken parts, instant rice, soup/glop mix, and maybe a canned veggie thrown in for good measure.

Unfortunately I’ve grown up a bit.

So the other night I decided to give this a shot but I was grilling my chicken. Some would instantaneously say, “You’re screwed, dude. The chicken has to cook with the rice.” Au contraire mon ami. Here’s my version that’s fresher, tastier, and perhaps a bit healthier (no can of mystery glop here). It’s some work but it’s excellent. And you still get to grill your chicken.

1 whole chicken, quartered, brined in LME Chicken Brine
1 cup Jasmine rice
Chicken broth, at least 2 cups
2 small heads of broccoli, cut into florettes
2 TBS unsalted butter
¼ cup dry white wine
8 button mushrooms, stems removed, cut into eighths.
½ medium yellow onion, grated
1 garlic clove, minced
1 TBS parsley, minced
2 cups milk (1% will work)
1 TBS flour
1 cup grated Monterrey Jack cheese
Salt
Pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Grill chicken when you’re ready – this recipe will take about 45 minutes so if you put your chicken on indirect heat on the grill when you start this you’ll be done in time.

Blanch the broccoli florettes for 2 minutes in salted boiling water, drain, and cool under tap water. Set aside.

Bring 1.75 cups of chicken broth to a boil, add the rice, stir to mix and resume to boil. When boiling, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook undisturbed for 20 minutes.

In a small skillet over medium heat add 1 TBS of butter and melt. Add the mushrooms, a big pinch of salt, 5 cranks of fresh pepper and lightly sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the onion and parsley, sauté an additional ~3 minutes, then add garlic and continue for 30 more seconds. Add the wine and simmer off. Remove mix from pan and reserve the pan to make the Béchamel.

Béchamel sauce. This is one of those things that you have to know how to do as a cook. It’s a foundation: here it is. In the pan you cooked the mushrooms add 1 TBS of butter, melt over medium heat, then add 1 TBS of flour. Stir and bring to paste that bubbles. Add 1 cup of milk and stir to mix. This will thicken up to creamy, albeit somewhat tasteless, sauce. Voila: you’ve made a “light” Béchamel sauce. A medium sauce would be 2 TBS each of butter and flour and thick would be 3 TBS each.

Transfer the rice (should be done by now) to a large bowl. Add the Béchamel, mushrooms, and three big pinches of salt and mix. Then toss in the broccoli.

In an 8x8 pan add half of the mix and sprinkle ½ cup of the cheese. Top off with remaining mix and cheese, pour 1 cup of milk over this, cover and set in the oven. Cook for about 10 minutes covered then 10 uncovered.

Fin.

This may not be as salty as some would like so if “something’s” missing, add some salt.