Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Roast Pork Soup

What to eat that is filling, warm, comforting, low-carb, and low fat? How about some terrifically delicious soup with roasted pork?

Roast Pork Soup: As Beautiful as it is Delicious!
There are several tricks that we chefs use to make first-rate soups. We start by jamming as much flavor into the soup stock as possible. And then we cook each of the garnishes separately so that they are at the peak of goodness. And everything is assembled at the last second before going to the table to preserve freshness of and prevent muddling of flavors. This soup is an exercise in just that.
Garnishes for the Soup
This soup has both raw and cooked garnishes, which you see in the photo above, staged for cooking. The cooked garnishes are the pork in the foreground and the green plate in the background. The raw garnishes are the cilantro, snow peas, and pickled mustard stems on the right of the photo.

Just before serving dinner, I quickly sautéed the nappa cabbage, shiitakes, carrots, pressed and spiced tofu, lop cheung sausage, and Chinese chives with finely minced ginger and garlic. After just a minute in the pan, I divided these among our deep soup bowls. Over this, I scattered the snow peas and the mustard stems. On top, I placed three small slices each of roast pork and then over all, I ladled on boiling soup stock, garnished with fresh cilantro, and rang the dinner bell.

Stock, the Key to any Great Soup
While I was prepping vegetables, I put together a stock, starting with a base of chicken stock. Into the stock I put several slabs of ginger, six lightly crushed cloves of garlic, a bunch of cilantro stems from last week, the bulb ends of a bunch of green onions from last week, the stems from the shiitake mushrooms, and the pièce de résistance, four or five fresh double kaffir lime leaves. I hadn't planned on adding lime leaves, but when I saw fresh ones in the market, I couldn't resist. Who can resist their unique and haunting citrus flavor? The stock simmered away while we watched a movie.

Hoisin-Agave Roasted Pork Loin
Early on in the afternoon, I rubbed a piece of very lean pork loin with hoisin sauce, agave nectar, and black pepper and let it sit on the counter to warm slightly before cooking. I roasted it at very high temperature for about 25 minutes to an internal temperature of 135F (knowing it would carry through to 145 or slightly higher while cooling).

All these steps and separate cooking or not of garnishes, really, is arguably a lot of fuss for a bowl of soup. But I'm a chef and this is what we do. And the results? You can't argue with them.

Beef and Barley

It's cold, damn cold this winter. I'm not a person to complain about the cold: I like it usually. But there have been entire days this winter when I have been chilled inexplicably to the core and have not been able to feel warm. In weather like this, I definitely crave stick-to-the-ribs food capable of warming not only my chilly bones but my soul. And beef and barley fits that bill perfectly.

Raw Ingredients
On Sunday, before we took off to spend the afternoon at Delaplane Cellars to have lunch, I put all the ingredients for beef and barley in the slow cooker so that it would be ready and waiting for us upon our return.

My basic idea for beef and barley is to put stock, mirepoix, a bouquet garni, and barley in the slow cooker. Then brown the meat and add it to the cooker. Then deglaze the pan and add that to the cooker. Then walk away for hours.

For a really good, chef-quality result, the reality is a touch more complex than that. The day before, I made a huge stock pot of brown beef stock and reserved a half gallon for Sunday to serve as the flavor base of the dish. My idea of beef and barely is a little beef, too little to properly flavor the dish, and a whole lot of barley. It is a grain dish, not a meat dish, in my culinary lexicon and so a great stock is necessary to add deep meat flavor.

The bouquet garni came straight from the garden (yes, I put on my knee-high boots to wade through the snow drifts): sage and rosemary from above the snow and some thyme buried under a coat of snow. And I threw in a couple of bay leaves harvested back in the fall, from the pantry. Herbs, especially this time of year, add flavor nuance to an otherwise very mellow dish.

And variety in the root vegetables comprising the mirepoix will also help. I used what I had on hand: carrots, leeks, celery root, turnips, and red and yellow onions. Some people put potatoes in theirs; I prefer turnips. Into the slow cooker they went along with an ounce of dried porcini mushrooms (for yet another layer of flavor, a deep earthy one).

Browning the meat adds still more flavor and after I browned the beef shin and removed it to the slow cooker, I put a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and a small handful of finely minced garlic into the hot sauté pan and cooked it, stirring all the while, until the tomato paste was caramelized. I deglazed the pan with water and once I had scraped all the bits off the bottom of the pan, I poured all over the meat in the slow cooker. Tomatoes are another source of umami in addition to the beef and the mushrooms. The more layers of flavor at this party, the better.

I added a half gallon of water and a tablespoon of salt, stirred it all well, put the lid on, and spent five minutes washing up the kitchen, before walking out the door with Ann.

Neither Pretty nor Glamorous, but so Delicious!
Back at home later that evening, I pulled the beef shin out of the cooker and let it cool, before shredding the meat and adding it back. Once I adjusted the salt, I scooped out big steaming mugs that we ate in front of the fireplace while watching a movie, warm at last during this bitter winter. Life is good!

Delaplane Cellars

Finally a weekend that was free on our calendar and relatively free from awful winter weather! After I loaded up the crock pot with a batch of beef and barley, Ann and I decided to head down the road to Delaplane Cellars, have some lunch, and watch the forecasted snow squalls blow across the mountains.

Looking at the Blue Ridge Near Springlot Vineyard
The overcast winter day afforded me the opportunity to photograph the Blue Ridge just to the west of the tasting room and the Three Sisters range just to the south. When the sun is out to the south and west, the glare is generally so bad that decent photos are impossible.

Three Sisters: What's not to Love about this View?
We were among the first to arrive on a cold, grey Sunday that was threatening snow. Pickings are slim now for wines to taste as we are between vintages and there won't be too much improvement until the new wines are bottled and released after having a chance to settle out. While we were tasting through the current wines on offer at the counter, Jim Dolphin drove up from the house and tasted us on one of the new whites that was just bottled, the 2013 Mélange Blanc, a blend of Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Petit Manseng.

Terrific job on this wine! It has it all, fruit, great body, and super acid from the Petit Manseng. It made me wish for a bowl of green Thai curry in some hot climate. This is going to be a great patio wine come warm weather.

2009 is not 2010
We've been spoiled by the 2010 Williams Gap red blend, which is all sold now. In its stead, we got a bottle of 2009 which is still a really good bottle of wine, but it is not the really awesome 2010. It is a medium-bodied red with copious amounts of plum fruit and spice from the oak regimen. The acidity on this wine is really excellent and helped cut right through our cheeses.

Good Light for Shooting a Still Life

Cheese, Salame, and Bread, a Perfect Sunday Lunch
I love sitting by a big picture window and watching it snow and we had hoped that we might get some of the forecast snow as the weather front moved across the mountains, but it wasn't really to be. We got one good 90-second squall and then nothing. Still, a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Snowy Day Lentils

Beautiful and Awful
Tuesday was a real pain in the rear day. It started snowing just before 7am and the temperature dropped through the day with a nasty snow storm settling in above us, midafternoon temperatures in the low teens and winds in the 15-20 knot range. By the time it was said and done, we had about 14" of new powder that drifted to 3' in places thanks to the wind roaring straight out of the north.

We gave up at the restaurant around mid-afternoon when it became apparent that the storm was only going to get worse through the course of dinner. On my way out the door, I grabbed a couple of cups of lentils, knowing that we had a side of steelhead trout at home. I wanted to serve steelhead on the lentils in the style of the French bistro classic saumon aux lentilles. Lentils are in that class of simple and delicious comfort food that are perfect on a blizzardy day.

Comfort on a Freezing Day: Lentils Happily Bubbling Away
Being a chef, I have access to fresh herbs at all times of the year, even when there is snow on the ground and I am not ashamed to say that I also grabbed some fresh parsley, basil, and thyme when I purloined the lentils.

The lentils have mirepoix (onions, carrots, and celery), garlic, herbs (parsley, thyme, bay, and basil), a little whole grained mustard, a bit of tomato paste, and a bit of smoked paprika. The paprika is to mimic the smoked pork I might have otherwise put in: I wanted to keep these lentils low in fat.

White Wine on a Cold Day?
We just don't drink white wine in the winter, so this bottle is notable. It was already open and if I'm not going to have a Pinot Noir with my lentils and fish, a high-acid Oregon white is where I would head next. This delicious Pinot Gris tasted of peaches and cantaloupe with lemon and minerals.

Chipotle-Marinated Shrimp Tacos

Sometimes the simplest meals are the best and these terribly simple shrimp tacos were so delicious!
Chipotle-Marinated Shrimp Tacos; Tomato-Avocado Salsa; Cilantro

Chopped Shrimp Marinated Overnight in Chipotle, Cilantro, and Garlic

Tomato-Avocado Salsa

Beautiful, Isn't It? Onions, Yellow Peppers, Poblano Peppers
The best thing about this meal is that it took 20 minutes to prep one day and 5 minutes to bring to table the next. That's my kind of cooking.

To recreate this meal, you'll need, for a dozen tacos suaves:

1 pound of shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped
1 small can of chipotle salsa
1 bunch cilantro
12 large garlic cloves, minced

1 dry pint grape tomatoes
1 ripe avocado
1 bunch green onions
1 lime
salt and pepper

1 medium yellow or white onion
1 yellow bell pepper
1 poblano pepper

12 tortillas (I like corn, Ann likes wheat, we did both)

Add the chopped shrimp to a bowl. Add 1/4 cup of chipotle salsa to the shrimp. Mince all the garlic very fine and add 2/3 of it to the shrimp. Mince the stems of the bunch of cilantro fine and add that to the shrimp. Toss the shrimp well, cover, and refrigerate until ready to cook.

For the salsa, cut up the tomatoes into small pieces and add to another bowl. Add the remaining minced garlic. Slice the tops of the bunch of green onions into small pieces and add to the tomatoes. Chop half the bunch of cilantro and add. Dice the avocado and add to the salsa. Squeeze the juice of half a lime over the salsa. Spoon in a tablespoon of chipotle salsa and sprinkle over a bit of salt and pepper. Toss well and adjust the lime, chipotle, salt, and pepper as necessary.

Finely dice the onion, yellow pepper, and poblano.

When you are ready to cook, heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Film with oil and add the onions and peppers, cooking and stirring until at least the onions are translucent. If you wanted to cook it until the peppers and onions just started to caramelize, your guests wouldn't mind. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, over high heat until just opaque, another minute or so.

Warm the tortillas and divide the shrimp among the twelve tortillas. Top with salsa and fresh cilantro. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

eM Restaurant, Winchester

Breakfast Breads at eM
Ann and I desperately needed to get out of the house for some adult time so this weekend we decided to drop in on Will Mason at his new restaurant eM in Winchester. Though this is Will's first restaurant in Winchester, I've known him a long, long time. I lived next door to his parents for 20 years.

The space is tiny but well appointed; tables are situated on top of each other. That's just a fact of life in such a small space. Although we were at our own 2-top, we were seated cheek-by-jowl with others in a line of 5 or 6 other 2-tops, making it seem as though we were at a communal table. I'm OK with that. The front door opens right into the dining room, so we felt a cold blast each time the door opened. Again, nothing really that they can do about it. You'll just have to deal with it if you go: no space is ever perfect. I guess I say this because I am sure that people will be whining about these things on the on-line review sites.

The brunch menu is limited to about 8-10 items: Ann chose crab cakes with poached eggs and hollandaise; I chose scallops on grits. Both dishes were well enough done, though I am not a fan of the red pepper and seafood seasoning in the crab cakes. That's a personal thing: I want to taste the crab.

Scallops on Bacon Grits
Crabcake, Poached Eggs, Hollandaise
We wanted to get a bottle of wine to go with lunch and the by-the-glass list wasn't doing it for us. Despite the steep markups on the list, we ended up ordering a bottle of Alain Jaume Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Vieux Terron" 2010, a rich wine with plenty of blackberry, black cherry, and a touch of chocolate flavors. The soft tannins were surprising: I wasn't expecting this much structure, but this is the first 2010 CdP that I have tasted and I don't think I've ever tasted this particular cuvée.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape for Brunch? Why Not?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Meeting Levi

Sunday, we drove out to Tom and Ann's in Capon Bridge, WV, ostensibly to have a leisurely afternoon lunch with them, but the ulterior motive was certainly to meet their new dog, Levi, who was most certainly the star of the show, despite all of Tom's many culinary efforts. So, meet Levi....

Lev's a big boy and very eager to please, no doubt because he came from a local shelter after a couple failed placements. His sweet disposition doesn't change the fact that he's 85 pounds of happy wagging tail. That thing's a weapon! I found out quickly when I took him for a walk that he has a rock fetish: excavating and carrying rocks seems to be his thing!

Cheese and Salame, Two of the Basic Food Groups
We arrived to this wonderful spread of cheese and salame: Gorgonzola Dolce, Stilton, Fiscalini Cheddar and Asiago Stravecchio (extra vecchio/older than 18 months) for cheeses, and a chorizo picante and rosette de Lyon for sausages. The rosette de Lyon in particular was outstanding. We do a lot with Fiscalini cheeses at the restaurant and I just love the products from this farm in Modesto, CA.

Tom, Doing his Thing
After warming up with some cheese, sausage, and wine (an Alto Adige Gewürztraminer, a Sierra Foothills Sauvignon Blanc that I brought, a Napa Zinfandel, a Sierra Foothills Cab, and a Columbia Valley Syrah), Tom got on to lunch proper: ham, potato gratin, and carrots. All quite wonderful, but just couldn't compete with Levi! ;)

Ham with a Pineapple-Jalapeño Sauce

Gratin of Potatoes with Stilton

Carrots and Dill

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hot and Sour Catfish

Hot and Sour Catfish
For dinner, Ann wanted me to reprise the fried catfish dish with mapo dofu topping that I did this time last year. But I was in a soup mood, so I split the difference. This didn't stop Ann from giving me grief about not cooking exactly what she wanted, for doing some riff, but that's what Eds do: they take inspiration from whatever source and then map that inspiration onto something deliciously edible (and I don't think that judging from her happy noises that she really has any grounds to complain about the results). ;)

Earlier in the afternoon, I simmered for a couple of hours a couple pounds of chicken necks in chicken stock with garlic, ginger, and cilantro stems. Meanwhile, I soaked a handful of dried daylily buds and tree ear mushrooms in hot water.

Just before dinner, I strained the chicken stock and added the rehydrated lily flowers and mushrooms, broth and all, to the stock. To this, I added soy sauce and vinegar in equal parts to the soup until I got just the right amount of salt and sour. I added three parts rice vinegar to one part black vinegar. Into the soup went finely diced tofu, chopped Shanghai bok choy, and spicy preserved mustard stems. I didn't add any more spice to the soup, but if I had, the classic hot and sour soup spice is ground white pepper (which I did add to Ann's soup because she wanted more spice). I did not add cornstarch to the soup: I am not a fan of the gloppy consistency. If that's your speed, go for it.

While finishing up the soup stock, I roasted a whole sheet tray of catfish in the oven (to have something to eat for dinner late night when I get home later this week) and then placed a small filet in the bottom of a soup bowl. Over this went a couple ladles of soup and on top, fresh cilantro and green onions. And presto! Hot and sour catfish.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Soup, Glorious Soup!

Ann and I had a tentative date to go to Thai Winchester yesterday, where surely we would have ordered a big bowl of roasted duck noodle soup. Our date fell through but still Ann wanted soup for dinner and so I obliged her with a huge bowl of rice noodle soup. And it turned out to be one of the best soups I have ever made.

Soup Nirvana!
While I was shopping at the local market, one of the Korean managers happened by and we chatted for a minute, as we always do. He spied the pork necks and the chicken necks in my basket and asked what I was making. When I told him soup, he exclaimed, "I wish I were eating at your house tonight!" And indeed he does wish he did for this pot of soup was outstanding.

First, I made a stock of the chicken necks, pork necks, slabs of ginger, two pieces of lemongrass whacked with the back of my knife, six or eight smashed but whole cloves of garlic, a bundle of cilantro stems, and the stems off a couple dozen shiitake mushrooms. And after this simmered away for about three hours, I strained the stock, seasoned it with salt, and returned it to a low flame.

In the meantime, I prepped the garnishes for the soup: small cubes of country ham, bean sprouts, sliced shiitakes, some pickled mustard stems, sliced green onions, and cilantro leaves.

Into the hot stock, I put the shiitake mushrooms and some fresh rice noodles and let the noodles just soften, about 90 seconds. Once the noodles were divided between serving bowls, I put the bean sprouts, mustard stems, ham, and green onions on top of the noodles. Finally, I poured the hot soup stock over all and topped everything with fresh cilantro.

Soup does not get any better than this.

Linguini with Clam Sauce

It felt good to get back in the kitchen yesterday, if only for a few minutes to make a late afternoon lunch of linguini with white clam sauc...