Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ann's Leek Bread Pudding

For Sunday night dinner, Ann planned to make a leek bread pudding, but she didn't count on the ground being frozen solid this time of year and our not being able to harvest any leeks for a few more weeks. So we postponed the bread pudding to Monday so that I could grab some leeks at the grocery store on the way home after work.

Leek Bread Pudding with Challah and Gruyère
Making the bread pudding was a dual effort. I sliced and toasted the challah, cleaned and sliced and sweated the leeks, and grated the Gruyère cheese. Ann made the custard and assembled the bread pudding. Hmmm. Looking back at the division of labor, it seems I got duped into doing all the work! ;)

Sweating Leeks: Wonderful Scents in the Kitchen

Toasted Challah Cubes

Grated Gruyère


Assembling the Bread Pudding
We put the bread pudding together before going to the movies in the afternoon and then put it in the oven when we got back. Easy, easy. It was very tasty with an extremely light texture from the challah. The light texture tricked me into eating way more than I should have given my issues in dealing with lactose. But I would suffer again for something this good! Great job Annie!

Brunch: Chile Verde on Green Chile Latke, Poached Duck Egg

My kids have always claimed that breakfast or brunch is the best meal that I make. I don't do it that often because the thought of eating at anytime within the first couple of hours after I awake is unbearable. But Ann asked me to make brunch on Sunday and so I did, at 1:30 in the afternoon!

Chile Verde on Green Chile Latke, Poached Duck Egg
I have always been a huge fan of breakfasts in New Mexico, which often include chile, either red or green, or for those people who cannot make up their minds, both. When thinking about brunch food, my mind always heads to the Southwest and today was no different. I decided to bring my pork chile verde to a latke, but change up the latke by adding diced poblano chile to it. My answer to the question "Red or green?" is green for most dishes.

Layered from the bottom: green chile latke, carnitas, poached duck egg, tomatillo salsa verde, and cilantro.

One other thing about the latke: I've started leaving the skin on the potato in recent months. I just grate the potatoes skin and all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Broiled Rainbow Trout

Monday night, we were going to have rainbow trout for dinner, but we ended up going to the movies and eating cheese steaks there. Ann wondered because of the snow if I might be able to get home early enough on Tuesday to have the trout. I was able: it was a painfully early night at the restaurant.

Rainbow Trout with Roasted Haricots Verts and Lentils
I love trout, always have. As a child, I remember that my father would take the whole family to Graves Mountain Lodge down in Syria, VA in Madison County each spring for the opening of trout season. My brother and I would fish ineffectually with the wrong gear in the Rose River until dinner time, at which point, we would consume massive amounts of fried trout. Bones be damned, I love me some trout.

For restaurant service, I take the head off the trout and butterfly them, removing the spine and then I surgically remove all the tiny and hugely annoying pin bones. This three minutes of labor per fish yields the perfectly deboned butterflied trout that you see above. Now multiply this labor by the 64 fish that I prepped last week and you could understand why I might not want to see another trout again for a very long time. But so delicious is trout that I would willingly go through a lot of labor to put it on the table.

This trout I rubbed with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put under the broiler for about 3 minutes while I reheated the lentils in the microwave. Ann roasted the haricots verts before I got home. Dinner took five minutes to put on the table, which is good, because we were both voraciously hungry. This is about as simple, easy, and delicious as dinner gets.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tag Team Dinner: Minestrone and Bread

Sometime earlier in the week, Ann asked if I would make minestrone for dinner on Sunday and she volunteered to make a loaf of bread to go with it. Sounded good to me. Except. Except I have heretofore always made minestrone in the summer using the bounty of the garden. I have never thought of it as a winter soup before. And as Ann can all too well attest, I am guided by nothing if not the seasons in my cooking. Though once I thought about it, I reasoned that people damn well make soup year round (particularly in winter) using whatever vegetables are at hand. I know that Ann wishes a lot of times that I would just stop with the thinking and cook whatever she wants, but then I wouldn't be the person that she married, would I?

My Minestrone, Ann's Black Pepper Pecorino Bread

Minestrone Mise
I love soup and I've made a lot of minestrone in my life. Each batch is different, but the common qualities are: it is a brothy soup with big chunks of vegetables; it is not a long-cooked soup; it always contains beans and pasta; and it is always seasoned with a chunk of Parmigiano rind. Vegetables vary depending on what is on hand. I love Swiss chard in mine in the summer; white cabbage stands in now while the ground is frozen, though I would have preferred cavolo nero.

Sometimes, there are benefits to owning a restaurant, such as having quarts of ready-prepped mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery) and slabs of house-cured pancetta in the walk in. That along with diced tomatoes, a piece of white cabbage, and a bulb of fennel comprised the vegetables in the soup. Seasonings were pancetta tesa, a sprig of rosemary, garlic, pesto, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and a Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. Beans were canned cannellini, though in summer I use fresh bird egg beans and chunks of flat romano beans. Pasta, because of the terribly limited selection of soup pastas at the grocery store, was ditalini.

I started by trying the cubed pancetta in extra virgin olive oil with the stalk of rosemary, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and the slivered garlic. Once the pancetta and garlic went transparent, in went the carrots, onions, celery, 3/4s of the cabbage, and 3/4s of the sliced fennel.

To prep fennel, cut off the stalks and peel off any tough outer parts. Quarter the fennel vertically. Remove the core by cutting each of the four pieces on the bias. Then slice each piece horizontally against the grain into 1/8" (4mm) slices.

After the vegetables sweated for about five minutes, I added the tomatoes, the cheese rind, and a quart each of chicken stock and water. At this point, the vegetables simmer for about 30 minutes. Still to go into the pan: the beans (already cooked, don't want to overcook), the pasta (it goes in for the last 10 minutes), the pesto (doesn't need to cook, swirled in just before serving), and the remaining cabbage and fennel (goes in five minutes before serving, for freshness and crunch).

When I was ready to serve dinner, I brought the soup to a boil, seasoned it, and added the beans, and the pasta. Five minutes later, I added the cabbage and fennel. When the pasta was done, I swirled in the pesto and served.

The soup was particularly delicious and about as simple as can be. A couple days later, my Italian wife confessed that she had only ever eaten minestrone out of a can! How can this be? How do you grow up in a multi-generational Italian family and not have fresh minestrone? I suspect that there is no going back to the can now for her; she has been spoiled.

Getting Her Hands Dirty
Years ago, I used to bake bread all the time, but Ann has adopted that task for herself and she makes an excellent loaf of bread. She doesn't generally knead the dough, but this one ended up so sticky that she had to add a lot of flour to it. Still, the bread, flavored with lots of black pepper and grated pecorino cheese, was really great.

Ann's Delicious Black Pepper Pecorino Bread
It's always fun to get in the kitchen with Ann and a couple glasses of wine and do our thing. As much as I like to cook, I like it better when we do it together. We make a great team!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tacos, Again

Tacos are the perfect Monday night food for me. Simple, fast, and if I plan correctly, no cooking necessary. Such was the case with the shrimp and black bean salsa taco that you see below.

Shrimp and Black Bean Salsa Taco with Avocado
I refreshed a few small pre-cooked and peeled shrimp under hot water, sliced an avocado, and made a batch of black bean salsa, shown below.

Black Bean Salsa
I've kind of stretched the definition of salsa ("sauce") a bit here; my salsa is more at a relish than a sauce but it serves the same function as a sauce. It contains black beans, tomatoes, orange pepper, red onion, garlic, cilantro, chipotle adobo, green onions, lime juice, and salt.

The basic rules for making salsas are:

1. Pick a fruit or fruits: tomatoes, tomatillos, sweet peppers, papaya, mango, pineapple, kiwi, strawberry, peach, nectarine, etc. The fruits are the primary flavoring. In this case, I used tomatoes and sweet peppers.

2. Pick an onion or onions: red, yellow, white, green, shallots, garlic, leeks. The onions add crunch and some acidity. Here I used three onions: red, green, and garlic.

3. Chop a bunch of cilantro. You could use other herbs, but cilantro (or culantro) is almost always what you want.

4. Pick some heat: fresh green or red chile, pickled chile, chile sauce, chipotle adobo, crushed chiles, etc. I used a little smoky chipotle adobo in this salsa.

5. Pick an acid: lime juice, lemon juice, sour orange juice, other citrus, vinegar of any kind, tamarind, etc. The acid is key. Salsa needs to perk up your palate and for that, it needs to have an acid twang. I used lime juice.

And that's it. How you improvise and embellish is up to you. I love to add vanilla to mango or pineapple salsas. I love to add black beans to almost any salsa. Go, experiment, enjoy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Annie Makes Soufflé

This past weekend, my wife cooked for me a delightful Gruyère soufflé and one of the best salads that I have ever eaten! Those of you who don't cook for a living have no basis for comprehending how wonderful this is, so just let me assure you that it is always fantastic when someone else cooks for you, especially someone who cooks as fabulously as my wife.

Gruyère Soufflé
This tale started last Thursday when I asked Ann in a casual text if we had any plans for Sunday, my day off and last day to rest before the circus which is Valentine's Day. She replied that we did not but that she was making yummy food for me. Score! I generally cook on Sundays because I want to. There are no other days of the week that I can really cook for her unless she were to come to the restaurant and then I wouldn't be really cooking just for her and she would be reminded painfully that I spend all my nights with my restaurant mistress instead of her. Suffice it to say that it is a huge deal for Ann to cook for me on a Sunday and that I was greatly anticipating it.

Greens with Pickled Red Onions and Warm Balsamic Dressing
This is one of the best salads I have ever eaten. But what a giant pain in the rear! Ann asked me to bring some ingredients home from the restaurant, but our communications were a bit garbled and the long and short of it is that we had to go back to the restaurant on Sunday to get micro-basil for the salad. And then I had to go back to get the prosciutto. I thought Ann was going to cry when we got back to the house to find that we had forgotten the prosciutto. And so I went back to the restaurant and made sure I grabbed a bottle of wine too, because all that running back and forth was not what I planned for my day off and I was a bit frazzled.

Back to the salad which comprised greens, basil, mint leaves, parsley leaves, red onions pickled in red wine vinegar, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, toasted pine nuts, and a garlicky warm balsamic dressing. Absolutely fantastic. I had two helpings and ate the bulk of the leftovers in a wrap the next day.

Separating Eggs

Shaving Parmigiano

Just Coming out of the Oven
Dinner was fantastic! Nobody, not even a professional chef, could have made it any better.

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...