Sunday, February 28, 2016

Crostini and Vinho Verde on the Patio

February 28!

Remember the 3+ feet of snow of just a few weeks ago? How about 66 degrees, shorts, and bare feet on the patio today?!

Sundried Tomato, Caper, and Goat Cheese Crostini

All winter we've been drinking (and loving) our red wine but when the weather gets nice, there is something special about that first bottle of patio wine on the patio in the spring. I am here to report that it was fantastic, the wine, the crostini, and most of all, spending time chatting with Ann.

I spent the (very chilly and windy) morning pruning the wisteria (which are in great shape thanks to all the hard work I did last winter) and after frozen fingers, I spent the late morning and all afternoon painting the master bathroom which we are remodeling.

I had all afternoon to think about the glorious weather outside that I was missing. At some point, I suggested to Ann that she put a bottle of Vinho Verde in the fridge: after seven hours of pruning and painting, I was going to need some adult therapy. And wonderful and faithful companion that she is, she did just that.

After I finished cleaning up from painting, I made these crostini from sundried tomatoes, capers, goat cheese, and balsamic vinegar. Anticipating the beautiful weather on Sunday afternoon, I brought home some micro-basil on Saturday night to garnish the crostini. Not only do the micros look beautiful, but they give a concentrated burst of flavor.

Fresh Local Micro-Basil: a Burst of Flavor
And out to the patio where we spent an hour or more before the sun got down too low and we cooled off enough to want to go back inside. About that first Vinho Verde of the year: I really missed that slightly spritzy, intensely sappy, low alcohol, green apple-flavored wine. Year in and year out, Bartholomew Broadbent ships awesome Vinho Verde!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Steelhead Trout with Gingered Nappa and Soy Shiitakes

Steelhead Trout, Nappa Cabbage, Shiitakes
We're still very much in the winter doldrums at the restaurant and I am able to leave the cooking to the cooks on some weeknights, giving me an opportunity to get home and have dinner with Ann and Carter. Last night was one such night that I took off, worked on the bathroom that we're remodeling, and made dinner for all of us.

Yesterday afternoon Ann and I were discussing dinner via text when she asked me to do something with the Steelhead Trout that I brought home on Monday. So I started sketching out an idea: gingered nappa cabbage, soy-glazed Steelhead, and shiitakes. No sooner had I written this on a piece of paper than she texted me: "teriyaki or hoisin." How crazy that we were on exactly the same page, miles apart?

The nappa I quickly sautéed in a little oil with a splash of sesame oil, a lot of minced ginger, and a bit of minced garlic. Once it wilted, I moved it on to plates, wiped the pan down, and quickly sautéed some sliced shiitakes with a bit more ginger and garlic, then as they were wilting, splashed them with a few drops of soy sauce, let that evaporate, and moved them to a plate at the back of the stove to stay warm.

Another wipe down of the pan, a touch more oil, and in went the Steelhead, skin side down until the skin was crispy and brown and the fish at least half cooked, about three minutes. Then I flipped the fish and let it go for another minute, splashed the pan with soy sauce, let it evaporate, and then I turned off the flame and let the fish rest for 90 seconds. The fish was perfectly cooked: crispy skin, soy char on the other side, moist, flaky, and pink center. Delicious!

The plate up as you see above is simple.

Ann did not like the nappa cabbage. She keeps surprising me with all the leafy vegetables that she will not eat, nothing except for spinach and maybe gai lan, Chinese broccoli. This is going to be a bone of contention when we are eating together full time, post restaurant because I've not met a vegetable that I won't eat and I love and have to have my leafy greens. More for me I guess! I ate her cabbage and enjoyed every forkful of it!

Annie Cooks

Two days running this weekend, Ann planned dinner and got it rolling! Somehow I got suckered into finishing both meals: maybe this was the plan all along, to get us back in the kitchen together? It was really awesome to have Annie back in the kitchen planning meals: it's been a long time and the last few months have been tough. I kind of like it this way: not having to worry about what is for dinner, just executing it.

On Sunday, she put a pork shoulder in the crockpot with a bunch of balsamic vinegar and braised it. I pulled and defatted the shoulder and defatted and reduced the braising liquid and it made pretty fine pulled pork. I forgot to get a picture of it: we were starving and launched right into attacking it.

Chicken with Artichokes and Porcini
On Monday, she decided to do chicken thighs roasted with white wine, shallots, and mushrooms. At the last minute, she decided she wanted artichokes too so she ran out to the store while I did some work remodeling our bathroom. Later on, she soaked the porcini and got everything out to make the dish when all of a sudden she asked me to cook it. I didn't want to steal her thunder but she seemed like she really wanted me to cook dinner, so I finished the chicken while she cooked the accompanying orzo. It was a great tag team effort.

The deboned chicken thighs are dredged in flour, browned, and removed to a baking dish. Then minced shallots and a bit of butter go in for a few seconds followed by the drained and chopped rehydrated porcini and halved artichoke hearts. A quick sauté is then followed by a deglazing with a little fresh lemon juice and a couple splashes of white Burgundy. Then it cooks for a minute or two and is poured over the chicken and into a moderate oven, uncovered, for about a half an hour until the chicken is done and the sauce has reduced to a good consistency.

This dish is pretty much identical to Nancy's pasta or shrimp that we cook at the restaurant, save for a slight few details. At the restaurant, this dish gets a lot more butter, lots of garlic, lots of parsley, and shiitakes rather than porcini.

It was delicious Annie. Thank you for taking the lead the last couple of days!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Quick Shrimp Salad

Last post, I wrote about Ann pulling odds and ends out of the freezer. She also pulled out a bag of cooked salad shrimp, which are always useful to have in the freezer for an emergency. A quick rinse under cold water and they are ready to eat.

Shrimp and Vegetable Salad
In the midst of a cold and barren winter, I wanted something fresh, crunchy, and a little exotic to take me away from here, at least for ten minutes or so. So I endeavored to make a quick salad of the shrimp with lots of crunchy vegetables, Thai basil, and a quick Thai-inspired dressing. The salad ingredients aside from the shrimp are grape tomatoes, cucumbers, orange peppers, canned baby corn, sugar snaps, and Thai basil. The dressing is fish sauce, brown sugar, crushed chile peppers, and garlic. None of this is in season now and that vexes the seasonalist in me, but filled my need for a little temporary escapism from the doldrums of winter.

Recycling

This time of year, the lack of fresh-from-the-garden ingredients and the marginal traffic at the restaurant, punctuated by the hellish crush of Valentine's business always leaves me feeling uninspired about food. I'm not doing awesome food at home or at the restaurant, or at least it doesn't feel that way to me, lacking the ingredients necessary to inspire creativity and just being in survival mode trying to get through Hell Week, er, I mean Valentine's Week. If you've been in the restaurant business, you know what I am talking about. If not, well, count yourself damn lucky.

We were so busy last week that I don't even remember it and I am rolling on 13 days now without a day off. I have some photos of food I did at home, but I can't remember when I cooked it. I do know that Ann went through the freezer and pulled out some odds and ends left over from other kitchen projects. In particular, she pulled out a zip-top bag of chicken thighs and another of marinara leftover from something, probably the meatballs from Bob's funeral reception back in January. I found a rather mangy bunch of rapini in the vegetable drawer that I bought for Mary to enjoy, but she went back home before she could eat it.

Chicken Thighs on Blanched Rapini
What to do with chicken, marinara, and rapini? I decided to braise it all, blanching the rapini and putting in a baking dish, flouring and searing the chicken, and covering the whole with marinara and a sprinkle of cheese. I remember the chicken and the braised rapini being exceptionally delicious, but then, I love braised rapini (and Ann does not).

Under Marinara with a Little Cheese
And of course, even after Carter ate chicken, we still had leftovers of leftovers, so a couple of nights later, I pulled the chicken off the bone, diced some wayward turkey breast from the cooler, and blended the marinara and the rapini. The contents of blender went into a soup pan with water and then once at a boil, in went a bag of egg noodles. Once they were mostly cooked, off the heat it came and I stirred in the pulled chicken and turkey. It was a pretty darn good bowl of soup made from recycled recyclings.

Recycled as Soup with Turkey and Egg Noodles
My grandmother would be proud of my frugality. As a professional chef, my food costs and profits are dependent on getting every bit out of food that I can, so recycling comes easy to me. Bones and roasting juices go into stocks, leftover side dishes into soups, and all manner of vegetable peelings and trimmings go into broth. In an age where so much food is wasted, this seems to be a rare talent.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Virginia's Restaurant

A line cook from another restaurant let me know that a new Salvadoran restaurant had opened near him and so Ann and I took off on a date, our first Thursday night date ever. Trust me, I am milking this slow January business for all it is worth and letting my sous chef shoulder the load. So we went to check out Virginia's Restaurant which was all but empty. It looked like maybe they were doing some take out and delivery business, but not much. This time of year is really hard on us in this business.

It looked to be a two-woman show with one running the front and one running the kitchen and both washing dishes. The one serving us apologized for the lack of menus written in English, which distresses me not in the least. The menu is extremely brief, about six or seven antojitos including a couple of tortas; three soups; and six or seven main courses. We chose antojitos: pupusas, yuca frita, and achiote-tinted pasteles.

Pupusas
The pupusas are really good, but then I've never met one that I didn't like. I had loroco, Ann had frijol and queso, and we ordered another each frijol and queso to take home to Carter. Thin, tender, and delicious, these were great pupusas.The curtido was uninspired and unfermented, almost an afterthought, which is too bad, because I think of curtido as one of the great gifts to the world from Salvadoran cuisine.

Pasteles
The chicken in the pasteles de pollo was difficult to find, the filling being mainly potato. I'm fine with that though and these were both hot out of the fryer and tasty enough.

Yuca Frita con Chicharrón
Yuca frita is another hallmark Salvadoran dish. And this one was just OK. I prefer the dish when it is done like a Salvadoran poutine: French fry-like pieces of yuca mounded on a plate, covered in shredded and pan-fried chicharrón, maybe a little tomato sauce, and a topping of curtido. The chunks of yuca were great as yuca always is; I like yuca fries so much better than potato fries (and I love potato fries). The chunks of pork were fried to submission though, too done for my liking. Again, the curtido should have brought an acidic twang to the dish to help cut through the starch and fat, but it didn't.

All in all, food for three people for less than the price of an entrée at my restaurant says a lot. I hope they make it because it is the only pupuseria in downtown, the other two being a good bit out of the way.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Empanadas

During dinner on Sunday while we were feasting on enchiladas, Ann mentioned something about loving empanadas and how we should (I should) make them some time, so I resolved to make empanadas on Monday night. And to go with them, I made a cabbage slaw called curtido and an avocado and tomatillo salsa verde.

Empanadas, Curtido, Salsa Verde
Ready to Roll
I've been using the same empanada dough recipe for years, even at the restaurant. It's a little finicky and crumbly, but it makes the best empanadas ever. I must have ripped it off from somewhere because it is written in English units of measure, even using cups for flour. The vast majority of recipes that we develop for the restaurant are done in metric units and by weight. I rolled and cut the pastries and Ann filled them. I had a good time poking fun at her for being messy and I think she had a good time being mock offended.

Picadillo Dulce of Pork
You can stuff just about anything inside an empanada. Black beans are among my favorites, but this time I decided to do a sweet and sour ground pork called picadillo dulce. I had to keep it less on the picante side because Ann's mom Mary can't handle the heat. I usually add golden raisins and almonds (both showing the Moorish heritage of this dish) but for this filling, I decided to keep it simple. I cooked the ground pork with finely minced red onion, cilantro stems, garlic, and green olives seasoned with cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and pimentón (smoked paprika). Once this cooked out, I added sherry vinegar and brown sugar to taste to yield a sweet-tart final product.

Ann's Handiwork
I always seal my pastry with egg wash and crimp the edges with a fork, then do a final wash of egg on top. This is how it has always been done in my family. Some people crimp the edges by hand and others roll the crust over on itself to form a lip. They all achieve the same thing: sealing the goodness of the relleno on the inside. After Ann finished sealing all the empanadas, I put them in a moderate oven until they were a light golden brown all over, about 40 minutes.

Curtido Fresco
To go with the empanadas, I wanted to do something light and fresh, so I opted for a quick cabbage slaw that the Salvadorans call curtido, a slaw that is usually fermented like kraut or kimchee. I call this curtido fresco because there is no malolactic fermentation: it's eaten within hours of being made. It is finely shredded white cabbage, red onions, and carrots seasoned with lime juice, rice vinegar, salt, oregano, a splash of olive oil, and a touch of agave syrup to take a bit of edge off the acid. Left on the counter for a few days to ferment, this would be a very fine curtido indeed. Ann said it needs a bit of heat and while I love to put finely slivered hot chiles in curtido, there is no way that my mother-in-law could handle that.

Salsa Verde
I had it in mind to do chimichurri for a dipping sauce for the empanadas, but I was suckered in by an avocado at the market. I ended up making a smooth green sauce of avocado, canned tomatillos, rice vinegar, and cilantro. This sauce is addictively good!

Pork and Nopalito Enchiladas

I felt like cooking this weekend, despite a huge sold-out wine dinner on Saturday night. As the younger guys shoulder more of the load in the restaurant kitchen, my days are moving more and more to logistics and paperwork and my nights are going more the direction of third wheel, in the crew's way, except on busy nights when I am quarterbacking, what we in the business call expediting. None of this involves a pan in my hand and so I think my cooking at home is my way of compensating for this, for finding again what was so enjoyable that it got me into the business. Enough introspection; I made some kick-ass enchiladas on Sunday.


Pork and Nopalito Enchiladas/Guajillo Salsa Roja
Not sure what the genesis of this dish was. I know Ann and I were coffeeing in the sunroom as we do pretty much every Sunday morning, talking about dinner as we do pretty much every Sunday morning, and somehow enchiladas came up, which was enough for me to run with.

Pulled Pork, Nopalito, Green Onion, and Cheese Filling
A quick trip to the supermercado yielded a slice of pork shoulder, some guajillos, a bag of tortillas, a bunch of green onions, a couple cans of tomatoes, and some quesillo especial, grated cheese for pupusas. I have a couple of jars of nopalitos in the refrigerator and I decided to use up some of them in the enchilada filling which also contains the shredded pork shoulder, green onions, some quesillo, and a little bit of the guajillo sauce to moisten it.

Rubbed Pork Shoulder, Tomatoes, Guajillos, Garlic
I wanted to roast the tomatoes hard to give them a bit of a char and I wanted to slow cook/roast-braise the pork until it was fork tender, but not having someone to wash dishes for me, I wanted to use a single pan for the entire operation. I put the tomatoes, a few guajillos, and a dozen cloves of garlic around the outside of the roasting pan, with the rubbed pork shoulder in the middle. The spice rub that I use for pork differs with my mood and the flavor profile I am looking to achieve. This one was pimentón (smoked paprika), cumin, garlic powder, oregano, cinnamon, salt, and black pepper. Because of the spice rub, I did not add any additional seasonings to the salsa roja.

Roasting the Tomatoes While Braise-Roasting the Pork
I tented the pork so that it would roast-braise under its lid while the tomatoes, chiles, and garlic roasted around the edges. I roasted until the tomatoes were good and caramelized, the chiles a little charred, and the pork was falling apart. Meanwhile, I soaked the remainder of the stemmed and seeded guajillos in warm water for a couple hours. Into the blender went those chiles with the roasted tomato mixture and out came the most wonderful salsa roja. Three ounces of guajillos to two 28-ounce cans of tomatoes was just about a perfect ratio. Guajillos are a kitchen workhorse everywhere, having wonderful chile flavor with little to just a bit of spice. If you don't know guajillos, it's time to meet them.