Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sovereign State #12: The Bahamas

The Bahamas
The Menu:
Roasted Black Cod with Bahamian Creole Sauce 
Littleneck Clams Steamed in Dark Caribbean Rum and Lime
Peas n' Rice (Pigeon Peas and Coconut Rice) 
Bahama Rum Punch

Aruba, Jamaica ooh I wanna take ya
To Bermuda, Bahama come on pretty mama
Key Largo, Montego baby why don't we go
Jamaica, off the Florida Keys
There's a place called Kokomo
That's where you wanna go to get away from it all

Bodies in the sand
Tropical drink melting in your hand
We'll be falling in love
To the rhythm of a steel drum band
Down in Kokomo

Perhaps the Beach Boys knew something I don't.  Kokomo, Indiana does not seem that nice of a place.  Is there some hidden beach resort we don't know about, secretly guarded by those sneaky Hoosiers?  Huh, who knows?  What I do know is that The Bahamas IS the place to be for fun, sun, and a whole lotta Rum! Can I get a high five?!  Anyone?  While eating our Bahamian diner, tropical drinks melting in our hands, K and I did fall in love all over again.  So I guess it's true.  Special thanks to the truly random steel drum band that arrived at our little apartment the second I made the Bahama Rum Punch.  Man, I could listen to steel drums all day long.  In fact, in our first Seattle apartment I did get to hear steel drums all day, everyday when the creepy, naked, dread locked frat boy across the street would turn his stereo speaker out his windows and blast generic reggae all Summer long.  It was a real treat.  Okay, time to get serious here.  I must be taken seriously as a professional culinary journalist.  Perhaps my laissez faire writing style and inability to meld into the predictable food blog cesspool will keep me from getting a Pulitzer but nobody's perfect.  Sure, I have run-on sentences and sometimes I go nowhere with what I'm saying but that's not the point, the point is... what was I talking about?  Enough chit chat... 

The Bahamas frickin' rock.  I really enjoyed this meal.  Lots of flavors that I am comfortable with (I am part Cuban after all) and a few surprises here and there.  Living here in Seattle, it's pretty hard to get good Caribbean food.  There are a few local restaurants that serve up island specialties but what they tend to lack in flavor they make up for in it by charging outrageous prices, so at least you get to pay a whole lot of money for your bland beans and rice.

 I choose using fresh local fish versus something I have to get frozen and imported.  For the Black Cod (I wanted snapper but couldn't find any that looked good) I made the creole sauce by sauteing some onions, garlic, leeks and scotch bonnet peppers.  By the way, beware of  the Scotch Bonnet.  They will burn your face right off.  No lie.  I then deglazed the pan with a little coconut water and lime juice.  A couple of cloves, some cumin seed, and cilantro.  Preheat the oven 425F.  In a Pyrex pour a little sauce on the bottom, place the fish (6 oz fillets) skin side down.  Top with the sauce.  Cover and cook for about 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked through.  Served on a bed of Peas n' Rice.  You can't get any more Bahamian than Peas n' rice.  It's basically pigeon peas (also known as No-Eye Peas in some island areas), a sofrito (onion, garlic, celery, peppers), and long grain rice.  The pigeon pea is similar to a black-eyed pea (the legume not the "band") only it's green in color and has an even meatier taste.  There were a ton of recipes out from as every home cook has their own secrets (I could tell you mine but I'd have to kill you).  In my recipe I added coconut milk and chicken stock.  Kind of like a Caribbean Hoppin' John.

For the clams I sauteed some garlic and Scotch bonnets in a little butter.  Then deglazed the pan with some dark rum and lime juice.  Toss in the clams and cover for about 5 minutes until they open (toss out any closed critters, they checked out a while back.  Checked out as in died).  Chop up some cilantro and scallions and sprinkle over the dish.  So simple a dumb kid at a kegger could do it.  Maybe.

Speaking of keggers, let's talk about booze for a little shall we?  Nothing beats a delicious cocktail in my book.  Not that shit made but slackers who don't give a damn and just sling cheap hooch for a quick paycheck.  You won't find any nasty, sugary, pre-made mixers in the Violet household, no ma'am.  I treat my drink like I treat my food, as a respectable art and I also don't drink to "get wasted".  Sure, I love a good buzz to help me forget about how much I hate most people, but first and foremost I love to taste something artisanal and fresh.  Something that is lovingly prepared by someone who cares about what they do. I've really gotten into mixology lately and K and I have been on quite a vintage cocktail kick.  So anyways, when it came time to do a cocktail for The Bahamas dinner I decided to make a Bahama Rum Punch instead of the nicely named Bahama Mama.  After a few cocktails everything was nice and I could faintly hear that naked guy fifteen blocks away blasting his steel drum music and ya know what?  I don't miss it one bit.

Bahama Rum Punch

(makes 1 drink)
2 ounce light rum
1/2 ounce campari orange
1/2 oz coconut water
1/2 oz orange juice
1/2 oz pineapple juice

Fill a mixing glass with ice.  Pour the ingredients in.  Stir with a bar spoon until blended.  Serve in old fashioned glass with a lime wedge garnish.  If you want to make more just multiply the ingredients and serve in a festive punch bowl.

For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States

Monday, April 19, 2010

Meat is neat.

There is nothing quite like a perfectly cooked steak.  Who doesn't like a big, juicy, medium rare New York strip steak with a nice charred crust and some creamy mashed potatoes?  Aside from crazy people...oh and vegetarians (perhaps there's a correlation there.  Just kidding my fine animal loving hippy friends).  The problem is, most people love to cook the shit out of their meat and next thing you know you have shoe leather on your plate and even the sharpest of steak knives can't do their job.

Want to have good steaks at home?  The first thing you need to do is find a decent butcher.  Skip your local SuperDooperMart.  Go to a small, locally owned grocery or butcher shop where they care about their product.  If the meat looks terrifying and grey, you don't want to put it in your mouth.  Next build up a rapport with your butcher. Become pals and before you know it she/he will be telling which cuts are the freshest and tastiest.

Okay, so what kind of meat should you buy?  Well, let's have a look at the cow, shall we?

Rib - Just back from the shoulder is the rib section, and this is the home of the prime rib roast, and not surprisingly, the rib steak and the rib eye. Very well marbled and flavorful, the rib section is about the tastiest of all the steaks, and is tender and succulent enough for a quick treatment on the grill. Some common cuts of the rib are:
Rib steak, which if you can imagine is just a slice with the bone of a prime rib,
Rib eye steak, which is just the boneless interior of the rib steak

The Loin - Directly behind the rib section is the loin, and the loin meat is the tenderest section of beef. Although not as well flavored or marbled as the rib, the loin accounts for the most expensive and tender of all the cuts of steak. Some common cuts of the loin are:
The Tenderloin, the tenderest cut, the most expensive, and some say less flavorful.
T-Bone, A bit of everything, the T bone has a T shaped bone which sub divides a small section of tenderloin, with a larger section of strip steak.
Porterhouse, similar to the T-bone, but with a larger section of tenderloin.
Strip loin (NY steak), a rectangular strip of very flavorful steak, like a T-bone without the bone or tenderloin. This is one of may favorite steaks.

Sirloin - Directly behind the loin is the sirloin. Less tender and cheaper than the loin, sirloin steaks are very tasty. Try to pick sirloin steaks as cut close to the loin if possible (if the bone is flat that means close to the loin, and round means farther back).

Round - The round section is the hind leg of the cow, and although some of these can be very flavorful, all are less tender than even the sirloin.  I save round cuts for stews and braised dishes.  Perfect for chili and carne asada. Some common cuts from the round are:
Top round is an acceptable steak for the grill, inexpensive and flavorful.  Marinate or throw on some rub.
Bottom round is OK for the grill, but you should probably marinate well as it can be a bit chewy.
Eye of round is too tough for quick cooking methods.  Leave it for stews and long cooking methods.

Okay, so now you know the cow, how should you cook it?  There are several ways to do this.  If you happen to be one of those lucky people who have a yard and a grill (how come you never invite me to your BBQs?!), grilling over charcoal is the best.  Gas grills work fine too but there is something about that delicious charcoal grill smell that turns me on (not in a creepy way, really).  If you're like me and don't have a house the next best thing is to get a nice grill pan and throw it over high heat.  If that's even too much work ya lazy jerk, for ya grab a nice frying pan and pan fry your steaks.  For steaks about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick about 4-5 minutes each side over high heat will get you a nice medium rare.  How can you tell if your steak is done?  Here, I'll let this creepy serial killer looking guy tell you how the professionals do it.

So I cooked up some beautiful New York strip steaks on a scorchingly hot grill pan to a perfect medium rare.  A little bit of salt before grilling and that's it.  After the steaks were done I pulled them off the heat and let them rest for 7-8 minutes to let the juices redistribute through the meat.  In the meantime I added some sliced crimini mushrooms and fresh thyme to the grill and let them cook.  I then deglazed the pan with a lovely red Bordeaux wine and scraped up all the delicious steak fond (the brown bits of deliciousness on the bottom of the pan).  Salt and pepper and a little European butter to give the sauce a nice sheen.  I also made a quick smoked Rogue Creamery Oregon blue cheese butter to top off the steaks.  Half butter, half blue cheese.  Throw it in your mixer and cream for a minute until blended and soft.  Roll into a tube using a sheet of plastic wrap.  Freeze and slice off some when you want it.  With a side of creamy mashed potatoes, you be riving your local steakhouse and saving $150 while your at it.  Serve it with a nice bottle of red wine and you'll impress the hell out of anyone. Hell, it might even get you laid.  Good luck!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Periscope Up.

If the only thing you know about submarine sandwiches is that they only cost 5 dollars for a footlong, you need to get your head checked. What the hell does Subway mold their meat out of anyways? I think it's perhaps some kind of poly blend mixed with cardboard and horse hooves. We'll never know. Like every other delicious thing that fast food chains have bastardized, the mighty submarine sandwich has fallen to a lowly place where hamburgers are served by clowns and come with a side of ecoli.  A place where a little Mexican dog can whip you up a taco wrapped in a burrito wrapped in a taquito wrapped in a fajita wrapped in a bowl of refried beans.  I like hot sauce, but if your little processed pack of hot sauce can eat the finish off a penny I don't want it in my mouth.  It's an unreasonable make believe land where no one expects to pay no more than five bucks for lunch. All I know is that you always get what you pay for.  I understand times are tough and everyone needs to save a buck.  Wanna save your money? Buy some quality ingredients and make lunch yourself. It'll cost you less and be a million more times satisfying than your creepy cardboard sandwich. I'll admit, I grew up on fast food. I am addicted to the stuff. Once in a while I break down and eat some phony food. I'm like a recovering crack addict only my drug of choice used to be seven layer burritos. So I understand, those urges. However, we can choose to build a better and healthier world by fighting those urges and show these corporations that we don't want to eat fake food anymore. The almighty dollar no longer comes first in my food decisions. I want to know where my food comes from and how the ingredients are processed. Support the local little guys, the people who care about the food and your health. Or make something delicious at home. You won't regret it.  Unless of course you're a terrible cook in which case you should get cooking lessons stat!

Okay, so my soapbox imploded and now we're just left with the food. Where were we? Ah yes, the submarine sandwich. If your city has an Italian neighboorhood in it, chances are you have your own version of the submarine sandwich. In New York you have The Submarine, the Hero, the Italian Sandwich. In Boston and Eastern New England you have Grinders (the Italian-Americans referred to the dock workers as Grinders). In Jersey you got Torpedos and Bombers.  In North Pennsylvania you have Cosmos. In western New England there's Tunnels. In St. Louis you have Poor Boys. In Louisiana there are Po Boys. In England you have Rockets. Where ever you are, a good sub can be found.

The other day I went down to Delaurentis and picked up some sliced mortadella, coppocolla, calabrese salami, and provolone.  I grabbed a few fresh tomatoes and a head of lettuce from the market.  I also got some Macrina sandwich rolls.   I made New England Grinders and I have to say they were delicious.  They cost about $4.25 each to make.  It took about 4 minutes to make them.  If that's not tasty fast food than I don't know what is.

New England Grinders

4  8-10" Italian grinder rolls
½ lb. sliced provolone cheese
½ lb. thinly sliced mortadella
½ lb. thinly sliced spicy coppocolla
½ lb. thinly sliced hard Genoa or Calabrese salami
½ head iceberg lettuce, shredded
2 large tomatoes, diced
½ cup pickled peppers (I use spicy Mama Lil's)
½ cup dill pickles, chopped
1 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
½ Tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
tt kosher salt
tt fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat broiler.
Slice rolls longways and arrange on a baking sheet cut side up.
Mix together the tomatoes, peppers, pickles, olive oil, red pepper flakes, oregano, salt and pepper.
Toast the rolls under the broiler for about a minute.
Layer the sandwiches with the provolone, mortadella, coppocolla, salami, lettuce, and top with the dressed vegetables.


Monday, April 5, 2010

The Great Pizza War of 2010.

Let me just preface this post by saying that my sweet wifey K can't cook to save her life. She can burn boiling water. Don't feel bad for her, she has a million other amazing talents but the culinary arts is not one of them. When I had walking pneumonia a few years back she panicked and bought me a can of chili for dinner. I thought perhaps I was going to die. I love her dearly but when I can't cook for some reason, the rule is, we get take-out. Our go-to delivery option tends to be pizza. If only we had real deal NY pizza around here. Being from Queens, pizza is in my blood. I like my slices to be somewhat floppy with a good amount of grease that drips down your arm as you fold it in half and eat it. Don't get me wrong, Seattle has some decent pizza including several places that claim they are New York "style" but we just don't have the real thing.

So recently K asked me to teach her how to make pizza.  The task seemed daunting but I felt up to the challenge (challenge being the key word).  K is a very competitive girl.  One minute you're teaching someone how to make pizza and the next minute you're hearing things like "your pizza is going to suck and my pizza is going to kick your ass!" and "after you eat my awesome pizza you'll be asking me to show you how to cook pizza!"  And that my dear friends is how the Great Pizza War of 2010 started.

We made the dough from scratch, the sauce from scratch, and we thoughtfully picked out our toppings.  Both K and I ended up making "ultimate" style pizzas with way too many toppings but during a competition you tend to pull out all the stops.  There is no room for losers in this house!!!  Oh sorry, I get carried away when I'm having to prove myself.  It must be all those years as a girl playing little league baseball.  I used to eat like a whole pack of Big League Chew during practice.  My cheeks would be obscenely bulged out and purple drool ran down my chin onto my little sporty mesh half shirt.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, Pizza:  Judges, prepare to be blown away.

In this corner, the Monarch of La Mesa, the Countess of Cali with her super vegetarian (she can't help it, she's from California) explosion pie.  Topped with artichoke hearts, crimini mushrooms, black olives, kale, fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese.

In the opposite corner, the lovely and talented Queen of Queens, the Empress of New York with her Spanish coca style breakfast pizza topped with bacon, chorizo, olives, manchego and fontina cheeses and fried eggs.

...And the winner is... The truth is they were both very delicious and ridiculously filling.  I'm surprised we didn't have heart attacks that very night.  We had a great time making tasty pizza and neither of our feelings got hurt.  K can now make pizza and I lived my dream of making the most unhealthy pizza I could think of.  Perhaps I'll teach her how to make tacos next.  I bet mine will taste better...

Napoletana Pizza Dough

4 1/2 cups (20.25 ounces) unbleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 (.44 ounce) teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon (.11 ounce) instant yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces) olive oil (optional)
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) water, ice cold (40°F)
Semolina flour OR cornmeal for dusting

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment), If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn't come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55F.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment and misting the parchment with spray oil (or lightly oil the parchment). Using a metal dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas), You can dip the scraper into the water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it, Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan, Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag.

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, or keep for up to 3 days. (Note: If you want to save some of the dough for future baking, you can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag. Dip each dough ball into a bowl that has a few tablespoons of oil in it, rolling the dough in the oil, and then put each ball into a separate bag. You can place the bags into the freezer for up to 3 months. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to make pizza.)

4. On the day you plan to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Before letting the dough rest at room temperature for 2 hours, dust the counter with flour, and then mist the counter with spray oil. Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Now let rest for 2 hours.

5. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone either on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800F (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550F, but some will go higher). If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.

6. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift I piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and re-flour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss as shown on page 208. If you have trouble tossing the dough, or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax, and try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, though this isn't as effective as the toss method.

7. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-ounce piece of dough), lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other toppings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The American "kitchen sink" approach is counterproductive, as it makes the crust more difficult to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.

8. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan) and close the door. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone to a lower self before the next round. if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone for subsequent bakes.

9. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.

Makes six 6-ounce pizza crusts.

Recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press)