Friday, December 30, 2011

A Basket Full of Eggs.

I am a soft boiled egg slut. I love them and I will kill to have them in my mouth. Okay, perhaps that's an exaggeration but I really do love them. Nobody does soft boiled eggs as well as the French.  Maybe it's the French chickens (or le poulet as they like to be called). Who knows. What I do know is that I also make a mean soft boiled egg. Not to brag (okay, I am) or anything  but I have converted many a egg naysayer with my aptitude for oeuf cookery. Anyhow, one of my favorite meals consists of a perfectly cooked egg, some nice cheese, a little charcuterie, and perhaps something fried (I'm pretty sure all the food groups are covered here).

I soft boiled a couple of eggs, seasoned them with salt and fresh cracked pepper and then garnished with a little scallion and a drizzle of porcini and truffle oil. Served up with some cured duck saucisson, aged manchego cheese, and some fried potato croquettes. Traditionally oeufs are serve with a side of mayonnaise but instead I decided for a little North African flair and made a harissa aioli.
With a yummy glass or three of your favorite French wine I think this is a perfect meal.  Very simple and very tasty.

The perfect soft boiled egg:
Put eggs into a pot filled with cold water.
Bring to a hard simmer.
The second you see rapid bubbles remove the pot from the stove.
Let them sit for 6 minutes.
Shock in an ice water bath and then carefully peel.  Yum.

P.S. - Sorry it's taken me so long between posts.  Life happened.  I will post more regularly for those of you who care. xoxo

Monday, November 14, 2011

Where's Violet?

Good things come to those who wait. xoxo

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Keys To Having A Bad-Assed Pantry: Part 1 - Spices

Are you one of those people who complain about how expensive it is to cook for themselves?  Or perhaps you have a friend who says that all the time.  I say to you (or your sad, hungry friend), that's nonsense!  The problem is this beginner cook.  You don't have a stocked pantry.  If you have the basic supplies the times you got the itch to cook it wouldn't cost very much (unless of course you decided you needed to make New York strip steaks with lobster tails and truffle butter sauce.  For you my friend yes, prepare to empty your bank account).  Once you have a stocked pantry you will be ready to cook up a storm.  You'll no longer look like you're on a drunken scavenger hunt for cumin seeds and panko bread crumbs.  Now simple recipes will seem easier as pie (actually pie can be somewhat difficult when made from scratch so I hate that dumb saying).  Here's what you need to do.  Build an impressive pantry.  Spend a chunk of change on your pantry now (consider it your tools for creating art) and then when you want to cook it'll be soooo much easier and less expensive.  Want a peek inside my pantry (keep your dirty thought to yourself you pervert!).  Okay, sassiness aside, lot's of these things I can't live without and when I run out I get more.  It's simple, just like that.  Today let's talk spices.

Spices you should have:  Stay away from that ten year old saw dust sold in the pre-packged jars at your local super mega-mart.  If you're really serious about cooking first thing you gotta do is buy a little spice grinder (I use this little coffee grinder for grinding whole spices but once it's designated it for spices don't use it for coffee.  No one wants to drink a black pepper, garlic latte. Ick.).  Buy your spices at a spice store or bulk bins at some of the nicer grocery stores. They will be fresher.  Buy them whole and grind them yourself if you can for better flavor.  I also use a pepper mill for fresh cracked black pepper but the grinder will work fine if you don't want more gadgets.  Here's what's always in my pantry:

* Kosher Salt (I like Diamond Crystal.  Don't use that iodized table salt shit.)
* Sea Salt (Just a little brinier than kosher.  Not necessary but yummy for certain things like seafood.)
* Finishing Salts (Pink Hawaiian, Alderwood Smoked Salt, Fleur De Sel.  For a little extra flavor after
   cooking.  Also, not necessary but fun and tasty.)
Black Peppercorns (For fresh cracked black pepper.)
* White Peppercorns (A bit more potent that black pepper and leaves no appearance of pepper flecks)
* Cumin Seed (You can't cook Latino without it.)
* Cinnamon Sticks (The whole sticks have way more flavor than the powder.)
* Cloves (The spice, not the gothy cigarettes)
* Chili Powder (There are a lot of choices here.  I like New Mexican for heat and ancho for smokiness.  
   You can buy dried chilies and grind them yourself if you have time.)
* Star Anise (They look like cute little star fish and have a licoricey flavor)
* Cayenne Pepper (Bring on the heat.)
* Coriander Seeds (Yummy earthiness used a lot in Indian and in curries.)
* Paprika (I like hot Hungarian and simply cannot live without Piménton - hot smoked Spanish
* Turmeric (Make things yellow and musky in a good way.)
* Red Crushed Pepper (Italian heat.)
* Allspice (Caribbean earthiness)
* Cardamom Pods (Strong and aromatic, used in curries and in Middle Eastern dishes.)
* Mustard Seeds (Great for kick and pickling.)
* Nutmeg (Get the pods and grind them with a fine grater or rasp.  Apple pie anyone?)

Here are a few spice mixes, dried herbs, and pre-ground things that recipes sometimes call for that I tend to keep around. Always use fresh herbs when possible otherwise dried will do in a pinch.

* Garlic Powder (Garlic in powder form.)
* Onion Powder (Onion in powder form.)
* Dried Oregano (I actually use this one a lot.  Not as good as fresh but still works.)
* Dried Thyme (Not nearly as good as fresh but it'll do.)
* Dried Basil (Nothing near as good as the fresh version but sometimes you need it now.)
* Dried Sage (See the two above)
* Dried Bay Leaves (The one dried herb I actually prefer over the fresh.)
* Celery Salt (bloody Marys!)
* Curry Powder (If you can take the time to make your own but sometimes in a pinch pre-made curry
   powders will certainly do.)
* Chinese Five Spice (It has five Chinese spices in it.  Cloves and Cinnamon being the strongest.)
* Old Bay (Great spice mix for seafood)
* Creole Seasoning (For some Bayou cookin')
* Filé Powder (Sassafras root to thicken and flavor Cajun cooking.)
* Sazón (Excellent Caribbean spice packets.  I use these all the time for my family's recipes.)
* Adobo (It's a Cuban spice mixture that is also prominent in my family's Cuban recipes.)
* Poultry Seasoning (Don't ask.  Just once in a while I reach for it.)
* Chicken Beef Ham Bouillon (Make your own stocks when ever possible for the best flavor otherwise
   these little processed salt cubes will have to suffice.)

Now for the really interesting ones in my pantry.  These spices are very specialized and exotic.

* Asafoetida (Super intense Indian spice.  Smells like feet but tastes like chickeny.)
Bacon Salt (Also perfect in bloody Marys.)
* Annatto Seeds (Cubans call it poor man's saffron.)
* Bijol (Cubans call it poor man's annatto seed.)
* Za'atar (Ground sesame seeds with dried sumac and other herbs.  Middle Eastern citrusiness.)
* Grains of Paradise (Pungent and peppery African flavors. Was a popular spice in the Middle Ages.)
* Black Limes (Smokey sour Middle Eastern sun dried limes.)
* Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese spice mixture of peppers, citrus peels, sesame seeds and nori.)

Okay, I have lots more in my spice cabinet but those are the important one I think.  I have lots of different kinds of curry blends, and dried herb blends and ton of different kinds of salts and chili powders.  If you live in Seattle or don't have access to fresh spices check out my favorite spice shop World Spice Merchants.  They are super helpfully and inexpensive and will ship to your home wherever yo live so there is no excuse to have dingy old sawdust in your spice rack.

Stay tuned for The Keys To Having A Bad-Assed Pantry: Part 2 - Oils, Vinegars, and Condiments.  Oh, and let me know if you feel I've left something out.  I'm not a robot, ya know.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rockfish and Roll.

It's no secret that Seattle is a Caribbean black hole.  No Cuban, no Jamaican, no Haitian, and just a tiny bit of Puerto Rican food.  Being a Miami girl I get serious craving for island food but it just ain't happening up here in the land of sasquatch.  What do you do when you can't find something?  You make it.  When I lived in North Miami Beach I used to swing by this little Jamaican hole in the wall off 163rd street for the best rockfish in creole sauce ever.  That with a few Jamaican patties and I was an  extremely happy girl.  I would skip school just to get my spicy tropical fix.  The cafe was the size of a closet and had a television on the counter blasting soap operas.  The friendly in her own way owner would be relaxing in her lazy-boy right in front of the counter making you wait until she found out who cheated on who and whether or not Jimmy survived falling down the hospitals elevator shaft.  Without even a glance she would point to one of the three tiny cafe tables crammed in the place.  Once the commercials came on she'd get up and briskly ask you what you want.  I always got the same, rockfish with creole sauce and two Jamaican patties.  She'd yell back to her cook and get back to watching her shows.  You just can't find that kind of atmosphere in the NW and I really miss it.  To make up for it I recently made Rockfish Creole with spicy ginger green beans.  I even ignored myself and watched a little General Hospital to make it feel authentic.  Now, if only I had some Jamaican patties.  Yum.

Rockfish Creole

2 4-6oz fillets of rockfish
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced
1/2 tsp scotch bonnet, minced (you can use less spicy peppers if you like)
juice of 1 lime
1 packet of sazón seasoning
salt and pepper tt
olive oil

Season the fish with salt, pepper, and the sazón seasoning.  Set aside.

For the creole sauce saute the onions, fennel, garlic, and scotch bonnet in a little olive oil until soft with a little color.  Add the lime juice.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a saute pan on med. high heat cook the fish in a little olive oil for about 2min. each side just until cooked through.  Cover with the creole sauce and serve.

*for the green beans I just blanched them off.  Sauteed a little garlic, ginger, and scotch bonnet in butter until soft.  Tossed in the green beans and cooked another 2-3 minutes.  Salt and pepper.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pork Chop Express.

The pork chop has a really bad reputation.  Often cooked to death until all that is left is a burnt dry mouthful of sawdust. Dry pork is disgusting but it's not the pork chops fault.  It's the human that thinks it's okay to commit chuleta de cerdo asesinato (pork chop murder).  Look, as long as you're not buying your meat from a shady back alley pork vendor (or grocery store factory farm) you don't have to worry about getting sick if the pork isn't cooked to 170F degrees.  Here's a trick that can be very forgiving on your lack of cooking prowess.  Brine the meat over night and then if you slightly over cook the pork it will still be juicy.  Brine is easy.  Equal parts salt and sugar (1 cup) and enough water (1 gallon) to cover overnight.

The next day after brining I made a rub of smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, allspice and salt and pepper.  I then added a little olive oil to turn it into a paste.  The bone-in pork chop was coated in the spice mixture and marinated for about 2 hours.  I put a saute pan over medium high heat and cooked the pork chops about 4 minutes per side until just cooked through (or until you reach a little under 150F).  Let the meat rest after cooking.  It should be removed from the hot pan and covered with foil and left the hell alone for a minimum of 8 minutes.  Cutting into meat that doesn't rest will bleed out all of the delicious juiciness inside.  Resting the meat allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat making it juicy and tender. To the pan with all the yummy brown pork bits I added a little chicken stock and butter to release the fond (stuck brown bits) and make a spicy yummy sauce.

For a side dish I made a potato and zucchini galette.  It's super easy.  With a mandolin (if you don't have one, go buy one) slice the peeled yukon gold potatoes and zucchini into super thin discs.  In a saute pan, rub the bottom with butter to keep the galette from sticking.  Make an overlapping spiral layer of potato.  The an overlapping spiral layer of zucchini.  Then lightly season with salt and pepper and sprinkle a thin layer of grated manchego cheese.  The a layer of potato, then zucchini, etc until the saute pan is full.  Sprinkle bits of butter over the top and bake at 350F for about 40 minutes.  Stick a knife into it to make sure it's cooked all the way through.  Cover the pan with a plate and flip it out onto the plate. Delicious and impressive.  Cut out slices like a pizza pie and serve with the tasty smokey pork chops.  Enjoy. xoxo

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Saucy Bird.

Saucy saucy goodness.  The more butter and cream the better.  Smothered and covered.  This rainy cold winter has led to lots of heavy one pots and stick to your rib meals.  Not that I'm complaining, I  love eating stews and comforting casseroles.  My waistline may not thank me but my sleepy inner hibernating polar bear in me does.  I guess that's what spring time is for.  Lot's of "I am so going to start eating less.  Smaller portions, ya know?  Maybe even the occasional salad.  I need to get back to bikini form (haha, I haven't had that since I was like 14)".  There is just something so primal and soothing about a big pot of thick stewed meat.  I have a tinge of Polish in me somewhere.  Hell, I'm such a mutt I probably have a little Arctic penguin in me too.  Who knows.   I remember in the 70s when Polack jokes were all the rage.  I never quite understood why people thought the Polish were so dumb?  As a whole America is a much stupider country.  Hell, half the country is still scared things like of electricity and gay people.  As my Dad would say when I brought home my sub par report cards: "Violet, the world will always needs ditch diggers too".  I was too busy skipping school and smoking pot behind the bleechers to worry about things like math or science.  It's not like I'll ever need to use that book learnin' shit anyway, right?  

Anyways, I love Eastern European food.  I remember when I was little my grandmother on my fathers side would come over and cook stuffed cabbage and sour creamy chickeny goodness.  It was so foreign to me yet it tasted like the most amazing thing ever.  I was used to eating Cuban food and 1950s pre-packed noodle helpers.  I loved the occasional peek into some other fantastical world.  I would be scarfing up my goulash wondering what life would be like in Eastern Europe. An icy wonderland of dancing bears, fairies and ice princesses (I definitely wanted to be a Fairy Ice Princess.) ;)  I wanted a pet bear and a carriage pulled by reindeer.  I also wanted one of those cute big furry drum hats and a fur coat made of a hundred baby foxes (just kidding).  I practiced writing letters backwards just like they do up there.  Haha.  Once I got something in my mind, there was no stopping me.  At least not until the next night when we went out for Chinese at one of those rural, middle of nowhere Chinese restaurant palaces with the giant foo dogs and dragons meeting you at the door.  Then my mind would turn to me being the Empress of China with a million minions at my disposal and a pretty pet fire breathing dragon.  I'm not that much different from when I was a kid.  Always intrigued by something new.  Fine, call me fickle.

Chicken Paprikash w/ Dumplings

2 1⁄2 cups flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1⁄ 4 cup canola oil
1 3–4-lb. chicken, cut into 6–8 pieces, skin removed
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 Italian frying pepper, chopped
1 10oz can of diced tomatoes
1 large yellow onion, minced
1 1⁄2 cups chicken stock
3⁄ 4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
kosher salt and fresh cracked white pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a bowl, Season 2 cups of flour with salt and pepper and form a well in the center. Add egg and 1⁄2 cup water to well; stir to form a dough. Knead in bowl until smooth, about 1 minute. Using a teaspoon, scoop tablespoon portions of dough into pot. Boil dumplings until tender, 6–8 minutes. Drain dumplings and rinse in cold water; cover with a towel and set aside.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Put 1⁄2 cup seasoned flour on a plate; dredge chicken; shake off excess. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken, turning once 8–10 minutes. Set chicken aside. Add paprika and half the peppers, along with the tomatoes and onions, to pot.  Saute stirring until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add chicken and broth; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, turning chicken once, until fully cooked, 12–15 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp. flour and sour cream; whisk in 3⁄4 cup of sauce from pot. Stir sour cream mixture into sauce in pot. Remove from heat. Melt butter in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat, add dumplings and parsley, and cook, tossing occasionally, until hot, about 2 minutes. Serve chicken garnished with remaining peppers and dumplings on the side.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kiss me, I'm Irish. Well not really, but my wife is.

Happy St Paddy's day everyone. Eat, celebrate, and stay out of your damn car after drinking. xoxo

Here's a repost of one my corned beef and cabbage recipes:

Corned Beef and Cabbage

6 lbs corned beef brisket
1 1/2 lbs yellow onions, thickly sliced
2 lbs carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
4 lbs red potatoes, peeled and halved
2 heads cabbage, cut into 6 wedges ea.
1/2 cup malt vinegar
1/2 cup Guinness Irish stout
1 Tbsp mustard seed
1 Tbsp coriander seed
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
1/2 Tbsp dill seed
3 bay leaves

Here's the easy part. Place everything except for the onions, carrots, potatoes and cabbage in a large stock pot and cover with water. Give it a little stir and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 3 hours. Add the potatoes, carrots, onions, and place the cabbage on top and continue cooking for 40 more minutes covered or until the cabbage and potatoes are fork tender. Season if needed with kosher salt. Slice the corned beef across the grain. Serve with cabbage and vegetables and a good dollop of Dijon or course-grain mustard.

what to do with leftovers
corned beef sandwiches (Reuben!)
corned beef hash and eggs
corned beef soup
corned beef croquettes
Irish tacos

Wash it down with a delicious Black Velvet.

It's basically half Guinness and half champagne. Pour the Guinness half way up a champagne flute. Let the head settle. Using a spoon to diffuse the force of pouring, pour champagne (or a really dry sparkling wine) over the back of the spoon gently filing up the rest of the glass. It's so delicious, sparkly and tart but with that fullness and deep chocolate tones that Guinness is known for.

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Godfather would be proud.

Okay, so if you've ever read my blog you may have decided that my taste can sometimes be a little suspect. Sure I pop open the occasional can of Spaghetti-Os (I eat it when I'm really nervous) but I know food and have a serious appreciation for the finer things. Is it so wrong that I am capable of enjoying a lovely seared piece of foie gras as well as a microwavable double chili cheeseburger from 7-11? I know the difference. I just see things for what they are (including the deliciously addictive terrible chemicals that make up a lot of junk food). Everybody has vices. While yours may be crystal meth or huffing drain cleaner mine happens to be junk food (washed down with tasty booze treats). But this aint therapy. We're not gonna talk about what we do behind closed doors right now. Remove the image of me with Taco Bell sauce on my face. Time to class things up a bit. This is serious Violet talking now. My culinary diploma is sitting on my desk as we speak just to show you how dead-eyed serious I can be. Like hurricane or cancer serious. Yes, I am that serious. Okay, maybe not that serious but no really, I do have a serious question for you. Do you want to know how to make the Italian beefy-roll wonder dish called Braciole? How about Melted Leek and Crimini Mushroom Bruschetta? Well, do you?!  Of course you do. Why wouldn't you? Unless of course you have no arms and haven't figured out how to cook with your toes like that guy on That's Incredible. Then I could see not giving a shit about recipes and whatnot.  You, my friend are excused.
Braciole Stuffed with Spinach and Italian Sausage

1 1/2 lbs flank steak
1 lb of hot Italian sausage, casings removed (if the sausage isn't spicy add a pinch of red pepper flakes)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dried Italian bread crumbs
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 cups fresh packed spinach
salt and freshly ground black pepper tt
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups basic marinara sauce (homemade or a good jarred sauce)

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

In a bowl gently mix together the crumbled sausage, garlic, bread crumbs, parmigiano reggiano, parsley, and thyme.

In a pot of boiling water briefly blanch the spinach (1-2 minutes).  Shock in cold water and drain.  Wrap the spinach in a towel and squeeze out any extra moisture.

Lay the flank steak on a flat surface.  Season with salt and pepper.  Starting at one end.  Spread the sausage mixture in an even layer about 3/4 of the way down on the steak.  At the end you started at, place the spinach.  Don't spread it just keep it like a log at the front.  Carefully roll the beef into a big pinwheel.  It should resemble a Hostess Jelly Roll.  Tie it using butchers twine to keep it tight and secure.
Season the outside of the braciole.

Place a a large dutch oven or oven proof pan over medium heat. In 2 Tbsp olive oil brown the braciole on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add the wine to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the tomato sauce and cover.  Bake until the meat is almost tender, turning the braciole and basting with the sauce every 30 minutes. After an hour, uncover and continue baking until the meat is fork tender, about 30 minutes more.

Slice across into beautiful pinwheels and serve with the sauce.

and if you're still hungry:

Melted Leek and Crimini Mushroom Bruschetta

1 large leek, just the white part, cleaned and diced
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sherry
1 fresh baguette
white truffle oil
sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper
olive oil

In a pan over medium heat saute the leeks garlic, and shallots in butter until soft.  Add the mushrooms and cook about 3 more minutes until the mushrooms are mostly cooked through.  Season with salt and pepper. Add the sherry and cook 2 minutes to cook the alcohol out.

Slice the baguette and brush both sides with olive oil.  Cut a clove of garlic in half and gently rub the bread with the garlic.  In a grill pan over medium high heat (or an outdoor grill) Toast the bread to get pretty grill marks 1-2 minutes each side.  Top the toast with the mushroom leek mixture.  Drizzle with truffle oil and season with salt and pepper.  Serve with a lovely bold red Italian wine.  Mangia!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's Cold in Here.

It's really hard to eat healthy in the middle of Winter.  All I want is heavy rib sticking fuel to get me through the day.  Although I have to say that since (believe it or not) I'm not a logger or a fishing vessel sea captain I don't need to eat 2 pounds of lasagna for lunch.  My body is not being subjected to the harsh elements and back breaking manual labor so I can manage on a few less calories.  Not to say that I don't eat like a tight end (teehee) for the Seattle Seahawks.  This girl can put away chow like nobody's business.  I guess I'm just trying to fool myself into thinking I need to eat more healthy.  I'm not getting any younger and my metabolism and I are no longer on speaking terms.  My brain is like "Hey Vi, it's party time. Order up some pizza and wings sista!"  and my belly is like "Well, you never know when you're going to get stranded under an avalanche. I better store all this fat for later."  So as I grow older I attempt to once in a while put something green in my mouth.  That getting wiser as I get older thing is gonna happen any minute now.

Niçoise Salad is salad greens with tuna (I use a nice Italian canned tuna), hard cooked eggs, Niçoise olives (kalamata will work just as well) and in my version, bacon.  Like I said, I have to trick myself a little bit.  I made a nice tarragon shiitake mushroom vinaigrette and lightly tossed it with some chopped romaine hearts.  You can also add things like roasted peppers or marinated artichokes and that would be yummy.  A dusting of finely grated manchego cheese later and it even felt like a for reals full meal.  I can eat salads like this all the time.  Sure, it's loaded with fatty goodness but it's healthier than a couple of Double Deluxe Dick's Burgers with fries and a Coke.  Yum, I sure would eat that right now.  What's the sound of mouthwatering?

Monday, January 31, 2011

There Goes One Tasty Dish!

Some things just don't look that tasty.  My mother always said you can't judge a book by it's cover. Actually my mother never said that.  She usually said things like "That looks terrible, I'm not eating it." or  "That looks like the dog vomited on your plate Honey.".  She was brutally honest like that.  Perhaps it's where I get my lack of social filters from.  Things just pop out my mouth and before I know it I've offended everyone in the room.  Oh well, at least you always know where you stand with me. 

So yeah, anyways, the delicious Salmon Stuffed Portobello Mushroom I made won't be taking home any beauty awards but it sure the hell would kill at Taste Olympics.  I roasted a fresh fillet of sockeye salmon, removed the bones, flaked it off the skin, and mixed it with chopped celery, scallions, bacon, fresh dill, a little smoked paprika mayonnaise to bind, salt & pepper, and a bit of Italian breadcrumbs.  Rip out the mushroom stems and stuff away.  Stick them in a 375F degree oven for about 30 minutes until the mushroom is cooked through and the salmon is golden.  You can use canned or smoked salmon as well, just make sure you adjust the seasoning.  I served it with a baby spinach salad tossed with Italian giardiniera and more bacon because that's how I roll. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Welcome to Cajun Country.

When I was a kid I remember sitting in front on my television on Saturday afternoons. While all of the other kids were outside running around like sugared-up maniacs throwing rocks at each other I was sitting on the floor of my wood paneled and brown shag carpeted family room with one of my mothers aprons on watching The Cajun Cook on PBS.  "I gar-un-tee!" I would yell along with Mr. Justin Wilson trying to mimic his wild Cajun "whoops" and pretend like I was ripping the heads off crawfish for a big pot of invisible gumbo.  My mother would come downstairs and stare at me blankly, shake her head and roll her eyes, and then walk right back the stairs to where she came from.  

I don't have a Cajun bone in my body.  Perhaps it's the simple but serious flavors of the cuisine that speak to me.  In fact, I think that Cuban Food (which also has some Creole roots) is pretty similar in a lot of preparations.  Not to mention the French in my blood.  Unfortunately the one time I drove through Louisiana  I was a vegetarian.  What a shame.  No étoufée, no seafood gumbo, not even some boudin balls.  Very sad indeed.  I did however get to taste some seriously authentic gumbo z'herbes (green gumbo with lots of tasty winter greens).   Nope, that trip saw plenty of voodoo shops and drunken frat boys but barely any tasty food.  Back in the day, it was really hard to eat out as a vegetarian and going on a road trip was perilous.  You thought you might starve to death until you came across a grocery store and made some janky meal in the car.  Hmmm, let's see, I bought a can of beans, some bread, and an apple.  "Not again!  We had your bean and apple sandwiches yesterday."  No ma'am, it was eat at your own risk in those days.  Vegetables didn't exist in the South back then.  It was all fried meat with a side of bacon and gravy. 

I couldn't get my hands on any fresh crawfish but I was really in the mood for étoufée.  I decided to make it with prawns instead.  I'm sure some Cajun grandmothers make the same substitution.  Deep and rich in flavor and the filé powder really adds some deepness.  Put the film Southern Comfort in the DVD player, make yourself a sazerac cocktail, and cook this meal.  I gar-un-tee it'll knock your socks off.

Prawn Etoufée

6 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded & diced
4 scallions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tomatoes, diced
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, tt
1 tsp filé powder (if you can't find it don't worry about it)
1 ½ cups shrimp stock (water, shrimp shells, onion, celery, simmer 30 minutes)
1 lb. large prawns, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
steamed white rice for serving

1. First make a roux.  In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a whisk, to make a medium roux.
2. Add the onions, celery, bell peppers, green onions, garlic, bay leaves, cayenne, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the sherry and tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the stock, add the prawns and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice & stir in the filé powder.
4. Adjust the seasoning, to taste. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's a Fish Party.

Debbie: Duke, let's go do some crimes.
Duke: Yeah, let's get sushi and not pay.

I love that scene in Repo Man.  Or how about this one from The Breakfast Club:

John Bender: What's in there?
Claire Standish: Guess? Where's your lunch?
John Bender: You're wearing it.
Claire Standish: You're nauseating.
John Bender: [pointing to Claire's lunch] What's that?
Claire Standish: Sushi.
John Bender: Sushi??
Claire Standish: Rice, raw fish, and seaweed.
John Bender: You won't accept a guy's tongue in your mouth, and you're going to eat that?
Claire Standish: Can I eat?
John Bender: I don't know. Give it a try.

I remember the first time I ate sushi.  I was a vegetarian so all I could eat was a cucumber roll and some pieces of tamago (Japanese Omelet).  I remember liking it but I'll admit I was quite frightened by the damp slabs of raw fish flesh my counterparts were devouring.  As time went by I started eating meat again and really got a taste for sushi.  I still have a problem with certain Japanese textures (jelly and slimy are not my friends).  I love a good spicy tuna roll and as far as nigiri sushi goes I really love salmon, tuna, eel, and cooked shrimp (ebi).  Yeah yeah, not too adventurous but for someone with the gag reflex of a newborn kitten with a two pound hairball and strep throat I do what I can.  I love fish there are just certain textures I can't do.  I wouldn't last two seconds on Fear Factor.

K and I decided to have a little sushi party so I bought some beautiful sashimi grade tuna and salmon.  We also got a few bottles of my favorite sparkling sake.  Sushi rice is fairly simple.  Wash some calrose/sticky rice until the water runs clear.  When cooking rice the ratio is 1 cup rice to 1 1/4 cup of water.  Let it sit in the water off the heat for 10 minutes.  Turn on the rice cooker and let it cook or if you do it in a pot bring to a boil then turn it down to low heat and cook for 18 minutes.  Let it sit for 10 minutes after cooking off the heat. To make it sushi rice cool the rice down in a sheet pan and gently stir in a little bit of rice wine vinegar, sugar, and salt (2 cups rice, 1 Tbsp vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt).  The you can make rolls, or nigiri sushi.  Buy some nori seaweed sheets, sesame seeds, and some wasabi.  To start place a bowl of water next to you and dip your hands in it to keep the rice from sticking to them and everything else near you.  On a sushi mat (order on online if you don't have a local Asian grocery) lay down a piece of toasted nori, spread a thin layer of rice to about 1 inch from the opposite edge, lay a strip of whatever you want on the side closest to you (ie: chopped up spicy tuna, cucumber strips, hot dogs, whatever), and tightly roll up into a little cigar.  Slice with a sharp knife and eat.  I like dipping them in soy sauce and wasabi and if that makes me a dumb American who doesn't do the traditional way things should be done I say this.  I'm not Japanese so shut up.  I'm pretty sure the authenticity police aren't going to lock me up and throw away the key for this tragic  offense.  Rules are for fools.  It's not too hard to do once you figure a few things out.  Make sure you drink some sake when rolling sushi as this definitely enhances how much fun you'll have.  Also, make sure you wash your hands because nobody wants to eat a dirty tuna roll.  I know I don't.