Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eggplant and Meatballs

Leftover ground beef in the freezer had been calling out to be used for some time and the wife was thinking meatballs. What to go with said meatballs? Spaghetti or fettuccine would have been nice but ill-advised. Pasta is not a good thing to eat for the last meal of the day unless a late night run or deadlift fest is part of your bedtime ritual. Why not eggplant noodles? Purged and thinly sliced, the eggplant would provide a viable low-carb pasta substitute. To put the two together I glopped in some tomato sauce I had made a few days before.

Peel 2 medium size male eggplants and slice very thin, about .25 inch. Male eggplants have tiny round navels, females have the big oval ones. Males have less seeds and are less bitter. Use them. Liberally dose both sides of eggplant with kosher salt, put slices on a healthy bed of paper towels. Allow to purge for one hour or until the eggplant slices are all floopsy. Wash off the salt, then squeeze the moisture from the slices. You can use your hands. Just pretend it's one of those stress-relief balls. You can squeeze a couple of slices at a time. Finely slice the squeezed and purged eggplant into long ribbons like fettuccine noodles. Set aside.

Tomato sauce:
Whir a half a green pepper, a medium onion, and 4 oz of mushrooms in the food processor until coarsely chopped. Heat some olive oil in a big pan on medium heat until shimmering, then cook the chopped veggies in the oil until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms have given up much of their moisture. Add 2 tbsp tomato paste and fry the paste until it takes on some color. Add 4 cloves garlic, minced, fry for 30 seconds. Add 1 tsp red pepper flakes. Cut out the stems from 4 good vine ripe tomatoes, throw in food processor, and whir until roughly chopped. Throw in pan, heat until bubbling, then cut heat to low, cover vessel and cook for 30 minutes. Swirl in .25 cup chopped basil at the end of cooking. If it's too tart, which it probably is, adjust with Splenda or sugar.

Clean out the food processor, and stick in 3 slices sandwich bread, 4 tbsp plain yogurt, 2 tbsp milk, a handful parsley, 4 cloves garlic, 1 oz Pecorino, and 1 egg yolk. Pulse until this is a homogenous mixture. Thow in some more red pepper flake if your are so inclined. Add 1 lb ground beef (meatloaf mix would be better) and 2 ounces of cooked crumbled bacon (you can substitute finely diced ham, diced prosciutto would be perfect). Pulse until combined. Form 12 balls from this mass and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Or not. Chilling them just makes them easier to handle in the pan. My mistake was to chop the cheese instead of grate it, leading to bits of melted cheese stuck to the bottom of the pan. Make sure the cheese is ground into bits to keep this from happening. As it turned out the crusty melty cheese didn't burn enough to ruin the dish. Lucky.

Final Countdown:
Your sauce should be well and truly cooked, so spoon it out to a bowl and set aside. Clean out the saucepan with paper towels until virtually no tomato sauce remains. Medium heat, another tbsp olive oil in the pan until it is shimmering. Add the meatballs and fry until they are brown on more than one surface, 3 minutes on one side and 3 minutes on another works for me. Work carefully, especially if you didn't chill the meatballs beforehand. Remove the meatballs to a plate and reserve. Add the eggplant to the oil and accumulated drippings and fry until the eggplant has absorbed a good deal of the oil. Add the sauce to the eggplant, stir to incorporate. Put the meatballs around the periphery of the eggplant. You want the eggplant to cook, and the meatballs just want to simmer, so make sure the eggplant gets the lion's share of the heat. Dial the heat down to low, cover the vessel, and simmer, eh, about 30 minutes. Maybe less, maybe more. It's done when the eggplant is just a bit gushy and not too firm to the bite. Serve in big bowls. It gets better after a day in the fridge.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Great Balls of Fry

Last week had a double header of dinner parties: a Fried Ball themed potluck and an afternoon tea. The afternoon tea I can get to in a later post, but the fried ball onslaught is well documented. I agreed to make two dishes: falafel (already covered back in June 10, 2009 in Fallin, Fallin, Falafelin In Love) and arancini, which are basically deep fried stuffed risotto balls. In Rome arancini are called suppli, or suppli al telefono when stuffed with mozzarella because when you pull one apart you get a cord of cheese connecting the two bits. Then you have to have an imaginary conversation with one end before you shove the whole thing in your mouth.

The day before, make up some risotto. I think I blogged risotto before but hey, it's easy, we can do it again. In your food processor, pulse 4 oz crimini mushrooms, .5 of an onion, 1 carrot, 1 rib celery, and 10 basil leaves until everything is coarsely chopped. Melt 3 tbsp butter in your pressure cooker on medium-low heat. Add the chopped veggies to the butter, fry until the mushrooms have quit giving up liquid and are quite dry. Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, fry 30 seconds. Add 2 cups arborio rice, stir, frying, until the rice grains turn sort of translucent at the ends where they absorb the oils. This is a pretty critical part of risotto making. It provides a little oily waterproofing for the rice grains so that they do not absorb too much moisture and get gushy. Good risotto is a blend of creamy sauce and al dente grain, not gush in gush sauce. Once the rice has been pumped with butter in this way, add .5 cup dry white wine or vermouth and 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed. Add 4.5 cups chicken stock, stir to combine, then lid the vessel and set on high pressure for 6 minutes. At the end of the 6 minutes, dump the pressure, unlid the vessel, and set to simmer. Add .5 cup more stock while stirring, allow it to get creamier, absorbing more of the liquid, then add 1.5 cups shredded Parmesan, freshly grated. Stir until the cheese is melted and integrated into the sauce. Pecorino romano works here as well but makes it a bit saltier. Don't use the Kraft pregrated stuff unless you like grit; anticaking agents in pregrated Parmesan also prevent it from melting smoothly. Pour off 3 cups of the risotto and put it in the fridge to make the suppli. Serve the rest for dinner. Hey, look at that, two suppers in one.

The thing about suppli is that it almost certainly was invented to use up leftover risotto, which is notorious for degrading in taste and quality when stored. By stuffing small quantities of risotto with soft cheese, breading them, and deep frying, some of the risotto's original creaminess is brought back from the grave, this time with a crispy coating.

Put your 3 cups of leftover risotto into a big bowl and add 3 eggs, beaten, stir to incorporate. In a big plate, put about 2 cups panko bread crumbs. Dice 8 oz of mozzarella into .5" cubes. You'll want to use supermaket block mozzarella, the hard stuff, not the buffalo or fresh mozzarella from the gourmet deli, it's too mushy to work with here. Wet your hands. Grab a heaping tablespoon of the risotto egg mixture in your hands, then kind of push a mozzarella cube into the mass, making sure the risotto mixture completely covers the cheese. Shape into a sphere. Roll the sphere in the panko until it isn't sticky anymore. Put on a baking sheet lined with saran wrap. Repeat this process until you are out of something. You should have a full cookie sheet of ready-to-go suppli. Gently wrap the cookie sheet full of suppli with saran wrap. Don't crush the balls! Slide into the refrigerator for 30 minutes or overnight.

When you're ready to fry, unwrap your balls. If any got crushed, roll it around in your hands until spherical again, making sure no cheese is exposed. If there is it is an awful mess. Heat some oil up to 350, or as close as you can get. 300 seems to be the limit of an electric burner/big pot combination; if you have a purpose built deep fryer you can probably do better. 300 worked for me. Carefully, gently plunk each ball into the oil. Just hold the ball right over the surface of the oil, let go, and get your hand out of the way as fast as you can without knocking shit over. Think "feeding a tiger sardines". Fry the balls until they are deep golden brown all over. Skim them out with your spider. A spider's one of those wide mesh devices you'll see a lot of in Oriental food and gift shops. They're like three bucks, go and get one. Once the balls are crispy and delicious, remove and set the ball on paper towels to drain. Serve with good marinara sauce for spoonin' and dunkin'. Probably be a good idea to serve some Tums too.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Begun Pora

For some reason or other, around this time of year I get a serious jonesin' for eggplant. It's a mystery. It does have the highest concentration of nicotine in any non-tobacco plant, so that could be one reason I like it so much. Sweet, sweet nicotine. It's also cheap in the summertime, especially in the farmers markets, because of its tendency to take over gardens when the weather is hot and juicy. More than any other reason, though, is the satin mouth feel in spite of eggplant's having nearly no carbs. That creamy, mashed-potato-like unctuousness pairs especially well with the eggplant's ability to take on any variety of flavored fats. Good in Indian food. And if there's one cuisine built of flavored fats it's Indian (and Chinese, but that's another eggplant post). Hey, look at that, someone's thought of it already, it's called begun pora.

Heat the oven to 400.

Slice a male eggplant in half, then into .5" semicircular slices. How do you sex an eggplant? A boy eggplant's stem is round instead of oval, and it tends to be longer and skinnier. Male eggplants have less seeds than their girly counterparts, and are hence less bitter. You can make this recipe with two eggplants if one isn't big enough.

Line a couple of baking sheets with foil, lube them up, then put in the eggplant in a single layer. High temp oil please, extra virgin or butter will burn at this temperature. Flip the eggplant in the oil so it has oil on all surfaces. Roast until brown on the bottom.

Chop up 1 big bunch green onions, 6 cloves garlic, and 14 oz of tomatoes (or open a can of tomatoes). Might as well chop up a handful of cilantro while you're at it, about 1 cup chopped.

Melt 3 tbsp butter in a big skillet. Add 1 tbsp dry mustard and 1 tbsp garam masala. You're supposed to use black mustard seed here, but it's not something I often have around, while I always have dry mustard around for vinaigrette, mayonnaise, bechamel . . all sorts of things, really. Fry the spices for 30 seconds. Add onions, garlic, 1 tbsp tumeric, 1 tbsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander, and 1 tsp salt. Add a chopped fresh chili if you have one, if not, add 1 tsp red pepper flakes, or more depending on spice tolerance. Fry until the garlic is aromatic. Add the tomatoes and a bucket of sliced mushrooms (white button or crimini, about 8-12oz), toss to coat everything in gravy, then put a lid on it and simmer until mushrooms are soft. If the mushrooms have given off too much liquid, or if the gravy is just too watery, cook it down uncovered until thick.

Make sure you're not burning your eggplant. I always end up burning some of it. If it's done, scrape it into the gravy, add the chopped cilantro, and toss to combine. There's your begun pora.

Make up some raita. Finely chop 1 cucumber, 2 stalks mint, 1 tiny white onion. Combine with 3 heaping tbsp greek yogurt or sour cream and 1 tsp salt.

Serve the eggplant and raita with papadoum (low carb option) or some naan and basmati rice (delicious option).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Chill the Noodle

Well, it's not exactly low carb, but soba noodles are nutritional powerhouses, especially compared to their blanched white hoodlum friends, semolina pastas. They also chill well with a simple dressing and a few odds and ends in the crisper drawer. I want to tap the well of Japanese knowledge on this subject- cold soba is apparently an everyday food in Japan- and it is too damn hot down here in the Sunshine State this time of year to cook anything not involving a grill.

Boil a gallon of water. Cook 12 oz of soba noodles according to the instructions on the package, assuming you can find some in English. Mine had a cartoon bear chasing some ghost creature with what looked like a gas can that had the number "6" on it. Six minutes of cartoon bear ghost chasing then. You don't want to know what the next panel looked like.

Decant the soba and rinse in cool water right away. You want to drop the temp on those soba as soon as you can because they overcook lightning quick. Drain and reserve.

In a big bowl, whisk .25 cup soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 1 tsp honey, .1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp wasabi, and 1 or 2 tsp sesame oil. Whisk and taste. Balance the flavors until you got something you like. Finely slice 3 medium scallions, add them to dressing.

Add some matchstick carrots, leftover coleslaw mix, thinly sliced bell peppers, thinly sliced cukes- you get the idea here. It likes anything crispy and not too terribly starchy. It is really forgiving. Just don't add something like, I don't know, mashed potatoes or baked beans or something like that.

Add the soba to the veggies and dressing, toss to coat. Adjust flavoring. Chill and serve.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Smoking Chuck

I always thought pulled pork was my favorite kind of barbecue, but recent experiences in smoking beef chuck have changed my opinion. Smoked beef chuck is easier and better than its piggy counterparts, but is also on average a dollar per pound more expensive, sometimes more.

Fire up a chimney worth of charcoal. Make sure you have some hardwood chunks handy. Don't use mesquite. Get back inside to prep your meat.

Get about six pounds of chuck- 2 big pieces, or one big pack from Sam's. Cut each piece into quarters so that no piece is more than two inches thick on any axis. Dump a fair amount of fajita seasoning (I like Badia's mix) into a plate, then roll each chuck piece in the seasoning until coated. Put the coated pieces into 2 half-size aluminum pans- I think they're 9x13". Make sure they have some spacing or the smoke and heat won't be able to get to them.

Once the coals have a coating of ash, dump them on one side of your smoker, then scatter some hardwood chunks on the coals. Arrange the pans with meat in them on the side the heat isn't. Cover the grill, and close the vents to 20% or so. You want to be somewhere between 250 and 300 degrees, but keep it below 300.

When the two hours are almost up, preheat the oven to 300, retrieve meat from the smoker. Using tongs, flip each piece of meat so that the dry side is in the wet stuff. Cover each pan with aluminum foil and put in the oven for 2-3 hours, or until meat pulls apart easily.

Take meat out of pans and set aside. Drain cooking fluids into vessel, skim off 2 tbsp of fat, discard the rest of the fat. Reserve the non-fatty cooking juices.

Put the reserved 2 tbsp of fat into a saucepan and heat over medium. Cook 1 onion in the fat until soft. Add 6 chopped garlic cloves and 1 tsp chili powder, cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved cooking juices, 1.25 cups ketchup, a tsp of instant coffee, .5 cup cider vinegar, .5 cup brown sugar, 3 tbsp Worcestershire, 1 tsp ground black pepper, and 1 tsp liquid smoke. Cook this mixture down until thickened.

Shred the meat using two forks, then add half the sauce, stir to combine. Serve with the reserved sauce.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Plate Lunch

Plate Lunch

How many popular foods have maintained their place in our culinary universe through the use of fun names? A fun name makes a food stick around for longer than it probably should, because people love saying the name enough to buy it. Like a Big Mac. Big Macs are god awful but they stick around because it's fun to say. I think they're still on the menu, anyway. I haven't eaten at a McDonald's since high school, but living and working in a toxic cave in the aerospace industry will do that. At least I'm not a freakishly proportioned law enforcement officer with a food novelty for a head. http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&q=Officer%20Big%20Mac&safe=images&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi

Huli Huli chicken has a cute name but is otherwise completely unlike a Big Mac in that it is tasty as well as fun to say. My wife is still saying it as I write this, that's how fun it is. Huli Huli.

Googling around the name, it seems that Huli Huli chicken is a Serious Thing for Hawaiians, something on the order of poutine for Quebecois or cheesesteak for Philadelphians, impossible to find abroad, impossible to find even in Hawaiian restaurants that aren't pulled around behind a truck. Hawaiians abroad actually go on the internet and order the stuff shipped to them. There's no need for that, really, because Huli Huli is one of those foods of the put-upon people of the world, and is therefore fabricated from the cheapest and most accessible foods. No credit card needed. Although I suspect that what the Hawaiian expat is really ordering from the internet is memories of sunshine and blue water. Skip ordering the chicken from the internet, but keep on ordering the memories while you dish up "pa mea ai".

One of the things I do different here is brine the chicken in the salty stuff but brush on the sugary stuff right after cooking. The reason for this is that if you put sugar in the brine and expose that chicken to direct heat, it will turn black and coaly. Then you have a choice. So we could either forgo a crisp skin and grill indirectly (like Thanksgiving turkey), or desugar the brine. I chose the latter and didn't regret it one bit.

Chicken and Brine
1 tblsp oil
12 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp ginger, minced
2 qts water
2 cups soy sauce
2 chickens, quartered
Hardwood chunks

Heat the oil until shimmering in a big pot, then add the garlic and ginger. Fry gently until aromatized, about 30 seconds. Add the soy and the water. Allow to cool. Add chicken, making sure the chicken is submerged. Put put in fridge, marinate for 8 hours but try not to go too much beyond 12 hours, let the chicken get overly salty.

If you don't have room in your fridge for a big pot, divide the chicken among two or three gallon size ziplock freezer bags, then portion the marinade into each bag. Zip up the bags and put in the fridge. If you're a big wuss put them in a tray in case of ziplock failure.

Fire up the grill with a moderate amount of coal. We don't want a raging inferno here, we want medium heat a fair distance away. It's chicken not a bloody filet mignon. Stick some hickory chunks on the coals after the latter are covered in a fine layer of ash. Clean the grill if you haven't already, wipe down the grill grates with some oil-soaked paper towels, and put the marinated chicken on the grill skin side up. You can do this right from the marinade. Plop down the cover and grill until chicken is 120 degrees F, about 25-30 minutes. Flip chicken and grill until thigh meat hits 170 or 175, about 20 more minutes. Pull that chicken off the grill and bring inside to meet the glaze.

Sauce (Applied after cooking)
18oz pineapple juice
.25 cup brown sugar
.25 cup soy sauce
.25 cup ketchup
.25 cup rice wine vinegar
6 garlic cloves
2 tsp ginger, grated
2 tsp Sriracha (use chili sambal for more lip in your hip)

Combine pineapple juice, sugar, soy sauce, ketchup, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and Sriracha (or equivalent) in empty saucepan and boil. Bring the heat down to medium and simmer until reduced to about 1 cup volume. It's going to want to burn near the end there.

Grab your cooked chicken and brush half of the finished glaze all over each piece. Serve with the other half of the glaze, and some Hawaiian-style macaroni salad (recipe after the jump)

Ea ai kakou . . and aloha

Bonus Recipe: Pameai Macaroni Salad

2 cups whole milk
2 cups mayo
1 tablespoon brown sugar
salt and pepper
1 pound elbow macaroni
1/2 cup cider vinegar
4 scallions, sliced thin
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 celery rib, chopped fine

Make dressing: Whisk 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 cup mayo, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper in bowl.

Cook pasta: Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta and cook until very soft, about 15 minutes. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add vinegar and toss until absorbed. Transfer to bowl. Cool pasta 10 minutes, then stir in dressing until pasta is well coated. Cool completely.

Make salad: Add scallions, carrot, celery, remaining milk, and remaining mayo to pot with pasta mixture and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to large serving bowl and refrigerate, covered, for at least one hour or up to two days. Serve.