Monday, July 26, 2010

Grilled Salmon

Another recipe from "Superfood Friday" was grilled salmon. This was a hit even with folks that didn't like fish; "Wow I know it's salmon but it tastes like ham. How did you do that?".

Doesn't sound like much, I know, but it's a compliment from someone who generally doesn't roll with the pleasures of the sea.

Grilling fish can be problematic. The borderline OCD Cook's Illustrated recipe advises you to be able to spy your reflection in the grate before trying this. Packaged with advice to clean your coffee grinder for use especially as a spice mill, maybe right after you organize your pans by capacity . . for the day . . before you disappear in a Zoloft haze. Anyway, spit shining your grill isn't necessary, and you can even grill fish in a smoker as filthy as mine. The filthiness is necessary for delicious smoked pork, ask the nearest Southerner. You can grill your salmon in your filthy pork smoker. It's OK.

First and probably most important, you must use salmon filets with the skin on. These will be side cut filets, with the skin on one side and flesh on the other. This can be a problem in the winter, when wild salmon isn't generally available. Farmed salmon, the kind you get in the winter with no skin and lots of blobby fat, have no skin. They have to skin farmed salmon because their skin is a carnival of pathogens thanks to the industrial-grade antibiotics they have to swim around in. So if you have to use farmed salmon it's going to need a little savvy. More on that in a second.

Second, grilled fish needs a marinade but not too long and not too acid. Either will change the structure of the waterlogged proteins and make them more delicate, which you definitely do not want. I haven't wandered far from the soy sauce reserve on this one. Stick the filets in a gallon ziplock and submerge in teriyaki sauce for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Definitely don't take it over an hour. Don't have any teriyaki? Fine. Whisk together 1 cup soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar, 1 tbsp honey, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, and 1 tsp garlic powder, pour over fish, marinade as with teriyaki. That will work fine.

Start your fire as close to the grilling surface as you can get it. This is the third rule. Fish needs hot fire fast, to firm up the outside of the fish before the inside gets a chance to overcook. Spread the coals out, put the grates on, and heat the grate 5-10 minutes.

While that's going on, remove the salmon from the marinade, dry with paper towels, and lay flesh side down. Spray the skin side with nonstick cooking spray. If you are doing this with skinless filets, lay the salmon flat side down on some aluminum foil, and trim the foil around the edge of the filet so that it makes a fake skin. If you use this technique be warned that the fish will probably not be cooked all the way through. More on that in a second.

Using tongs, wipe down the grill with some paper towels soaked in canola or peanut oil. Any oil with a high smoke point will do.

Immediately slap the salmon down on the grill, skin side down. Put the thickest pieces in the middle of the file, and the smaller tail sections around the edges.

Grill 5 minutes, 7 minutes for the aluminum-clad salmon at the outside. Always error on the side of rare for seafood, because it cooks while sitting on the counter after you pull it off the grill. Overcooked fish, however, stays overcooked. I've served medium rare farmed salmon to a lot of people at a lot of events and haven't sickened/killed anyone yet. So go 7 minutes with the aluminum salmon if you're a fraidy cat.

At the end of that time, spray the flesh side with non-stick cooking spray. There will be some flame here. Try to not let the flame ride back into the can and explode. Shrapnel wounds can stifle even the best of dinner parties.

Using tongs and a spatula, flip the filets. If some of the skin sticks don't fret, just pull the filet off the stuck skin, pull the skin off the grill, and flip the now skinless filet. The skin's done its job, but don't throw it out. Keep that bad boy. It's quite good, like fishy grilled bacon, and is a favorite scooby snack of mine. If you're using foil and the filet comes away from the foil, well, you can toss the foil. It won't taste like anything, really, except maybe LSD. Not that I would know what LSD tastes like, mind you.

After flipping, grill for 2 more minutes, until the flesh side gets nice grill marks. Carefully remove with spatula and tongs and place on platter.

Serve with some other healthy things. Salad lettuce is either a crunchy bore or wilts after ninety seconds. For salads made from raw materials that last longer than a fool's whimsy, I like slicing up 2 cukes, 2 tomatoes, and half a red onion, tossing with .25 cup extra virgin, 2 tbsp vinegar, 1 tsp black pepper and 1 tsp kosher salt. Throw in some mint if you have it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Szechuan Stroganoff

When I'm stepping out for a weekend evening, I get the urge to make up a nice meal for the wife. I was going to brew up either some "Simple Italian Meat Sauce" or some "Szechuan Noodles". I had more of the ingredients for Szechuan noodles, so that was what got made, and wow am I happy that was the case. This was some serious eats.

The recipe called for ground pork, but I used ground beef because I have some piles of it in the freezer than is flirting with freezer burn and needs to get used up in the next few weeks. The usage of beef gave the final dish a sort of oriental Hamburger Helper feel, a not unpleasant waxiness from the beef fat. My wife called it Szechuan Stroganoff, and I think that settled the description of the texture pretty well. I realize this is not selling the recipe at all, but make it before ye judge. It's really good.

8 oz ground pork- I used ground beef and I suspect any form of ground protein that can take browning would do fine here.
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp wine
2 tbsp oyster sauce
.25 cup "Asian Style Sesame Paste", well, I don't have that, but I do have tahini. I suspect smooth no sugar peanut butter would work well here also
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1.25 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 pound fresh chinese noodles, I used rice stick noodles that I keep around for pad thai, they worked great. Linguini would also work. If using dried noodles use about 12 oz rather than a pound.
3 scallions, didn't have these, used half an onion, sliced very fine
2 cups bean sprouts, substituted 1 red bell pepper, sliced very fine

Make up your noodles until they are al dente. I'm not giving any hard and fast rules for rice noodles because they are tricky bastards. Boil water, take off the heat, add rice noodles and wait about 10 minutes. They'll either be good or they won't, but that's about as accurate as I can get with those things. If you're using linguini your job is a lot easier in that department. Drain the noodles when they're done and shock with cold water to keep them from cooking in the colander.

Toss the ground meat with 1 tbsp soy, 1 tbsp wine, and a couple of turns black pepper. Set aside.

In another bowl, mix 2 tbsp soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame paste, vinegar, and a couple more turns of black pepper. Whisk until smoothed out, then mix in the broth. Set aside.

Heat oil in your biggest skillet on high heat until shimmering. Add ground meat mixture and cook until well browned. Stir in garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes, cook about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth/sesame mixture, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook until thickened, then pull off the heat and add sesame oil.

Stir in the noodles, onions, and bean sprouts-red bell pepper strips-crunchy veg strip of your choosing. Toss until everything is coated the meat more or less evenly distributed.

Serve and marvel at how Chinese people can be so skinny with food like this laying around. Must be why they never invade anyone. Who would invade another country when you can have another bowl of noodles? I might have one right now, actually. My overland tank army is dwindling as I speak.

Tempeh Chili

When I tried this stuff, I thought, "Good stuff, although not chili. More like a chili-inspired vegetable chowder". Still worthwhile stuff, and darn useful when feeding vegans.

28 oz good canned dice tomatoes- Hunts and Muir Glen are the best
1 tbsp oil
8 oz tempeh
1 tbsp cumin seed
2 carrots, peeled
1 onion
1 red bell pepper
9 cloves garlic
2 tbsp chili powder
1 chipotle, minced
3 cups water
15 oz can kidney beans
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cup frozen corn
1 zucchini, halved, seeded, sliced into .5" slices
Handful cilantro
1 tbsp lime juice

Whir the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Reserve.

Fry tempeh in oil until brown on medium high heat, remove and reserve.

Pulse the carrots, onion, bell pepper, garlic, chipotle, chili powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper in bowl of food processor until everything is coarsely chopped. Start with the carrots, then add everything else, otherwise you'll get some irregular large hunks of carrot.

Turn heat down to medium, fry cumin seeds in oil until they start jumping around. About a minute. Add some more oil. Add the vegetable and spice chop from the last paragraph. Fry until everything starts thinking about softening, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the processed tomatoes, water, beans, and oregano. Scrape any crusty bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook 45 minutes until mixture is very thick and somewhat reduced.

Add the reserved tempeh, the frozen corn, and the zucchini, cook until the zukes are tender. Pull from the heat, stir in cilantro and lime juice.

Serve with avocado, corn bread, chopped onions. Or cheese if you are feeding normal vegetarians.

Roast Broccoli

This got made during a "Superfood Friday", where I replaced the comfort food with superfoods. It was one of the most popular dishes, and is also a handy trick to have when cooking brocc.

2-3 heads worth of broccoli florets, about 2 pounds.
3 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 450. Put the rack to the lowest position. Put two baking sheets inside the oven on the rack and let the sheets get rocket hot.

Split the larger florets along the stem so each floret gives you a flat side and a puffy side. The flat side maximizes pan contact, which promotes browning. This browning pulls out and accentuates the brocc's natural sugars, maing it taste even more vegetal than it already does, and produces a lot of new flavor besides. Don't bother doing this with the smaller florets, they'll just burn if you halve them.

Toss the halved florets with the oil, salt, and sugar. Let stand 10 minutes. Pull the hot baking sheets from the oven. Working quickly, place the cut florets flat side down on the hot sheets. Start by placing the largest pieces around the rim first, then as the pieces get smaller spiral inward, until you dump the little pile of tiny uncut florets in the center.

Put the sheet into the oven and bake 10-15 minutes, until the bottom of the largest pieces is dark brown.

Immediately scoop hot florets off baking sheet into serving bown. Sprinkle some chopped walnuts and 1 tsp lemon. The lemon and walnuts are optional, the stuff is really good straight up.

This method works well also with cauliflower.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chocolypse Now

Your mission is to obtain a 12 cup Bundt pan and fill it with a batter that will, upon baking, separate into a cakey outer layer and a fudgelike inner layer or tunnel. The resulting baked confection is known by the locals as a "tunnel of fudge cake". Bake the day before and correct its orientation after a night's refridgeration.

Bake? You bake the tunnel of fudge?

Bake. With extreme prejudice.


Grease a 12 cup bundt pan with shortening or butter and dust with cocoa powder. Crank the oven to 350.

Pour .5 cup boiling water into 2 oz bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate chips, whir until combined. Allow to come to room temperature.

Put 2 cups walnuts in the work bowl of your largish food processor. Whir until coarsely chopped. Add 2 cups flour, .75 cup cocoa powder, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 tsp salt, pulse until combined.

Beat 5 eggs with 1 tbsp vanilla extract.

In a large bowl, beat 1 cup sugar, .75 cup brown sugar, and 2.5 sticks (10 oz) softened butter until fluffy, approx. 2 minutes. On low speed, add the egg mixture and beat in until combined. Add the chocolate/water mixture, beat until incorporated. Beat in the flour mixture until just combined. Scoop the batter into the prepared bundt pan, smooth the top, and bake until the edges are beginning to pull away from the pan, 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack 1.5 hours. The cake will develop a trench inside of it that will make it flatten when inverted. If you care about such things, fill the trench with more ground walnuts glued together with some chocolate chips melted in the microware.
Author's Edit: The New York Times recipe recommends flattening the trench after 30 minutes of cooling in the pan, then allowing it to cool 1 more hour before inverting the cake onto the serving tray and cooling it completely. Need to try that next time . . .
After the cake has cooled for 1.5 hours, put serving plate over bundt pan and invert. Tap the pan a few times to make it drop out. This cake does not have a lot of structure so be careful. Allow to cool completely once inverted, 2 hours or overnight in the fridge. Once cooled the cake is very stable.

To make the ganache frosting, cook .75 cup heavy cream, .25 cup light corn syrup, 8 oz 60% chips, and 1 tsp vanilla on medium heat until smooth, then cool until it reaches a frosting-like consistency. Or, if you are in a rush, wait 30 minutes and pour over cooled cake. It will be a big mess and there will be leftover ganache.

Serve. Try not to send anyone to the hospital. It's pretty strong voodoo. I'm still finding bits of chocolate on the countertop.

The horror . . the horror . .

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Tamale Time

The decision to make tamales last night turned into something of an adventure. I had the ingredients, I had a plan, but I did not have a recipe. The internet was out, leaving me with just a couple of guidelines:
>Tamale dough is basically biscuit dough made with masa, lard, and chicken broth instead of flour, shortening, and buttermilk. I had to use masa, shortening, and veggie broth for vegetarian guests
>Tamales are wrapped from the wide end of the husk to the narrow end, with the filling/dough at the wide end. One end is left open to allow the filling to expand, which it will as it is chemically leavened with baking powder.
>Tamales just need about 30 minutes in a pressure cooker
>Since I was feeding lactose-intolerant vegetarians and had one guest with an unknown spice tolerance, the filling was a simple strip of sheep milk manchego and a strip of poblano.

First soak your corn husks. You'll need, eh, about twenty. Depends on how big the husks are and how good you are at making these things. I suck at it, so I used quite a few. Stick the husks in boiling water and weigh them down so they sit in it for an hour or so.

Make up the masa. In a bowl mix 2 cups masa flour, 2 heaping tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt. Mix in .25 cup shortening into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Use your fingertips if you can. Slowly add 1 cup veggie broth, stirring, until mixture is sort of like mashed potatoes.

Lay out a corn husk. Put down 2 tablespoons of masa dough at the wide end of the husk, sort of to one side. Lay down the cheese strip and the poblano strip into the filling, then sort of roll the masa around the filling with the husk. Fold one of the long sides over the dough/filling, then roll it up the long way. Tie off the bundle with string. There is probably a much better howto video out there somewhere, accessible to folks with better internet.

Repeat this process until you run out of something. I ran out of masa dough first, which is fine, leftover manchego and poblano will certainly not go to waste.

Put down the steamer tray in the pressure cooker and fill the sucker up with tamales, open end facing up. Pour water down the side, avoiding the tamales, until the water level is right up to the bottom of the basket but not touching the tamales. Cover and steam on high pressure for 30 minutes or until the husk can be pulled away from the dough without a huge mess. These tamales are a little gooier than a meat tamale because of the cheese filling.

It's a testament to how forgiving this dish is that you can make it without having made it before, without even having a decent recipe, and still have it come out pretty damn good. As it is, I can't wait to do them again with pork filling and a proper recipe.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Steak au Poivre

Steak au poivre is rocket fast and very good with some supplements from the farmer's market. With the right choice of side dishes it's also low carb, since it's basically just pepper steak in cream. Not exactly low fat, but for God's sakes, don't try and make filet healthy. I've sort of subverted the classical poivre by adding a second saute item (mushrooms) after the steak before the deglazing. Mushrooms have lots of liquid and won't let the fond burn, so stop freaking out, frenchie. You can leave out the mushrooms if you want and just flame the fond from sauteing the filet. You might want to do that anyway if you hate mushrooms.

2 6-8 oz filet mignon, 1.5" thick
1 cup heavy cream
2 big shots cognac
Lots of black peppercorns
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp oil
12 oz Haricotes vertes- I'm not sure if I'm spelling this properly, but they're very very skinny green beans. They're really good.
Some more butter
.5 lemon
3 tbsp chopped parsley
12 oz mushrooms. White button are fine here. Rinse them off in the colander.
Good baguette

Salt the filet on both sides with large-grained kosher salt. Let it come to room temperature. Just let it sit for an hour, it's OK. Crush the peppercorns using a mortar and pestle or a frying pan and a brick. You don't want powdered pepper. Just sort of crack them. Press the cracked peppercorns into both sides of each filet. The juices drawn out by the salting should provide enough moisture and protein to stick the peppercorns on.
Put a giant pot with a gallon of water on high heat. Add a quarter cup kosher salt.
Crank the heat to medium high and put the oil and butter in the saucepan. Let the butter melt. When it starts to smell a bit nutty, maybe the foam starts turning a little brown, put the steaks in. Four minutes later, flip using tongs. Four more minutes on the other side. Take the steaks out and put on a dish. Tent loosely with foil. I hope you've got a decent hood system. If not, you can loosely cover the pan while cooking, it cuts down the smoke some.
Put the mushrooms in the pan, put the heat to medium. Cover the pan if things are looking a little too burnt in there; the liquor given off by the mushrooms will prevent burning if they're allowed to condense in there. Cook the mushrooms until tender. Try and time it so the pan is dry when the mushrooms are done. No mushroom water should remain. Remove the mushrooms to the steak plate. Put the pan back on the fire, crank it back up to medium high.
Take a shot of cognac. Take another shot and put it in the pan. Ignite the cognac with a fire device of some kind and swirl the pan until flames subside. Put in your heavy cream, stir until liquid is reduced a bit and very thick. Taste and correct seasoning.
The giant pot should be boiling merrily by this point. Dump in the haricotes and boil for 3 minutes. These little guys cook lightning quick, so be careful. Drain into colander, put back in pot with parsley, 1 tbsp butter, and the juice from the .5 lemon. Toss delicately.
Put the steaks in the sauce, turn to coat.
Plate steaks surrounded with green beans and mushrooms. Serve with baguette and the cooking pan with remaining sauce, for scoopin' and dippin'