Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pork Stew with Pears and Vanilla

The holiday season is kind of a wild ride.

We had Cobe's family over this year. No big deal we thought. Twenty people. We did that for thanksgiving last year.

It turns out, it's kind of a big deal.

Cobe's family always does potluck, and since it's our house we had the main course. Cobe wanted salmon. I had a plan...long slow cooked salmon over very low heat a la Jerry Traunfeld. But with a teriyaki marinade. Or maybe not teriyaki, a pineapple soy.

We tried it. But with pre-frozen salmon. And it sucked.

Then I started to get nervous. Cooking for us and having it flop was one thing, I couldn't do that for the family. I couldn't make salmon. I would be too nervous. I needed something I could make the day before so I decided to make pork. Cobe could make the damn salmon if he wanted to (which he did and it was wonderful....butter and brown sugar).

This is possibly my favorite stew recipe ever, and it's also from Jerry Traunfeld. It is blessed by simplicity. You brown the meat, then sautee onions and garlic in the same pan. Next add some liquid (broth and wine). Then throw in some pears, vanilla bean and thyme and simmer the whole deal for 2 hours. When it's done, you take out the meat and cook down the sauce, addding in more fresh herbs and a little lemon. You will find you have created a new flavor...a mix of pork, pear and vanilla that is so perfect, you wonder why you never thought of it before.

Braised Pork Shoulder with Pears and Thyme
10 servings

5 # boneless pork shoulder (boston butt) cut into 10 rectangular pieces, or 5# shoulder blade chops
salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 c olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c white wine
2 c chicken broth
4 pears, bosc or bartett, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/2 inch dice
1 small bunch (1 ounce) thyme
4 bay leaves, fresh or dry
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 T coarsely chopped thyme
1/2 c coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1 T fresh lemon

Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat large heavy pot (8qt) over medium high heat x a few minutes, then add olive oil. Using tongs, lower in pork and cook ~3minutes on a side (till deep caramel in color). Do not try to cram more than one layer, will likely need to do a few batches. Turn heat to medium-low and pour off most of fat (leave thin layer). Add in onions and garlic. Cook till softened. Add in broth and wine and scrape bottom of pan with wooden spoon to get up all the caramelized bits. Add pears, then add back in pork. Tie thyme together with bay and vanilla using kitchen twine and nestle between pieces of pork. Cover and cook at a gentle simmer over very low heat until meat is tender, about 2 hours.

Take out pork and cover loosely. Discard herbs (bouquet garni). Add chopped thyme to pot, increase the heat, and boil off liquid until thick enough to coat a spoon (5-10 minutes). Add in parsley and lemon and adjust to taste. Return pork to pan and serve. Very good reheated.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Chicken salad with cilantro and grapefruit

Another saturday, another afternoon waking up starving. Our fridge is full of food we can't eat these days. Cookie dough. The makings for my christmas pork and pear stew. Umeboshi.

Then I spied that rotisserie chicken from the other night. I started pulling things out of the fridge. Cilantro. Grapefruit. A hachiya persimmon.

The roasted chicken has an earthiness that's set off by the balsamic, and made fresher with the cilantro and grapefruit. The persimmon adds a slight cinnamon taste with apricot texture and vivid color.


Chicken Salad with Cilantro and Grapefruit

~1 cup chopped roasted chicken, roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T balsamic
1/2 tsp honey mustard
a few T chopped cilantro, roughly minced
Pink grapefruit, peeled, pithed and cut into segments (see pictures here for how to), then chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

Mix olive oil with balsamic and mustard and whisk. Adjust to taste (will depend on how strong your mustard or balsamic are....this will be worlds better with some top notch olive oil and balsamic). Mix with chopped chicken. Add in grapefruit and cilantro. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve (can put chopped persimmon on the side if you like).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Vodka pie

It all started when my friend Sheela asked me and Cobe over for dinner. I said I'd bring dessert.

A few days later I stumbled across Cooking Illustrated's no-fail vodka pie crust recipe. Then I heard the farmer's market was still going on in West Seattle. I could get apples from the market, make that vodka crust...

It was fate. I had to bake a pie.

So yesterday I trundled off to the market and loaded up with Braeburn apples. I looked high and low for lard thinking that it would make the most awesome piecrust, but everyone was sold out. Only in Seattle would everyone sell out of lard I went off to Thriftway for flour, butter, crisco and a pastry cutter.

Back home I sorted out the ingredients. It was a bit daunting, making a pie. I'd never made crust before. And I have no cuisinart. Just that little pastry cutter.

I pulled up Cook's illustrated to look at the recipe, but they only have directions for using a cuisinart so I also looked at Smitten Kitchen.

Damn her photos are beautiful. She makes a cup of sugar look like art.

Got out the butter, flour, sugar, salt, crisco, and vodka. Cut up the butter into squares. Threw the vodka in the freezer to chill. Then carefully mixed together the dry ingredients.

Now time to cut in the butter with the pastry cutter. Kind of scary, but she has these great photos on Smitten Kitchen to guide you through it. This is what mine looked like, first just starting and then almost done.

Then I added the vodka and water and poof! It came together into a ball. Cut the dough in two, flattened them into little patties and wrapped them in saran wrap, then put them in the fridge to chill.

So far so good.

Now onto the apples. I used the recipe from Best New Recipe (which is really just more CI). Peeled, cored and sliced the apples and mixed them with lemon juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Took out the crust and started rolling. Quickly discovered that I suck at rolling. I've rolled cookie dough but with cookie dough it doesn't matter if it cracks. With pie crust it matters a lot.

I have no pictures of this, but suffice it to say it wasn't pretty. Cobe came over while I was in the middle of this and asked if I needed help and I just snapped at him.

I finally rolled out an approximation of a 12 inch circle with several cracks but luckily for me, the pan was small enough that the cracks got cut off. Put the crust in the fridge to chill. Pulled it out after a bit and mounded up the apple slices.

Now to roll out the second crust. I got wise this time and actually looked at the pictures in Best New Recipe which show someone rolling with the rolling pin counter clockwise rather than back and forth. This worked much better. Still cracked, but better.

Put the whole thing together, sealed the edges, and cut slits in the top.

And then off it went to bake for an hour. Best New Recipe does this cool thing where you jack the oven up to 500 degrees, then turn it down to 425 right when you put the pie in (on the lowest rack). Worked like a charm....nice crisp bottom crust.

Actually the whole pie turned out awesome. Forgot to take a picture of it, but the crust was flaky and just slightly sweet with the crisp of sugar on the top (I did a glaze with egg white and sugar). I brought it to Sheela's and we ate it with ice cream and after dinner there was a little fight to see who could take the leftover pie home.

As a scientist it bothered me....why vodka? Well it turns out any alcohol would work. Alcohol simply evaporates more quickly than water and so leaves a flakier crust. Very interesting discussion about all of this by Harold McGee. I thought he migh have a hand in this!


Foolproof Pie Dough (Cooks Illustrated, November 2007)

Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Classic Apple Pie (Best New Recipe)

1 Recipe 2 crust pie dough
3 Granny Smith apples
4 Macintosh (I used all Braeburns, highly recommend them)
1 T fresh lemon juice and 1 tsp zest
3/4 cup + 1 T sugar
2T flour
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1 lg egg white, lightly beaten

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees, place rack on lowest rung with rimmed baking sheet.
2. Roll dough to 12 inch circle (note: they tell you to roll it between layers of saran wrap, but I had heard it got too sticky so I just used a floured countertop). Transfer dough to pie pan by rolling it around the rolling pin. Carefully lift up edges of dough while pressing it into the corners. Refrigerate.
3. Peel core and quarter the apples, then cut into 1/4 inch slices. Toss with lemon juice and zest (NOTE: I think the zest might have been too much so you might want to consider leaving that out but keeping the juice). In a medium bowl, mix 3/4 cup sugar with 2T flour, spices and salt. Toss dry mixture with apples. Turn fruit mixture into chilled pie shell, mounding in the center.
4. Roll out second dough ball to 12 inches and place it over filling. Trim both crusts to 1/2 inch, then fold under and crimp. Cut four slits in top. Paint crust with egg white and sprinkle with 1 T sugar
5. Place pie on baking sheet and immediately turn heat down to 425. Cook 25 minutes or until golden brown, then rotate front to back and turn heat down to 375. Cook till bubbling and nicely browned (30-35 minutes more). Cool.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Breakaway Chicken

Every few months I break down and buy a new cookbook. It's a bad habit (as evidenced by my groaning bookshelves) but I can't help myself. I have this idea that just around the corner is some new recipe that will change the way I cook. It's what makes cooking fun.

"The Breakaway Cook" is my new obsession. It's written by Eric Gowers who spent several years in Japan and plucked up all these flavors like yuzu, umeboshi and maccha.....then added them to western recipes. The results are incredibly simple, most are 4-5 ingredients, and yet profoundly original.

* Persimmon salad with ginger, maple syrup and mint
* Galangal-brown sugar ice cream
* Mashed potatoes with miso gravy
* Spicy shrimp with pomegrante molasses

Last night I decided to make star anise chicken.

First had to stop at Uwajimaya to buy some of this crazy stuff that he talks about in the book. I found some yuzu peel, but couldn't bring myself to buy the paste as it was a funky green color. Wandered around aimlessly looking for pomegrante molasses. Not in the gigantic aisle of sauces (after I tried to read every japanese label). Not near the plain old "brer rabbit" molasses. I asked one of the employees and he looked sheepish and then I realized he didn't speak english. I held up a pomegrante hopefully. We finally found it catty corner from the molasses.

This stuff ROCKS. Sweet and sour all in one bite, like tamarind but better.

Then home with the star anise and chicken thighs. Ground up the star anise and coated the thighs with olive oil, salt, pepper and the anise. Heavy on the anise (per his instructions). Threw the whole thing in a 400 degree oven with some quartered meyer lemon. Also added a few fingerling potatoes. Cooked it for 40 minutes, turning once.

Not bad. I was worried the star anise would be too much, but Chris didn't blink an eye. "This is your best dinner yet!" He said, licking his fingers. Of course he always says that.

Made some delicata squash using what we had left over from this summer's CSA and it turned out beautifully. A little butter and just the faintest sprinkle of brown sugar. No other way to describe the flavor except "delicate."

And then a salad, my own invention. Fennel, persimmon and pomegrante with an orange/lemon vinegarette. Kind of amazing. The Fuyu persimmons have this subtle flavor, like an apricot but with a touch of spiciness. And the pomegrante pops in your mouth.

Spicy Star Anise Chicken (From "Breakaway Cook," by Eric Gowers)

15 boneless chicken thighs (with skin)
1 T olive oil
pepper & salt
6T ground star anise
1 lemon, preferably meyer

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with foil. Coat both sides of chicken with olive oil, then sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper and anise. Quarter the lemon and spread on the pan with the chicken. Cook 30 minutes, flip and cook 30 minutes more or until done (180 degrees).

Roasted Delicata Squash

2-3 delicata squash (can use other varietals, but these are pretty cool)
brown sugar

Halve squash and remove seeds. Place in a roasting pan with ~1/2 inch of water. Sprinkle with salt and place small amounts butter in each squash half, then lightly sprinkle with brown sugar.
Cook at 350 degrees x 1 hour or until done (the temperature's pretty flexible, just check on them if you use a higher or lower temperature).

Fennel, persimmon and pomegrante salad

1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly (mandoline works great)
1 fuyu persimmon, firm, cut into thin strips
1 pomegrante, broken into seeds
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 T olive oil
Squeeze of lemon

Mix orange juice, olive oil and lemon with salt and pepper. Taste and see if you want more oil or more lemon, it's to your taste (I confess that I don't really measure these things as I think it's better to just mix and add until it tastes right). Add fennel and mix. Then add persimmon and pomegrante. Chill before serving.