Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gravy, the Lifeblood of Thanksgiving.

I remember the wine tasting days when the smarmy sales reps with a pallet of plonk to sell would slither into the restaurant and suggest serving a particular white wine, 'well chilled'; code for "this wine is awful, but, get it cold enough and the alcohol will be the only thing tasted."  Great for summer dining!

When it came to food, frying or 'Cajun style' was another method employed to mask a lackluster product.  A sorry piece of fish could be deep-fried and consumed with the right dipping sauce or coated with a searing blend of spices and incinerated in a piece of cast iron.  Once your taste buds were sufficiently muted, you could be eating a neighbors cat and find it just as pleasurable as the swordfish advertised on the specials board.

Sauces and gravies, too, were developed hundreds of years ago to enhance the...'wholesomeness' of dubious protein sources.  We've come a long way since then and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, thoughts of a sauce masking the meal are heretical.  Every morsel of the menu is delectable and made even more memorable by chairs filled with family and friends.  The sauce, the Turkey Giblet Gravy, is a stand-alone dish that could be featured as it's own course.  Maybe not worthy of a wine glass, but, you get the idea that the gravy can be the star of the show.  Actually, in our home, the gravy IS the star; all other dishes revolve around it.  Call it Grav-i-ty!

Our Turkey Giblet Gravy is so critical to the day, that when we sit down, at least one child will ask if enough was made. 
"We have to have some for tomorrow, ya know," Liam reminds us, "We can run out of turkey, but, coming up shy on gravy is a sin.  Y'ever tried it on a sandwich cold?  It's like spreading pate'..."
We even gave up on a traditional gravy boat years ago, and why not?  The frustration of attempting to ration the 12 ounces of volume for one spin around the table is simply unnecessary and counter to the joy of the day.  OK, we may put one down for the sake of a guest or to dust off a family heirloom, but, we will need a quart sized container in the center of the table to keep the peace and everyone in their seats for the first 20 minutes. 

"So, Dad, what are giblets anyways," one of the boys asked years ago.  Now, we all want to expose our children to new experiences, but, we sometimes have to use stealth and guile over the bright light of truth in selling the product.  There could be some damaging glare at a young age. 
"Meat bits," was the pat response, "and you like meat bits, right?"
As the boys got older and they were able to enjoy strange cuts of meat without a gag-reflex, we could let them in on the 'secret' of giblets: they are in fact the heart, gizzard and liver of a turkey.  When finely diced, saute'd with onions and celery, deglazed with white wine and blended into the pan gravy, they are mystical...Oi!  It just gives you the chills; 'goosebump good.'

The GREAT thing about making outstanding Turkey Giblet Gravy is that you don't need any special ingredients.  No trips to stores, special equipment, or expensive books are required, just your natural powers of observation.  When we do anything well in the kitchen, it behooves us to pay close attention with our senses of sight, taste and smell.   We will proceed in three steps: making a thickener (a roux), making a stock, and cooking our giblets.
Ready?  This is easy, fun and hugely rewarding.  You could become a family legend like my mom and her gravies.  I remember pretending to interview her one year in high school while she was making a pan gravy; we all laughed so hard.
And what are we making again?
Gravy, of course, but memories for sure.   

Turkey Giblet Gravy, yield 1 quart

Step 1: Make the thickener, the roux (roo), by melting one stick of butter or margarine.  Stir in about one cup of flour to make a wet sand texture paste.  The roux should not have any dry lumps of flour in it.  Set aside.

Step 2:   Create the pan juices (stock).  Remove the turkey from the roasting pan and set on a cookie sheet.  Take 2 cups warm water, pour in roasting pan and stir with a small whisk or metal spatula to get all the little yummy bits from the bottom of the pan.  Once the roasting pan has been thoroughly 'cleaned', pour contents into a 2 qt. sauce pot and set on medium heat. 

Step 3:  Dice the turkey liver, heart and gizzard into teeny-tiny bits, the size of a pencil eraser.  Dice half a medium onion and 2 ribs of celery.  Combine all in a pre-heated saute' pan and cook till onions are transparent.  Set aside.

Home stretch:  Add 2 cups milk to the stock, bring to a boil, and add the giblet mixture.  Reduce to a simmer and add half the roux, whisking steadily off the heat.  Once the roux has been dissolved, return to medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Adjust thickness with more of your roux if desired.
Adjust salt and pepper to taste.  Cover till service.

Pretty cinchy, huh!?
This is the stuff of which legends are made.
This is when you can taste 'The Love.'

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Buttery Noodles, Sidewalk Chalk and El Rey del Mundo

It seems it was just a few weeks ago when the idea of a Fall season was laughable; sure September was starting, but, we were having gorgeous days in the 80's, the ground was pick axe hard, parched from an early and blazing summer.  This is the year, I thought, that it wouldn't rain until Halloween.  Mother Nature has a funny way about her though.  The rain came a few weeks later and it came down in monsoon-like sheets for 3 days.
Still, it was an extraordinary summer season...

...a time of much anticipated vacations, well intentioned home projects, over abundant vegetable gardens, and sandy swimming suits hung over patio rails.
One of my pleasures is sitting out on the front porch, watering the lawn, smoking a cigar and listening to the end of the day.  Our 50's vintage, metal shell-backed swing with nine coats of paint remains a sturdy companion, made no doubt at a time when car fenders and bumpers actually 'fended' and 'bumped.'   One night especially comes to mind...

The sun had slipped past a towering laurel hedge behind me and began radiating its warm glow across to the neighbors gently bending, thirty foot stand of bamboo in front of me.   The ivory and pale greens of their leaves contrasted brilliantly against the backdrop of dark and brooding cedars.  Robins begin darting in and out of trees seeking an optimal roost.  Siobhan had joined me with her box of sidewalk chalk, a bowl of buttery noodles and bare feet. 

"Dad, what do ya want me to make you?"  she asks, knowing full well what she will create, yet again.

"I dunno, how 'bout some hearts and rainbows?" I suggest. 

Stick with a proven winner, me thinks, and avoid the fuss of artistic disaster.  She sets her bowl of noodles down, tucks her curls behind her ears and begins the Concentric Heart Project, 9.0.   She starts with a small heart of one color and makes larger and more colorful hearts to encompass each preceding one. 

"That's nice, baby girl.  Is that for Mom?" I ask.
"Not finished yet...!" she informs me in a sing-song voice, still on her hands and knees, horn rimmed glasses teetering on the tip of her nose. 

I'm reading a book by American gastronome, James Beard, which was written in the early 60's.  Picked it up at a yard sale for a buck and figured, 'what the hell.'  It's a somewhat interesting collection of stories: from his childhood on the Oregon coast to European travels late in life which focus on foraging, cooking and eating.  This at a time when our American culture was head-over-heels with the post-war zealotry of convenience: canned was good, frozen even better and electric was as necessary as the next ICBM.  Beard wrote at length about seasonal, fresh and local foods decades before a California chef, Alice Waters at Berkeley's Chez Panisse, brought California Cuisine to American palates, shocking a nation about the importance of 'fresh' and 'local.'

"Done!" Siobhan pronounces, raising chalk-caked hands, "and it's for Mom and Tobin."
Good Lord, I think, looks like I just lost out to a first grade boy.
"Isn't he the one that's always in trouble?" I ask.
"Yeah, but, he's fun!" she assures me. 
Bless her little heart, she has a crush just like I had on Jennifer Russo in first grade.  I return to my book.

Beard repeated his mantra of building a cuisine from the ground up; starting with basics, creating layers of clean flavors with solid, simple ingredients.  Nothing new really, the French are credited with taking notes from Italian cooks hundreds of years earlier and codifying it.  And while Julia Child was wowing them for entertainment on the new TV with elaborate, French fare sporting funny sounding names, James Beard was eating crabs from the West coast, touting and tipping California wines, fishing for salmon, preparing summer greens for salads in New York and harassing every local butcher he could find.  Great sauces started with carefully tended stocks, Mr. Beard would say, a delicious steak began with marbled beef and good company was essential to feeding both body and soul. 

As I look down upon our daughter's creation, I realize that Siobhan's sidewalk art and our own home cooking share a common ingredient at their very essence--a heart. 
Concentric hearts from inside-out illustrate how good cooking starts with fundamentals and works out...
Bonnie's buttery noodles with Romano cheese + cream and garlic = alfredo...
Alfredo + bacon and eggs = carbonara...

Art imitating Life! 

I chuckle at the relation, take one last draw off my cigar and look once again at it's band that's beginning to singe...

...El Rey del Mundo...
...King of the World...

Pasta Carbonnara: serves 6

1 lb.    Pasta, whatever shape you like
2 T.    Cooking oil, (I use reserved bacon drippings whenever I can!)
8 oz.   Pancetta (Italian style bacon) or bacon, cut to 1/2 inch slices
2 T.    Garlic, diced
6         Eggs, beaten
1/2 C. Romano or Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
taste    Black pepper, freshly cracked
touch  Cream (optional for desired consistency)

Bring 4 qts water to a boil and add pasta.  Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Reduce to medium heat till cooked to desired doneness.  While that is boiling, move to a separate burner and begin the other half of the dish.
In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium heat, then add pancetta.  Cook to desired doneness (I'm not a fan of crispy bacon chips), then add the minced garlic and warm for a minute or two.  "When is garlic done?"  Well, it will release it's water in the form of vapor as it cooks.  Don't let it get brown or crispy.  Garlic is done when the water vapor has subsided.  Use your powers of observation: look and listen!
When garlic is done, remove from heat, add the beaten eggs, grated cheese, black pepper and hot pasta, stirring vigorously.  The eggs will miraculously cook off the burner with just the heat from the pan and pasta; coating the noodles with a decadent layer of 'sauce.'
Garnish with something green (parsley, green onions, etc) and server IMMEDIATELY!

Buon Appetito!

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Chicken Ain't Nuthin' but a Bird!"

"It was a dish for old Caesar,
Also King Henry the Third,
But Columbus was smart, said "You can't fool me,
A chicken ain't nothin' but a bird!"
~Cab Calloway, 1940

Don't you just love enthusiastic people?  Somebody at work, a neighbor or friend at church who carries that gift of a ready smile and a positive outlook are gems that we hold dear.  They can brighten our days and elevate our occasional down moods. 
We look forward to seeing them.

Passionate people aren't only a subset of this same group, but more specifically, form an elite corps of radically focused true believers that can zero-in on a topic, jump up on a soapbox and preach with the fervor and conviction of a Penticostal minister.  All with a smile on their lips and love in their hearts.
My friend Janice is one of these gifted individuals, especially when it comes to her beloved Southern food and Carolina roots.

Last week, I found myself at our workplace information hub: the front desk.  We were scanning invoices, checking mailboxes and engaging in idle banter with other staff, when our exercise coordinator rounds the corner in full stride;  matching Addidas warm-ups flying.
Janice throws a quick high five at me, then, stops long enough to ask how the weekend went with 'momma' out of town.  'Shugh' and I talk food all the time, but, Mondays usually start with a weekend, culinary adventure.
She parked her wheely cart with fitness gear and licked her lips, ready to preach. Her eyes were wide, hands were out front with palms down, barely keeping a lid on the story about to erupt.  She began her sermon on a fried chicken and waffle brunch at the Screen Door restaurant with a sacred enthusiasm usually reserved to iPad devotees at an Apple store opening.

 "...the collards were tinder with a little bit uh bakin, the biskeets were perfect cat hayds," her breathing quickening to a pant, "an man, that graivee, ah tell ya wut, you could pore that on a dead cat an ahd tare it UP!"
When she got to the chicken, well, I thought a spirit was about to abandon her body.  'Shugh' wiped her mouth with one hand and paused,

"Nugget, this chicken was...," she raised her hands to either measure a bass or call upon the Lord,
"...thuh most a-mazin' frahd chickin' ahve had in this town.  It was hot an crispy on thuh outsahd, an steamy-juicy on thuh insahd.  An peppery, too...," her voiced trailed off into that delicious memory and her body seemed to go limp from the recollection. 

Fifteen years in Portland have not diminished her North Carolina accent one little, bitty, syllable and given her passion for the topic, actually enhanced her drawl the way I imagine Bourbon would...

"B-dazzle, ya'll GOT-ta go if you like real fried chicken.  Yore boys are gonna dig it," she concluded, pointing at my chest, then, snapping the handle up on her carry-on luggage kit.

My boys and I followed Janice's empassioned plea and found that she actually had not oversold the experience.  That weekend we were seated outside at the Screen Door Restaurant after waiting 45 minutes for a table. We could smell the fried chicken about half a block away and the four of us became giddy; poking and prodding each other like kids going to the fair. 

We ordered chicken all around and sipped drinks, craning our necks to see the heaping platters of Southern Goodness coming out of the kitchen.
Finally, it was our turn.

We examined our meals and just stared, slack-jawed, at the simple home-cooked beauty.  The waitress was saying something and we just kind of mumbled a reply in unison.  The aromas were etherial, yet, comforting.  It was the longest 7 seconds of the night. 

A blessing was said.

"Ow-ow-owww, hot-hot-hot," cried Liam tearing away a piece of crispy skin and meat.
"Bacon in the collards, Hell Yes!," exclaimed Patrick.
"Whoa, check this out, it's like an aquifer of juice," Brendan informed us, displaying a golden half-breast.

Our evening was an expression of the food: we ended up talking to tables next to us, they displayed and described their desserts.  Not suprisingly, each person had a tally of their visits to this fine purveyor of Southern victuals. 
"This is our 7th time.  You HAVE to come back for the brunch," said the two-top next to us,
"The fried chicken is skewered and presented on a waffle!"

We talked, laughed, gawked, met folks and shared stories. 
Ain't that what good cookin's supposed to do?!

Janice, JJ, Shugh, whatever you want to call her, is a distinguished ambassador of home cooking and an inspiring preacher of the gospel of Fried Chicken.   It may be just a bird, Mr. Calloway, but, this flightless fowl can soar given the right breading.

Amen, Sistah Janice!

Crispy Southern Fried Chicken

1 whole      chicken, cut into pieces (whatever pieces you like)
2 cups        buttermilk
2 cups        flour
2 Tbl          salt, kosher
1 tsp          pepper, ground
1 qt.          canola oil

Place chicken pieces in a bowl and sprinkle with salt one at a time.  Pour buttermilk in and mix by hand till all pieces are soaked.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, pour oil into deep sided cast iron pot/skillet and heat to 300 degrees on the stove top.  Buy a high temp thermometer if you don't have one.  It takes out the guess work.  Remove chicken pieces from the buttermilk, one at a time, and dredge in the flour giving them a good coat.  Once four pieces are ready and the oil is hot, gently slide one piece at a time into the oil.  I suggest using tongs for safety.  When desired color is reached, turn each piece over gently.  This should take 20-25 minutes for each batch.  When done, remove to a cookie rack in a pre-heated oven (200 degrees) to keep warm.  Internal temp of the meat should be 160 degrees or higher. 
Don't poke the chicken as it is cooking, the breading will fall off.  Keep an eye on the oil temp; cast iron retains heat very well and you will probably adjust your flame down as the process unfolds. 

Make a salad with your garden greens, have plenty of paper towels on hand and always make more than you will eat that night.  Left-over fried chicken is like dessert!

Take Care, God bless and Remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cooking Can Be a Grind; and That's OK...

Liam leaned straight back in the metal folding chair, like a two-by-four about to slide out, his arms folded behind his head, eyes closed and directed up towards the gently swaying branches of our neighbors Doug firs. 
"Dude, that was awesome...I knew it would be good, but, put together like that, it was flippin' a-MAZE-ing!" 

Mom and Bonnie are taking a one month 'tour de California Cousins' which leaves three teenaged boys and Dad at home.  Great, I thought, this'll give us time to get all those projects done that we've always had on the back burner!  It'll be guy-time with plenty of father/son bonding.  I had visions of circular saws whirring, nails getting beaten into boards, wheelbarrows moving dirt from point A to point B...all capped by a hearty dinner full of laughter, clinking glasses and "I LOVE you, Man!"s on the back deck. Then, Life got in the way...

Well, we lost a cook at work and I went into overtime, leaving only Sunday free. 

Implement Plan B: Move most projects to back burner and focus on the evening meal; maybe the chicken coop could still get done. 
The dinners required some forethought and pre-meal prep; walking through the front door at 6 p.m. from work didn't leave much time for a casual stroll to the dinner table.  
I'd buy a load of assorted proteins, chicken, beef and pork, along with some seasonal vegetables to last us the week.  The chickens were split and slow-roasted, pork went out on the smoker. The meat was then cooled, wrapped and dated for later use.  The beef was reserved for a special recipe from Patrick. 

Pat had a recent stint working at one of Portland's burgeoning food carts and mentioned the trend of custom grinds for each burger cart.  The one that caught his attention used bacon in the ground chuck blend.  Holy cow, we concluded, what could be better than richly marbled beef laced with one of God's great gifts to mankind?!  A night was set for our 'Boys-Burgers-Beer' event and the necessary equipment was lined up.  The 5 quart KitchenAid mixer was to be employed with grinder attachment.  If for some reason you don't own this brand of mixer with crank-up handle (not the tilt-head!), run don't walk to your nearest retailer and secure one for your home kitchen.  It is as essential as a sharp chef's knife, a 10" cast iron skillet and a large cutting board.  Your life will change with this mixer and grinder attachment.  No, I don't work for KitchenAid...

The beef used in this grind was something called 'Boneless Beef Ribs' or words to that effect.  It is the beef trimmed from ribs in slabs that actually show the indentation from where the ribs used to be.  The marbling of fat was like a spiderweb or fine netting; for a chef, it's jaw-dropping eye candy!  We cut the slabs into 1/4" wide strips about 6" long.  The strips were dusted with an off-the-shelf seasoning blend and fed into the grinder.  Every other strip was paired with a slice of bacon. 
(Insert angelic single note here..."ahhhh!").

The ground meat was then formed into massive oval patties to fit our pub rolls, selected for size and hearty texture, followed by the patties placed on a pre-heated grill.  We kicked our heat down to 'low' since we knew the melting fat would create some flare ups. 
As the burgers slowly charred on one side, Brendan sliced home made pickles, red onions and tomatoes.  Liam assembled the stable of condiments: Frank's Red Hot, Sriracha, Mayo, three kinds of mustard and ketchup.  Pat set up a runway of dinner plates and napkins.  Tillamook extra sharp white cheddar and pepper Jack cheeses were prepared and set grillside for final approach.

"...and we're flipping!" I called out, signaling 3 minutes to cheese flaps down and beginning our glide path.

As the burgers were pulled from the grill to a side plate, Pat placed our four split rolls onto the grill for 30 seconds of toasting.  Burgers and rolls were moved into the assembly area and a flurry of reaching arms created each guys personal monument. 
Three of us sat on the back deck and waited for the last burger artist to complete our party.

A blessing was said.

The anticipation was palpable and I must admit, was a bit nervous about meeting expectations. 
Watching and waiting those first few seconds, I found Patrick to make the first indication of satisfaction. 

"Mmmm, mmm...," he groaned, his eyes slowly closing and gently shaking his head.
"Oh, oh, OH!," followed Brendan, "ee-yeah, this is in-CRED-able!  You can taste the beefiness, but, you get that hint of smokiness from the bacon."
When Liam likes something he's eating, a primordial fear overtakes him that someone will steal his food if he sets it down.  He looks like he's in a Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.
"Someone tell Liam to breathe, please," I asked, "and you don't need to unhinge your jaw to enjoy this."

We laughed, shared comments on taste, texture, char, acidity, and spice.   Our local jazz station softly played on an old radio as we finished, set our plates aside and took turns stretching.

"This was worth it," Brendan proclaimed, "We should make this like our special guy's meal."
It took us about an hour to prepare and 10 minutes of clean up, but, the time spent together serving one another and sharing a meal was more than just a moment. 

It was a menu of friendship, fellowship and of love that we will taste with precise memory in years to come.

Is cooking at home worth all this effort? Our fifteen year old seems to think so. 
Every last, delicious and memorable bit of it!

Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
The Best Things in Life Aren't Things."


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pencils, Angels and Pork Chops

We all grew up with sage one-liners, parroting them as children:  "Save your pennies and the dollars with save themselves." --Lisa's Gram

"Don't cry over spilt milk."--my Mom
"They'll be grown and gone before you know it!"--every grandparent
And a personal favorite:
"Life gives you lemons, make lemonade."--every parent

Then around college age, we became more knowledgeable, 'wiser' and more eloquent than these trite '-isms' of our superstitious and ignorant ancestors. We may have been intelligent, but, not smarter as our own children would eventually remind us. 

A few weeks back, we actually made it to the table one evening with a full house for dinner; every child present and accounted for! Once the call is made by Mom, each child that is handy, takes it upon themselves to yell for another child. Brendan yells down the basement stairs for Liam.  Siobhan runs down the hall and yells for Fisher, knocks on his door and just in case he had nuclear earbuds in, she tells him that dinner is ready. Bonnie-Belle then runs over to the computer and gives Patrick a hug, whispering into his headphones that it's 'Time.' Much commotion ensues as Mom employs each attendee in a quick task.
"Quick, put this down in the center of the table."
"Put a glass at each setting; small glass, but, not a baby glass for Siobhan. She'll get mad."
"TONGS! Where the HELL are the tongs!?" Two seconds later, "FOUND 'EM!" Still out on the grill.
"Brendan, fill a water pitcher..."
Everyone gives a quick glance at the table before grabbing a chair, it all looks good we say to ourselves, and take seats.
A blessing is said.

Lisa has been doing some neat things lately with lightly dressed pastas and a variety of mixed greens.  This evening, she had bowties tossed with arugula and baby spinach, crumbled feta cheese and a zippy vinaigrette.   She grilled some thick cut pork chops which had been lightly rubbed with kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper and a killer little sauce.  Potatoes were quartered reds with fresh garlic and garden rosemary.  It was simple, straight-forward, but, it had all of us practically falling out of our chairs.
"Whoa...MOM!  What's in this totally rocks!"  exclaimed Brendan. 
"Yeah, and the pork chops are grubbin'!"  Liam followed. 
It's nice to hear a compliment on your cooking, but, teenage boys are not that picky and will eat anything, pretty much.  So, you kind of consider the source.
That night was different.
Lisa sat there taking it all in as the boys tried to guess what was so different. 
"It's citrus-y," said Pat, "but, it's not tart or sour.  It's not sweet, either." 
"You're close, but, not quite there.  Give up?"  she asked. Siobhan was giggling and whispered something in Mom's ear.  Lisa said, "OK."

"Meyer Lemons!" shouted Siobhan, "Mom and I picked them out at New Seasons." 
Sure enough, Lisa and Bonnie had gone to the hippy grocery store after school, over by St. Agatha's and decided to find a fruit or vegetable that Siobhan had never eaten.   Lisa made a lemon vinaigrette for the pasta and a Meyer lemon butter for the chops.   The Meyer lemon was brought to the US in the early last century from China and is a cross between a lemon and either an orange or mandarin.  The peel is thin and fragrant; the flesh is juicy with a tinge of orange. 
The flavors of Lisa's concoctions were focused, lean and refreshing.  The soft acidity kept the palate fresh after every bite; nothing was muddled or over-powered. 
We took turns extolling the attributes of the meal from perfect grill marks to the vanilla toastiness of roasted rosemary to not liking spinach 'but in this pasta it was great.'  Siobhan then got up from the table, still chewing and took a stance at the corner. 
"Hey Dad, watch this!" as she stood at attention with her arms to her side.
"Pen-cil!"  She then took a breath and flung her arms above her head while her feet jumped to shoulder width apart.
"Pencil-Angel-Pencil-Angel...," she continued, "I learned how to do Jumping Jacks today!"
The table erupted in cheers, laughter and congratulations.
"That's GREAT, baby girl," I said, "We're so proud of you.  That Mr. Kelly is a pretty good PE teacher."
Patrick grinned and smirked.
"Dinner and a Show at the Quinn house..."

Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
2 oz.   meyer lemon juice, freshly sqeezed
1/2 t.   kosher salt
1/2 t.   fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 t.   cracked black pepper
1         egg yolk
6 oz.   olive oil, extra virgin

Combine all but the olive oil in a small mixing bowl and whisk together.
Slowly pour the olive oil in a thin stream into the aforementioned mixture while whisking.  Pour from the outside of the bowl and incorporate into the center of the liquid.  This will aid in the emulsion or blending of the vinaigrette; it won't separate. 
Brush this onto grilled meat, add to a cold pasta salad or use it for dipping.  It's pretty versatile. 

Have fun with this, we did. 
Take care, God bless and remember: 
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends
the Best Things in Life aren't Things."

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Lamb or Ham?

Sooo... it's the day before Easter and you're still mulling over the age-old spring conundrum, "Ham or Lamb?"
Was talking to a friend earlier in the week and he was excitedly relaying the list of wine possibilities he'd be serving with the lamb at his house on Easter,
"Well, my brother the winemaker is coming over, so, we'll probably have some of HIS wine, but, there's a special bottle from Abreu in Napa that merits investigation, then I'm thinking Syrah from Walla Walla..."
Matt was running out of fingers on one hand as he counted the potential candidates, realizing that with 8 adults, there were more tasting opportunities. 
"So you guys are a 'lamb' family on Easter?" I chided, "some folks are rock-solid 'ham-fams' on the blessed day."
"Ehhhh-No.  Can't stand ham," Matt offered, "It's just so...I dunno...haaaa-mmm!"  He stood there looking down at the ground, searching for the right vocabulary, trying not to offend, shaking his head.  When an attorney who loves the whole food experience is found to be at a loss for descriptive narrative, this is indeed double-jeopardy.   
"I just don't like it." he concluded, looking up with a boy-ish smile, tilt of the head and a shrug of the shoulders. 

I nodded and smiled,
"But you know, Matt, with a good mustard or variety of mustards, ham can be quite delicious." 
"It's still ham," he blurted.

For some strange reason, there was a compelling need to defend the cured pork leg; it couldn't stand on it's own for heaven's sake.   It was after Mass and we were headed to coffee/donuts in the parish hall where there is usually good-natured ribbing going on.

A good ham can be spectacularly presented, I continued, expertly carved and arranged on a massive tray, garnished with any number of fruit and herbaceous items (oranges slices, crowns, sprigs of fresh garden herbs...) and prepared well in advance.  Playing devil's advocate, I pressed my point.

"Ham is easy, it can be sweet AND savory.  It's colorful, festive and has a storied tradition on Easter tables.  Kids love it, old people adore it.  There are different styles of ham, too.  You can get a boneless, pit, shank, butt-end and that one over at Costco, the Carver Ham.  It's flippin' gorgeous!  It must be off the shoulder, it's a one to two-muscle piece that is like eating bacon!
Then, there's the pot of beans, split pea soup, sandwiches and casseroles to be made with the left-overs.  And have I mentioned price?  It's about 1/3 the cost of a boneless leg of lamb."

I rested my case and waited for Matt's rebuttal.

"It's still a ham," he whispered, biting his lip and looking away.

"SO-oooo...," he came back with a straight face, "what are you guys bringing for Easter, again?"
"Lisa is making her mom's deviled eggs, cheesy potato casserole and some candy for the egg hunt."
"" he queried.

Lamb, of course!

Leg of Lamb at Matt and AnaMaria's on Easter
1-boneless leg of lamb, about 4 lbs, tied or netted
2T-kosher salt
5-sprigs fresh garden rosemary
5-sprigs fresh garden thyme
1/2 C.-dried fruit: cherries, apricots, or figs.  I'll have to check the pantry.
5-cloves peeled garlic, whole

Pre-heat your oven to 275 degrees.  Yes, 2-7-5, don't ask questions.
Gently open the leg and instert the whole sprigs of rosemary and thyme.  With your thumb, press the dried fruit and garlic along side the herbs into the leg.  Now, reassemble your boneless leg if it has gotten out of shape.  Spinkle with kosher salt and place in the oven until a 130 degreee internal temp is reached.  If you haven't bought a digital probe thermometer by now, go get one at your favorite supermarket.  They're cheap as heck these days and will take the guess work out of roasting meats.  Allow 1 1/2 hours for the roast, but, give yourself an extra 1/2 hour since all ovens work differently.  The roast must rest for AT LEAST 1/2 hour before carving.  It's OK to serve it at room temp, just not cold. 

This is a simple basic preparation that will pair wonderfully with the season and good company.
Case closed.

Take care, God bless and remember,
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life aren't Things!"


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cheap Tricks

Water, bones, noodles.

Tah-DAH! (clap-clap-clap).   Thank you, thank you, you've been a fabulous audience!...

Actually, when it comes to noodles and broth, I must tip my hat to our former exchange student, the pride of Hanoi, Nghia Pham (KNEE-uh Fam).  This shy, skinny kid showed us how to turn Chicken Noodle soup into and a noisy, lime and cilantro laced, healthy breakfast bowl.  Our kids have always had a leaning towards the savory side for the morning meal, but, one Vietnamese exchange student and two kids on a summer trip to Vietnam later, we are now firmly ensconced behind a bowl of PHO (pronounced, 'Fuh').  OK, American Pho, but, you get the idea that rice noodles, broth, veggies and a few cubes of meat can really make your morning and impact the trajectory of your day. 

There is no slight-of-hand involved, just good solid technical skills and an attentive eye.
Isn't that the truth for any quality job on a recipe?  We could teach monkeys to fly if we had enough bananas, but, developing a sense for texture and balance requires an eye, a brain and the truth.

We need our eyes to create visual appeal; don't boil your bones to death of you want a broth as clear as a mountain lake. 
Employing our 'noodle'; thinking before and after our cooking stages helps us to achieve the desired result, ensuring a positive experience and avoiding a failure (GLEE was on and I forgot to turn the heat down...that's why the broth is cloudy, oops...). 
Being honest with our palate is crucial when adjusting salt, acidity, heat and spice. 

Whaddya say?  Are you game!?
Let's make some Pho!

"I want a clear broth for my soup, how do I get there?" 

Well, you have to think of the flip-side, too.
How does a broth get cloudy?  That comes from agitation; the bones and meat of a chicken getting tossed about by the action of the boil, slamming into the walls of the pot, getting jacked by the bubbles from below, being stirred and prodded by an impatient cook from above.  All ya hafta do is put a whole chicken in a deep pot, cover it with cold water and place on medium heat.  Let that baby go for an afternoon simmering away.  When four hours have passed, gently pour off the liquid through a fine meshed strainer into a storage container.  Remove the very relaxed chicken with a spatula and let cool on a cookie sheet.  Pull the meat off, allow to cool, and store in ziplocs for later use.  Yes, refrigerate if used in the next three days.  Yes, freezer, if to be used at a further date. 

"The cilantro came in a bunch, so, I chopped a bunch for the pot." 
Packaging convenience isn't a good way to add ingredients.  Use the recipe as a guideline, and tweak it as YOU want it to be.  Some of us (the poor sods!) don't like the taste of cilantro, therefore, avoid it all together.  It's your baby, so, create as you like...the culinary world will not fall off it's axis if you leave out an ingredient.  You're eating this, not me.

"I'm from the 'more is better' school of thought.  Is it OK to load up on the fresh ginger?"

Sure, if all you want to taste is a hot ginger liquid.  The sublimity of a great dish is in it's simplicity; I can taste all five ingredients separately and collectively.  Neither ingredient overwhelms another. 

"But chef, I'm a 'Merican an I don't know any Vietnamese pee-puhl!  How the heck does this pho-stuff happen?"

Awright, awright...take it easy there, Vern .  We've all made chicken soup, right?  Only difference here is what you add to it in the end.  If you're a Jewish grandmother, you add matzo balls.  If you're from the South, you drop in some dumplings.  Mexican?  Hominy corn is your go-to starch. 
Got it? 
Pho is 'Chicken Noodle Soup' that doesn't come from a red and white can; it comes from a quick read of a short recipe...and the soul of Vietnam. 

Basic Pho

1.........................Chicken, whole
5 qts....................Water, cold
1 1/2 T.................Salt
2.........................Onion, halved
4" finger................Ginger, sliced
4.........................Clove, whole
3T.......................Fish sauce
2T.......................Coriander seeds, whole, toasted 
1/2 bunch..............Cilantro, fresh

Rice noodles
Onion, sliced paper thin
Green onion, scallion only, sliced
Chicken, cooked and cubed

Place chicken and water in an 8 qt or larger pot on medium/high heat.  Bring to a boil and quickly reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 3 hours.
While that is happening, place onions and ginger on a grill or over a burner to char the outside.  Relax, it's supposed to get slighlty blackened.  Once charred, place in simmering pot along with cloves and toasted coriander seeds.  To toast seeds, gently heat in a dry saute' pan over medium heat until they begin to sizzle and bronze.  Starting to smell good, isn't it?  Add fish sauce, cilantro and sugar.  Vietnamese insist on rock sugar, but, you make the call.
Once the 3 hour simmer is done, gently pour through a strainer and reserve the liquid.  Place chicken on a cookie sheet to cool, then, pull the meat off.

When ready to serve, bring chicken broth back to a boil (figure 1 cup per person) and pour over the above bowl of condiments.  Rice noodles should be pre-blanched in hot water to soften (about 3 minutes). 

Seems rather involved, but, just break the process down into it's component parts: Broth, condiments, noodles.


Take care, God bless and remember:
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends,
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"

chef bq.