Friday, December 23, 2011

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Think You're getting the real thing?

THIS is a very interesting NPR piece about the state of olive oil in the world today.  Definitely worth a listen.  And this book is now on my must read list.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How I pick my songs for my newsletter . . . .

For everyone out there that reads my newsletter I hope you listen to the song I put there with it.  (if you don't read the newsletter you can sign up for it on the right over there, It's coming out tomorrow!-->)
I spend almost as much time searching for what I consider to be the right song as I do writing the newsletter.
And it always stems, directly and indirectly, from searching for the topic of the newsletter followed by the word "song".   I always strive to find a song that is actually nice to listen to (for the majority anyways) and is hopefully something that few of us have yet discovered. 

This is this months newsletter song, and I think it's beautiful.

Cibelle - Green Grass - Official Video from Orquestra Galante on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You're Probably Never Going to Make this . . .

But I wish you would give it a try. 
Soccafisso is a dish that was pervasive at La Taverna dell' Coleonni when I was working there.  As dude from the midwest, I didn't have much exposure to bacalao growing up, but I did take to it pretty quickly once I got a taste.   This dish rustles up a lot of memories for me, I love it and I think you will too.
On a side note, you should give this book a read if you haven't already.  It's a surprisingly interesting story of the history

Having to soak the salted fish makes this seem like a long process, but really you just have to plan ahead.  Also, where there is a market for it, you can sometimes find bacalao that has been presoaked. 

A salt cod emporium in Lisbon.
2 lbs dried Salt Cod (follow the preparations below)
1 lb. white onions, chopped finely
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsps all purpose flour
1 qt. whole milk
2 bay leaves, fresh if possible

To prepare the salt cod
1. Rinse the fish under cold running water.  In a large clean vessel, submerge it water and place it in the fridge over night.  In the morning, change out the water, and then again at night.  Repeat this whole process for one more day.  (two days and two nights total)  You might be able to buy salted cod that is pre-soaked, if so you can skip this step. 
2.  Bring a large pot of water to a simmer.  Poach the fish for 30 minutes in the simmering water. (note that there is no salt added here) The fish should be tender to bite through. 
3.  Pick through the cooked filets and make sure there are no bones. 

Be careful to not break up the flakes too much. They will breakdown further from the stirring during cooking.

For the Stoccafisso
1. Set a heavy bottomed stock pot over medium meat.  Add the olive oil and let it get nice and warm. 
2. Add the onions along with the bay leaves and stir. Cook until the onions have become slightly translucent - about 8-10 minutes.

I have a little laurel tree in my yard where I score my bay leaves.  I make little tears down each side to release more aroma.
3.  Add the flour and stir it in well.  Cooking for another 2-5 minutes. 
4. Add the prepared salt cod to the mix and add enough milk to just barely cover the fish - this probably will not require the whole quart.
5. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring often.  The sauce should thicken. Make sure that it DOES NOT scald to the pan. If it does, DO NOT scrape it up and stir it in.  Instead, transfer to a new pot to continue cooking. 
***At this point be sure to test it for salt. ***
6. To finish the stoccafisso, transfer it to a casserole dish.  Cover with a copious amount of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a nice olive oil.  Stick it under a broiler for long enough to get golden brown. 

Serve with soft polenta.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Big Project

I've been blazing through a Japanese food phase.  I love the simple flavors, and many of the preparations are simple, approachable, and outstandingly yummy.
Of course the questions that naturally follow - for me anyways - are,"How can I create this food from my farmers market? How can I make these ingredients from scratch - cutting out the "middleman"?"
Blah, blah, blah . . .
Fast forward, I'm staring at a cabinet full of dried beans from the farmers market.  Purchased with the good intention of making my own miso.  As with many other projects, I do not fully research the process until I am part of the way into it.
It turns out red miso takes at least 12-18 months to be fully ready, and many miso makers will leave it to develop for much longer.  [There is sweet white miso that is ready after 3-6 months] Miso making is an ancient process refined by skilled artisans; or the "middlemen" in this scenario.  It turns out they're there for a reason in some cases.

Nevertheless, I'm diving in head first in this one.  After fairly extensive, if late, research - I settled on  this book for guidance. 
Despite the 80's workout theme, this is an awesome book.  It has guided me through many funky smelling endeavors.

The process is simple . . . 
The beans are soaked overnight and boiled until they are soft.  They are then ground to the desired consistency, salted, and mixed with the koji - an inoculated grain - and finally packed away in a vessel to ferment of their own accord. 

From left to right, vinton soy beans, adzuki beans, and black soy beans.

Koji is an inoculated grain, rice in this case, used to spur the fermentation process.

The cooked vinton soy beans, cooked, partially ground and mixed with the koji.

The miso in its pots, where it will chillax for the next 18 months.
Check back in in 18 months to see how this whole thing turns out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to bread better

Last week I finally risked making chicken Milanese.  It turned out great, but the breading process left a king-hell mess. What can I do to tidy up this process?

Let me start by saying that clean up is part of this game.  No one knows it, or hates it, more than me. It's simply my love of cooking and eating that overcomes my distaste for dealing with the aftermath.

You can, however, take some steps to seriously limit the mess-making throughout the process, and yeild a better product as well. 

Here are some tips.

Use big bowls- you'll have more space to work in.  This contains the mess and let's one bread multiple pieces at a time.
Shake off the flour well- If there's a clump of flour, it's liable to break up after all is said and done.  You'll loose your breading and be left with a chuck of exposed flour.
Beat well and strain the eggs- Lightly tossing the eggs with a fork does not serve here.  I use a blender to thoroughly combine the eggs (and sometimes a little water).  Then I pour it through a fine sieve, this removes the gloppy albumen and lessens the clumps - making the wet step a little easier.
Keep a "dry hand"- I focus on keeping my right hand dry, touching only the flour and breadcrumbs with it.  With my left, I use a slotted spoon to fish stuff out of the egg wash and drain off the excess egg.
Don't bother seasoning the bread or flour - I find that for the amount of seasoning required, not enough of the flavor comes through.  In other words, it's wasteful.   The items that you're cooking should have enough seasoning in and of themselves. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pics From Italy

Recently I made a pilgrimage to Bergamo, the town in Italy that changed my cooking career.  Unfortunately my camera was lost or stolen halfway through the trip, so the remainder was shot on an iphone - hence the mediocre pics. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The morning after . . .

Unfortunately, I'm not always able (or willing) to whip up a delicious dinner. Like every other New Yorker I inevitably order in Chinese - which, inevitably, comes with too much rice.
In my house it usually becomes a simple form of fried rice the next day,  or maybe a bowl on congee.
But if there is ever too much beer and/or wine consumed with my take out, then the left over rice is reserved for one purpose - making the morning after a little less hazy.
This recipe will cure what ails you, but it does need leftover rice to really comes out as intended. 

Crispy Rice and Fried Eggs

2 cups of white rice that has been cooked and then refrigerated overnight.
4 eggs
Optional: Sriracha

1. Place a heavy bottomed skillet, preferably cast iron or black steel, over medium heat and give it a good 5 minutes or so to heat up well.
2. In the skillet, put enough vegetable oil (corn, canola, peanut, etc) to coat the cooking surface well.  Leftover rice gets clumpy after a night in the fridge. using your hands, break the rice clumps up into the pan. 
3.  Use a metal spatula to disperse the rice evenly across the cooking surface.  You should hear a slight sizzle, if it goes silent, or if you see burning, add a little more oil. Cook for 4-5 minutes.

4. Use a spatula to flip the rice in big segments. It should look golden and feel crispy. Again, break up the clumps and distribute evenly through the pan.  Cook for 4-5 minutes. Repeat this as many times as it takes to get crispy rice throughout. Take your time, and let it get nice and crunchy.  Transfer the rice to your serving bowls.

5. Wipe out the pan and add enough oil. Fry the eggs to however you like them. Douse with sriracha and enjoy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'm been making miso soup from the packet. It's fine but I'd like to build a more distinct flavor. Is there an easy way to do this?

If you've ever enjoyed anything but sushi in a Japanese restaurant, chances are you've devoured more than a few preparations with a foundation of dashi - a fragrant, delicious broth.  It is the base for tentsuyu, that liquid dip for tempura that I always sip when no one is looking. It turns up in dressings, in marinades, and it is what composes the ubiquitous miso soup.
Because of the exacting nature of Japanese cuisine, it can be intimidating.  Having heard stories of sushi chefs passing their first eight years in the kitchen mastering the technique for sushi rice - I have steered clear of the cuisine for the sake of terror. 
Which is unfortunate, because much of it is startlingly simple, involving few ingredients, few steps, and yielding delicious results.  Dashi Epitomizes this, with two ingredients and 15 minutes cook time, and it leaves you with a delicious and very versatile product.

Kombu (aka- kelp) - A long and tall type of seaweed that is harvested from shallow waters around Japan.  Bigger pieces are typically considered to be better.  And don't sweat the powdery look of the surface, it is a naturally occurring form of MSG.  (I really like this article about the stuff)

Katsuobushi (aka- bonito flakes) - Usually made from bonito, a fish not so different from a small tuna, is produced by a process of cooking, drying and smoking that leaves you with a condensed plank of fish-goodness.  Traditionally this would be shaved as needed using what looks like a wood plane.  These days this is very tough to find, but most Asian markets will carry some form of katsuobushi flakes.  Just check the label [translation] to make sure that it contains only bonito.  Cheaper options sometimes contain mackerel or other fish, and this results in a fishier dashi.  (though I held out hopes that it wouldn't)

I've read countless recipes for dashi, calling for different amounts of ingredients in various forms of measurement - I don't understand what four inches of kombu is and wouldn't risk a "handful" of bonito flakes.  I use weight in this recipe, but you should know that it doesn't have to be so precise, you'll still achieve a delicious broth.  I also use a higher ratio of bonito than most recipes call for,  maybe the bonito close to my house is weaker or maybe I just prefer a stronger bonito flavor.


50g kombu (about 1.75 oz.)
50g katsobushi (about 1.75 oz.)
4 quarts water

1. Place the kombu and water in a medium sized stock pot. Let this sit for between 30 minutes and 2 hours.  This rehydrates the seaweed. (some recipes call for 12-24 hrs soaking, some for non at all)
2. Place this pot over medium high heat and watch it - a watched pot never boils - and that's the point. Just before boiling, turn off the heat.  Remove the kombu and set it aside. -  Boiling kombu releases very intense flavors and not-so-good flavors.
Look for signs such as foam starting to form and vigorous steaming.  Kill the heat at the first sign of bubbling.  

3. Immediately add the katsuobushi and let this steep for exactly ten minutes.
4. Dump this liquid through a very fine strainer lined with a tea towel, cheese cloth or coffee filter.
It should be a feint and transparent tan color and smell terrific.
That's it, you've made dashi.
Now what? Bring it to just below a simmer and stir in some miso, tofu, wakame seaweed, and any veggies you like and you have miso soup.  Add mirin and soy sauce and you've got tentsuyu, that tasty tempura dip.
Or my favorite, lightly simmer various vegetables in the dashi.  The veggies take on the delicious smokey flavor of the dashi, and they lend some interesting aroma to the broth.

You can also re-boil the used kombu and katsuobushi for 10 minutes for a second broth.   It will be stronger in kombu flavor and a little murkier, but still delicious. 

Shitake mushrooms, Japanese sweet potatoes, carrots, kabocha squash, leeks, hard boiled eggs, various radishes and shredded kombu (the one used to make the dashi) all simmered in dashi. 
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