Thursday, April 24, 2014

Maple Brine Tastes Mighty Fine

I sometimes buy those pre-marinated pork tenderloins for weeknight convenience. But sometimes they can be kind of salty and/or have weird flavors. So this time around, I bought a plain tenderloin, and sought out some sort of fabulous brine and/or marinade to make it yummy.

A quick search of the interwebs yielded a maple brine that sounded wonderful. And indeed, it yielded meat that was juicy and flavorful, but not too salty. I liked the result so much, that I well may use it again in the future for not only tenderloins, but pork chops, too. I brined the tenderloin during the day while I was at work, roasted it when I got home, and served it with a nice garlic and ginger chutney. DELISH!

Maple-Brined Pork Loin
(Source: All Recipes)

1 quart cold water
1/4 cup salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (2 1/2 pound) boneless pork loin roast
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1. Mix water, salt, 1/3 cup maple syrup, garlic, ginger, rosemary, black pepper, and red pepper flakes in a large bowl. Place pork loin in brine mixture and refrigerate for 8 to 10 hours.
2. Remove pork from brine, pat dry, and season all sides with salt and black pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
4. Heat vegetable oil in an oven-proof skillet over high heat. Cook pork, turning to brown each side, about 10 minutes total.
5. Transfer skillet to the oven and roast until pork is browned, about 40 minutes.
6. Mix 2 tablespoons maple syrup and Dijon mustard together in a small bowl.
7. Remove pork roast from the oven and spread maple syrup mixture on all sides. Cook for an additional 15 minutes, until the pork is no longer pink in the center. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 145 degrees F (63 degrees C).

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dairy Deliciousness

Things are getting so CRAY-CRAY at this point in the semester, that lots of lower-priority tasks have fallen by the wayside. One of those things is dealing with my milk share. I only get a gallon every two weeks, but my whole back fridge is FULL of milk right now!

So I am constantly searching for new ways to use A LOT of milk in recipes. For tonight's pasta dish, I started by making a batch of fresh ricotta, then I fashioned a hearty casserole that was chock full of dairy goodness--more than is even legal in most states (excluding Wisconsin, of course)!

Dairyful Pasta Bake

2 tablespoons bacon fat
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Italian herb blend
pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste
2 cups Lacinato kale, stems removed and chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup flour
up to 6 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon chicken soup base
grating of fresh nutmeg
1 cup Parmesan, freshly shredded, divided

1 lb. penne rigate, cooked to al dente and drained

2 cups fresh ricotta

Heat the bacon fat in a large Dutch oven and saute the sausage and onion together until the meat is no longer pink. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the black pepper, Italian herbs, and red pepper flakes. Add the kale and white wine, and cook for a few minutes until kale is wilted and wine is reduced. Sprinkle the flour over everything and stream in a quart of the milk. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. (Add another cup or two of milk if necessary.) Stir in the soup base and nutmeg. Remove from heat and add about half of the Parmesan cheese.

Gently combine the sauce and the pasta along with the ricotta. Pour into a sprayed 9x13 dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until bubbly and starting to turn golden on top. Garnish with extra Parmesan when serving.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cronut? We don't need no stinkin' Cronut!

I just got home from a whirlwind trip to the Big City. I went down Friday after school, spent the day doing theatre on Saturday, did one last loop to some of my favorite eateries on Sunday, and then hit the road for home. WHEW! But I had a terrific time, even though my roomie and BFF was sick and had to stay home (boo hiss). Enjoy a few tasty pics, won't you?

On my way through the capitol region on Friday, a friend suggested that I make a short detour to Dinosaur BBQ in Troy for dinner. So glad I did! (I can't believe that I've never been before!) This is a solo sampler plate of appetizers: Drunken shrimp, fried green tomato, hoisin chicken wing, Cajun deviled egg.

(The fried green tomato and that one wing were the best things I ate there, hands down!)

Combo platter: Mac and cheese, BBQ beans, cornbread, housemade hot link and chow chow, ribs, and brisket with housemade pickled jalapeños. (Yes, I took half of this with me to my hotel in Secaucus!) 
The main reason for my trip: To see my beloved Neil Patrick Harris in one of my all-time favorite shows, Hedwig and the Angry Inch! FABULOUS!!
The line at the stage door (spilling out into the street) to see NPH. (My fearless friend, Jaymie, is in the red pants. Soon enough, she would use her diminutive size and stealthiness to sneak to the front of the pack for an autograph!

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The man himself, NPH!!!!!!!!!!!! (And that's Jaymie's hand shoving a playbill in his face for him to sign. GO, JAYMIE!!)

And in an act of extreme generosity and friendship, Jaymie gave the signed playbill to me!! I LOVE HER SO MUCH!!
As if the autographed playbill weren't enough, Jaymie and her wife, Audrey, took me to dinner at this place in Chinatown that had the most AMAZING Peking Duck (as the name of the restaurant might lead one to believe).
Apparently, the render the fat from the duck for 48 hours so that it's not the least bit greasy, but so tender and moist. And a chef carves the bird table-side for your viewing (and smelling) pleasure!
I can't even convey how good this was! The Peking Duck was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The way you were supposed to eat it was to roll up a few pieces in a "pancake" (a flour tortilla, really) with some scallion and/or cucumber and their spicy plum sauce. YUM, YUM, YUM!!
My second theatrical experience of the day was to take in Sleep No More, which was this strange, dream-like immersive play that was loosely based on MacBeth. It's located in an old warehouse in Chelsea made into a "hotel" with many rooms and many characters that appear and interact with onlookers from time to time. All of the spectators must wear one of these Venetian-type masks and must not speak, but you may wander from room to room and floor to floor at your own pace and see what interesting things unfold along your journey. VERY, VERY COOL! I'd love to go back and do it again....if I could afford it, that is. :-(

The next day was Easter Sunday, so I thought I'd take a chance that the Cronut line at Dominique Ansel's bakery wouldn't be that bad. Sure enough, I only waited about 45 minutes, and it was a beautiful spring day and quite pleasant to be outside after a loooonnnnggg winter up north. I even found street parking nearby! WOOT!!
Signs inside the shop. (Tee hee.)
Annnnnnddd, here they are! TA-DAH!! The flavor of the month was passion fruit, and they were definitely DELICIOUS! But here's the conclusion I came to: It was fun to do the Cronut thing just to say I'd done it. But for my money (and time), the DKA (their version of kouign amann) was even better, and you don't even have to wait in line to buy one of those! If I did it again, I'd bypass the Cronut line altogether and go right inside and buy as many DKA's as my pocketbook and cholesterol levels would allow.
For my last stop in the City before heading home, I went by another one of my favorite places, Sullivan Street Bakery, for the beloved potato pizza and other baked delicacies. But right next store now is CO, a full-fledged pizza joint that is Jim Lahey's newest project. I ordered the Flambee with bechamel, mozzarella, caramelized onions, and crispy, smoky lardons. A-MAHZING! If this man isn't making the best pizza in the country, I don't know who is!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cabane À Sucre: A Pictorial (and Gastronomic) Essay

After being on the waiting list for FOUR YEARS, some friends finally won Au Pied de Cochon's reservation lottery and got us into the Cabane à Sucre in St-Benoît de Mirabel, Quebec. And BOY, was it worth the wait! In fact, they are now doing an apple season menu in the fall, and I am on the waiting list to try to get us in for that. In the meantime, please enjoy our gluttonous experience vicariously through the following mouthwatering and nearly-edible photographs...

The GINORMOUS smoker out front in which they were cooking hams, among other good things.
 The Cabane à Sucre.
 Around back of the cabane.
 The front porch.
A packed house! (They sell out almost immediately after opening the reservations system in December.) And we could catch glimpses of famed Chef Martin Picard through the kitchen window in the back! 
 The cash register and other maple products for sale.
If you peek through these windows, you'll see the sugaring equipment. (It's a real sugar shack!)
Our dining crew (clockwise from left): Domenica, Cyd, Jaime, and Matthew (props to Jaime for scoring the reservation!)
Bread bowl filled with foie gras and oreilles de crisse (housemade pork rinds), served with maple baked beans and scrambled eggs cooked in maple syrup.
Sushi terrine with flaky pastry on the bottom, sushi rice, avocado, gelatin, and salmon tartare decorated with edible gold leaf
Sturgeon quenelles in a sauce with mussels
MAPLE DAIQUIRI! (Like sugar on snow for grown-ups!)

Omelette souffle on top of beef tripe and housemade chorizo in a spicy tomato sauce with these heavenly garlic croutons on top.
Wild creatures crawling around the ceiling beams
The hams are cooked in the big smokers out front on a bed of the bedding the pigs would sleep on...for authenticity? (LOL!) 
Carving the ham tableside so that it stays moist.
BEST ham I've ever had! And it was extra-delicious with their housemade spicy maple mustard!
Baked sweet potatoes with spiced, fluffy marshmallow topping.
Squid ink pasta with cheese and crispy hunks of blood sausage drizzled with a spicy chili sauce.
We thought this was the best dish of all: Duck stuffed with its own entrails or some such delicious horror and flambéed at the table, served with a spicy red pepper sauce.
Light and crispy little cornmeal pancakes drenched in maple syrup...they tasted like upscale French toast sticks (tee hee).
They tossed the squid ink pasta inside a huge block of cheese tableside, scraping up bits of cheese as they went. YUM!
Coffee-infused mocha mousse cake, not unlike opera cake.
Left: Maple frozen yogurt doused in rum and sprinkled with maple candy bits
Right: Sugar on snow (naturally!)

Banana cream tarte with meringue (on the flakiest pastry in the world).
 Cyd enjoys a Lilliputian jar of espresso after our amazing meal.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Crunchy Cookie Chips: The New Crack

Has anyone purchased this product in the stores, Cookie Chips? Oh my word! They are SO good and SO addictive! My favorite is cinnamon/snickerdoodley variety, but I also enjoy the chocolate chip--so much so, that I thought I'd make an attempt to copycat them. I don't that I'm all the way there, but I've made a good first attempt.

I started with a recipe for thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies that I found on the Food Network's web site. However, the first batch that I baked off came out more chewy than crispy, almost like a tuile or Florentine cookie. They even had those characteristic tiny holes of a lace cookie (see picture--less flour on the left, more flour on the right). They were yummy, but not what I was going for.

So with each successive batch, I added in a little more flour until I got the desired result. The problem is, that the proportions of ingredients changed as I baked off the cookies, so I can't say exactly how much flour should be included in the final amended recipe. (OOPS!) I am guessing it would be about 3 1/2 cups total. Also, there is no need freeze the dough ahead of time. Just mix and bake! Finally, those flat disks of high-quality chocolate would be the best choice if you can find them, but otherwise, I would recommend using mini chips, as standard-size chips tend to puddle in the middle of the cookie.

Thin and Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Source: adapted from Sugar High via Food Network)

2 cups packed light brown sugar 
1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature 
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 
3 whole eggs 
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 
3/4 teaspoon baking soda 
1 pound dark chocolate or chocolate chips (I recommend mini-chips)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat. In a stand mixer, cream the brown sugar, butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until well incorporated. Mix in 1/3 cup of water and the vanilla. 

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt and baking soda and add to the butter mixture. Mix on low until the flour mixture is incorporated, and then mix in the chocolate pieces. Scoop out the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet and freeze for an hour (you can skip this step with no negative effects). The cookies will spread, so limit 4 cookies for each cookie sheet to give ample room. 

Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through. Remove from the oven and cool. Remove the cookies with a flat spatula to prevent breaking. 

Cook's Note: The recipe does yield a lot of dough, but it's a great freeze and bake cookie. Once you have scooped all the dough and placed them into the freezer, you can pop them into a zip top bag and just bake off as many as you want when you need to! 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Replacing Dishes and Remaking Dinner

I guess this isn't really food-related, but it is food-adjacent, and I'm just SO excited that I must share! I just used a chunk of my tax refund, not on badly-needed home repairs or other bills as I surely should, but on something I've wanted for at least twenty years: Ten full place settings of colorful (SQUARE!) Fiestaware, including dinner, luncheon and salad plates and mugs in six different colors: Flamingo, Tangerine, Peacock, Lemongrass, Sunflower and Turquoise. I blame my dear friend, Jay, for enabling this irresponsible, addictive behavior. (And I thank Macy's for an excellent seasonal sale, an extra 15% off for signing up for email, and for free shipping on heavy dishes.)
Ok, so to turn this back around to recipe talk, I wanted and intended to post about this lovely potato soup that I made in the crock pot last night. But when I got home from work, I was horrified to discover that the soup had turned brown and curdled! I really don't know what happened, as I've made milk-based soups in a slow cooker before and never experienced anything like this. Strange.

In any case, I ended up having to remake dinner last night, and it turned out like a rather clever episode of Chopped. First, I strained the cooked potatoes out of the soup, rinsed and drained them, and then tossed them with some Cajun seasoning. Then I chopped up some leftover smoked brisket. I also found two little half bags of shredded cheese in the fridge and a package of corn tortillas. I warmed the tortillas in the microwave, added some cheese, some chopped brisket and some little chunks of seasoned potato, and rolled them all up. I thought I had enchilada sauce on hand, but I didn't. But after rooting around in the pantry, I found a jar of Alfredo sauce and a some homemade salsa verde. I stirred those together, thinned it out with some fresh cream, poured it over my filled tortillas, and baked uncovered for about 30 minutes at 350, topping with more shredded cheese for the last ten minutes.TA-DAH! Smoked Brisket and Potato Enchiladas with Creamy Verde Sauce! I am a culinary wizard--feign to deny it--and one with pretty new dishes, too!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sweet Home Pizzeria

Over Spring Break, I visited some of my PBGV friends in Mobile, Alabama, and one of the things my fabulous hosts did for me one night was to make homemade pizza. Now I have always been a believer in using a pizza stone, but I lost mine somewhere in the move several years ago and haven't gotten around to replacing it. But my friends use one of those perforated pizza pans, and I was surprised by how crisp it got the bottom crust, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. And it works great! Since my friends inspired me to make my own pizza, the toppings I chose for my pizza were an homage to Alabama and the South. Drumroll, please: I give you, THE ALABAMA SPECIAL!

I made homemade garlic pizza dough using Jim Lahey's basic recipe but added a teaspoon of granulated garlic to it.  I let it rise, rolled half of it it out, placed it on the lightly-greased perforated pan, and then pre-baked the crust for a few minutes in a fiery hot oven (500 degrees). I took it out and topped it with a thin layer of Alabama-style white barbecue sauce, shredded sharp cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, chopped smoked brisket (from Sadler's Smokehouse, Sam's Club) tossed in a little bit of regular BBQ sauce ISweet Baby Ray's), and chopped red onion. I baked the pizza for a few more minutes until golden brown and crispy. And the piece de resistance was to top it with some homemade Alabama Hot Slaw (Moosewood recipe). Seriously, that slaw is everything. Make it. NOW. (Why are you still sitting at your computer??)

Pizza Dough
(Source: Dinner: A Love Story, via Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery)

This recipe makes two balls of dough — enough for two separate thin crust pizzas. If you want aWhole Wheat Pizza Crust, replace anywhere from two to three of the cups of flour with whole wheat flour in equal measurements.

3 3/4 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons instant or other active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/3 cup room-temperature water

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough will be stiff, not wet and sticky. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, about 2 hours. Divide the dough in two and shape each into flattened balls. (Dough can be frozen at this point.)
When you are ready to make a pizza, preheat oven to 500°F roll out one ball of dough in a rectangular shape and place on an oiled cookie sheet with the toppings of your choice.

White Barbecue Sauce
(Source: Southern Living, 2005)

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
1 tablespoon Creole mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

Whisk together all ingredients until blended. Store in the refrigerator up to one week.

Alabama Hot Slaw

1 small head of cabbage (about 1 pound)
2 celery stalks
1 1/2 cups peeled and shredded carrots
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 heaping tablespoon minced red onions
1/4 cup white or cider vinegar
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon prepared mustard, such as yellow, brown, or hot
Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce to taste
1/4 cup canola or other vegetable oil

Finely shred the cabbage to make about 4 cups and place it in a large bowl. Halve the celery stalks lengthwise and thinly slice them crosswise. Without mixing together, pile the celery on top of the cabbage and follow with the carrots, bell peppers, and red onions.

In a small bowl or a cup, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, and salt until clear. Stir in the black pepper, mustard, and Tabasco to taste and pour on the vegetables. In a small pan, heat the oil to just smoking: you should see a few ripples in the oil and some heat waves. Pour the hot oil over the vegetables, aiming especially for the onions and peppers. Let sit for 3 or 4 minutes. Toss and serve or refrigerate for later.