Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Move Over Ham...It's Shrimp Benedict and the BBC on Historic Food

Don't tell my husband. But I just can't eat another bit of pork for a while. However, I love hollandaise sauce with an unhealthy affection, and I like making it for Sunday brunch when we're all at the lake. I dig seafood for breakfast, and one of my favorite diners does an Eggs Benedict with super-spicy, blackened shrimp, so I thought I'd try to recreate it.

The main thing about making a decent Hollandaise is the prep work. You have to have your mise en place squared away because you can't be putting down your whisk to go in search of white pepper, lest your yolk curdle or the sauce break. So go ahead and juice your lemon, melt your butter, separate your eggs, get out your seasoning, etc.... You'll need a melted stick of butter, three egg yolks (save the whites for an egg-white omelet tomorrow--your cholesterol will need it), about 2 T fresh lemon juice, a pinch of salt, white pepper, and cayenne pepper (optional). I didn't salt my Hollandaise as much as usual because I wanted to use blackening spice on my shrimp, which is already pretty salty.
Mise en place. 
Next, get your double boiler going. I just use two pots that fit inside one another. I put a dish cloth in the bottom of the bigger one and then fill the big pot with just enough water than it barely reaches the bottom of the smaller pot. Plot the small pot into the big pot, and warm both over a medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium low before you begin making your sauce. A whisk is of vital importance when making Hollandaise.
Rigged double boiler.

Whisk your eggs before you put them in the pot. Get them creamy. Then put them in your warm pot, quickly adding about 1 1/2 T of butter and whisking constantly to keep your yolk from becoming scrambled eggs. If they're solidifying too fast, pull your small pot out of the double boiler and lower your heat. Using the double boiler is a great way to control heat, so don't be afraid to adjust as necessary. Add about half your lemon juice and half seasoning and whisk a bunch more. Drizzle in your butter slowly, stopping about halfway to add the rest of your lemon juice, whisking all the time. After all your butter is added in and you keep whisking, your sauce should begin to look like the below picture. When it does, taste it and adjust the seasonings. You should wait to make your Hollandaise just before you're ready to serve it, as it doesn't sit very well for very long. If it does break (starts to look lumpy and curdled or separated), try adding ice-cold water a tablespoon at a time, whisking like mad, to correct it. 

I did sort of break my own rule and poached eggs while I was making my sauce. Poaching eggs is really not as hard as you may think. Get a good-sized pot (like a large saucepan) of boiling water going. ADD VINEGAR, about 3 T. This is a crucial step, as the egg whites will not coagulate correctly unless you add white vinegar to the water. Then I usually bring the water back down to a very gentle boil. When you're ready, break an egg into a small bowl. Give the water a gentle stir, and while the water is swirling, slide the egg in. It takes longer than you would think to cook an egg this way. But one good thing is that you can cook your eggs just before the sauce and put them under a warmer to until they're needed. 
Pretty hollandaise, thank goodness.
I had a hot pan (I'll confess, a hot pan of bacon grease) waiting for my shrimp. As soon as my sauce was ready, I threw my seasoned shrimp in. I was not bold enough with my blackening spice, sadly, because I was afraid to get them too spicy or salty for my mom, but they were still good. Medium-sized shrimp literally take about three minutes to cook. My bread was toasting in a low-heat oven, I had already made a huge plate of bacon already for my husband so he didn't stage a protest, and my mom was cutting fruit.

As soon as the shrimp were ready, it was time for assembly! Buttered, toasted bread, a layer of shrimp, a jiggly poached egg, and then sauce! I should have added a pinch of paprika for color, but ah, well. A food stylist, I am not.
So, really, the moral to the story is a) be prepared before you begin cooking. Get all your equipment and ingredients prepped before you begin, and there will be many fewer disasters, and b) don't be scared of Hollandaise! It's really not hard, and even if it's a wreck the first time, just try again. It's too rich and fatty for regular consumption (in my case--you may have mad metabolism), but it's such a nice treat, and it's pretty versatile. Traditional eggs Benedict are made up of a toasted English muffin, a slice of ham, a poached egg, and sauce. But you can change it up however you like. Hollandaise is also a traditional accompaniment to salmon and asparagus. Try it and serve it on anything you like!

Just for fun, I've been watching a HYSTERICAL new show on BBC through Hulu this week. It's called The Supersizers Go... and is about a female entertainer and a male food critic in England living (and mostly eating) as though they are living in the Victorian, Elizabethan, Restoration, etc...periods. The show is really well done because it's incredibly historically accurate in terms of dress, manners, past times, and especially about the food of the period. It's amazing how much really heavy protein and booze people consumed during these times in history (except during World War Two with all the rationing). It's sort of History Channel meets My Drunk Kitchen. Well worth the time investment, if you're into food, history, or drunken humor.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lobster Rolls and Roasted Cauliflower

Is there anything more decadent than lobster? For me, not really. I'm down at the lakehouse this weekend, so I decided to make something nice for my mom, and I'm a sucker for a good lobster roll. Plus we had a giant head of cauliflower left over from another project, so the unlikely pair wound up as dinner.
To make an excellent lobster roll, you need a good, creamy base that you add the meat to. You're going for a balance of creamy mayo sauce (I'm shaking my head at those of you, mostly derby friends, who are cackling like 12-year-old boys at the potential for dirty jokes here. You know who you are), crunch from the celery and bread crust, firm texture of the lobster itself, and mix of sweet (lobster with a bit of sugar in the sauce), salty, spicy (from the smoked paprika), and tart (from the lemon). However, you have to be really careful and taste your sauce a lot. Don't let one flavor get too pronounced, or it will overpower the lobster, which is pretty delicate. When you have your sauce mixed (see below for the recipe), put it in the refrigerator to chill.
I'm a fan of steaming or boiling the lobster. I think boiling is the easiest, and because I just bought tails, there was no dramatic scene a la Julie and Julia to be had. You just need a pot of salted water that is deep enough to submerge the lobster in. Bring the water to a boil. I boiled my 16 ounces of lobster for 8 1/2 minutes, and they came out completely cooked without being over done. The tails will be all curled up when you take them out. Let them cool a bit, stretch them out flat, and use a large, sharp knife to cut them (longways) down the center into two large strips. Pull out the meat with a fork and dice it into just a smidge larger than bite-size pieces. Add the lobster meat to your sauce and put it back in the fridge to chill.

While your lobster mix chills and develops flavor, move on to the side dish. I unabashedly love cauliflower. I can't lie. Pureed, shredded into fake rice, roasted, whatever. I opted for, well, whatever you would call this method. First, boil your cauliflower head until it just begins to get tender, about 20 minutes. Pull it out of the water to drain. While it cools, mix one cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs, 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese, a pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked paprika (depending on if you like spice), 1/3 t. garlic salt, and 2 T. oil or melted butter. You could use panko either with the bread crumbs or instead, if you like. If you do that, make sure you season your panko well. Mix well. Transfer the cauliflower into a baking dish, flower up, and press the mix onto the cauliflower in a thick layer.
Bake at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes or until just golden. I love this slightly salty compliment to the natural sweetness of the vegetable, and it was not as weird a combination with the lobster as I had feared.
And okay, so I get that this isn't technically a lobster roll. I didn't see any rolls I was interested in at the store, and there was a lovely loaf of fresh ciabatta bread to be had. So I lightly toasted it, spread it with my lobster mix, added some avocado, and sprinkled on some really rough, large-flake sea salt. I served it with some of my sweet and spicy pickles, and it was sort of a sexual experience.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

DIY Food Links

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan poses the question that strikes fear into every mother's (or any responsible adult's) heart: "What's for dinner?" Crap. Fast food is so easy, but we all know how bad it is for us. Every year, multiple new sites, like this one for TIME's list of 2013's worst fast food meals, demonstrate over and over that many fast food meals have enough sodium, calories, and saturated fat for an adult's entire day (or more) rather than for one meal. Sigh. I love Taco Bell as much as the next girl. I also find it a great tragedy in life that two taquitos from Whataburger come in at around 1,000 calories, which is almost 2/3 of the allotted calories for a petite adult woman. And, as we've discovered in recent years, processed food from the supermarket is not a whole lot better for us.
Walnut pancakes with Orange-Saffron syrup.
My mom once said something that has stayed with me for years. She said, "You should only shop around the perimeter of the grocery store. Don't shop in the middle." The advice there is to stick to the produce, meat/dairy, and bakery but to avoid the processed, boxed foods in the center aisles of the store. I think there's a lot of merit to that advice. However, most of us really like a lot of that "middle aisle" stuff. So what are we to do? DO IT OURSELVES. That way, we know what we're eating and what we're feeding the other members of our households is within our control. Are you anti corn products like corn syrup? You can replace that with raw sugar or Truvia or local honey or whatever you're into. Have high blood pressure or other conditions affected by sodium intake? Then you can slash the amount by making items like chips and salsa to your own specifications.

If you've been reading my blog for long, you know that I'm really into buying local, organic, sustainable meat, dairy, and produce. But I get that not everyone has the same food philosophies, and my goal is just to write about whatever has captured my fancy at the moment, not necessarily to have a soap box. So I thought I'd put together a list of links that show how to make some of the household favorites from the "middle aisles" for ourselves.
Pickled carrots and onions. 

  • Homemade canned tuna. This is Angelo Sosa's recipe for "chicken of the sea", complete with a video. His cookbook, Flavor Exposed, has a lot of interesting recipes, categorized into groups of salty, sweet, bitter, and smoky.
  • DIY pancake syrup from Beverly's Front Porch. This is a cool recipe because you have options for various sweeteners, and you could easily infuse the syrup with blueberry, strawberry, vanilla, or even rosemary or thyme if you wish. 
  • Sriracha. Or, if you prefer, Hipster Ketchup. I love it, and there are a whole bunch of ways to make your own. Here are a variety of recipes from Serious Eats. The Huffington Post collected several DIY sriracha recipes. When I go to make my own, I'll probably start with this recipe from America's Test Kitchen. I find their recipes are generally fool-proof, and they've been tested on audiences over and over again. 
  • Buzzfeed Foods has a great article on 30 DIY foods, including mayo, Nutella, chips, hummus, whipped cream, etc....This is a great place to start, as many of the recipes are quite simple. 
  • I've mentioned this book before, but Alana Chernila's book, The Homemade Pantry has 101 recipes for various food staples. She has a particularly good section on how to make your own yogurt and cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta. Yum!
  • Granola Bars from Good Eats.
  • As you know, canning is my area of interest right now. There is nothing as satisfying (to me) as opening a jar of my own canned chicken broth, orange marmalade, jalapenos, or pickles to feed folks. If you're new to canning, pickles (and you can pickle pretty much any veggie) or jalapenos are a good place to start because you can put them right into the fridge (these are referred to as refrigerator pickles) without needing any special tools at all except a glass jar. You can also make jam or jelly and put it right in the fridge. Try it! Here's a recipe for Garlic Dill Refrigerator Pickles. I'm not a huge fan of dill, and I like sweet-spicy, so I make my brine with no salt or dill, some sugar, mustard seeds, and cayenne and crushed red pepper. There's nothing like a crispy, sour pickle or piece of carrot to jazz up a sandwich. If you like this, you can move on to water-bath canning so you don't have to keep everything in the fridge. If you're canning something with a high acid level (4.6 or lower, which is most pickles, jams, and jellies), you can put it in a pot of boiling water to safely preserve it and store it in your pantry. See Canning 101 from Food in Jars for more details. If you're like me, you'll find this kind of addictive and run out to get a pressure canner for items not acidic enough to water-bath can. 

What are you going to try first? What's an item from the "middle aisles" you just can't live without?

Up next: Playing with the fermentation pot I got for Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Chicken Enchiladas...Ole!

I love, love, love, Tex-Mex. I'm not under any illusion that this meal is authentic Mexican. However, as a born and raised Texas girl, I can get down on some Texican food. Plus, my small person and I both subscribe to the philosophy "If you're not sweating, you're not eating" in terms of spice level, so we're well suited to this genre of food.
When I was at Trader Joe's recently, I bought a chicken breast (with bones and skin--more flavor) and brined it. (See my post on poultry brine here.) Brining makes for the most succulent poultry, and it's really easy. Once the chicken was brined, I pulled it out of the fridge to warm up a bit and put 2 T. of ghee into a medium-sized pot on a heat about halfway between medium and medium high. You want your pot to get good and warm before you put anything in it. Drop in the ghee (or whatever fat you prefer), let it melt, and then quickly put your chicken in to sear. You want to get a decent crust on it.
When your chicken is seared golden brown, remove it to a plate, turn the heat down to medium low, and deglaze the pot with some white wine (about a cup). Add in about 2 cups of chicken stock, a pinch of cumin seeds (or 1/2 t. ground cumin), black pepper, 1 t. garlic powder, 1 t. onion powder, a pinch of cayenne pepper (to taste--remember, with cayenne, a little can go a very long way, so taste as you go) and a pinch of salt. Your liquid should cover the chicken by about 2/3.
Place a lid on the pot, and let the chicken simmer for twenty minutes on a low heat. When it's done, remove it to a plate to rest, and reserve the cooking liquid.

While the chicken rests, start your enchilada sauce. Put 3 T. of oil in a medium-hot skillet (I used a Dutch oven because I always slop it over the sides of a skillet. I ought to have named this blog Messy Girl Wrecks the Kitchen). When your fat melts, add in 3 T. of flour one table spoon at a time, whisking the whole time. I have a flat whisk (see below), and it is miraculous for whisking gravies and sauces. The plastic won't scratch non-stick cookware, and the flat design lets you integrate the flour into the fat more efficiently. When you have a roux, keep an eye on it for a few minutes. You want it to cook a bit to get the flour taste out, but you don't want it to burn at all.
When the roux is ready, add in, a little at a time, 2 cups water combined with 1/4 cup chili powder, 1/2 t. cumin, 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. smoked paprika, and a pinch of cayenne if you like spicy food (just keep in mind how much heat you added to the chicken). When you pour in the first half cup or so, be ready to stir rapidly to combine the liquid into the roux. Keep adding, a bit at time, stirring continuously. When the liquid is all incorporated, let the sauce begin to bubble just a bit and then turn the heat down to medium low. Let it cook about 15 minutes, stirring every couple of minutes. Remove from heat. Stir it every so often to keep the top layer from drying out.
While the sauce thickens, shred your rested chicken when you've removed the skin and bones. When it is shredded, spoon some of the cooking liquid over it. The chicken should be juicy on its own, but the liquid will add flavor and keep it from drying out in the oven.
Take some corn tortillas (or flour if you prefer), wrap them in a wet dishtowel, and microwave until they're soft and pliable (usually about 45 seconds to a minute). Tightly wrap about 1/4 cup of chicken into each tortilla and place them in a baking dish (I used a cookie sheet with one inch sides lined with non-stick foil, but you can use any oven-safe casserole dish with sides). Ladle your enchilada sauce evenly over the stuffed tortillas (make sure you cover the ends so they don't dry out in the oven) and sprinkle with as much or as little cheese as you like. Put your enchiladas under the broiler until the cheese is melted. We like it cheesy around here.
I recently canned some black beans, so I opened these up, dosed them with pickled jalapenos and garlic salt, and warmed them in a saucepan.
Btw, homeade pickled jalepenos are quite simple to make, and you don't even have to really can them (just throw them in a jar) if you're going to refrigerate them immediately. Find a recipe here. Add some avocado on top, and you've a wonderful, filling meal! My girl child and I ate ours with a side plate of kiwi and guava fruit (found at my favorite Indian grocery store).
The great thing about enchiladas is that they freeze well. I put enough in the fridge for dinner tomorrow evening, and then I spread the rest out on the cookie sheet so that they were separated. I left them in the freezer overnight, and then wrapped them two at a time in wax paper and froze in baggies. It's a lot easier to manage them if you don't freeze them in a big, solid block. There's a lot to be said for freezing in individual portions because then you can just defrost what you need. Pop open a can of black or pinto beans (home canned is best! You can control the sodium, BPA in the can lining, etc...), and this will make a good, quick meal. Because there's really a lot to love about a dish that pairs well with avocado and jalapeno. Come over to the Texican side!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Economical Kitchen--Veggies Everywhere!

My cup runneth over. Well, not my cup, but my vegetable crisper certainly was last week. So, time for another installment of The Economical Kitchen. I love, love my Bountiful Baskets always. However, I usually only get one every two weeks because they are so large. In January, however, I wound up with two in a row, and I had a ton of produce to figure out before it all went to mush.

First off, green beans. I had a large bag left, and it was about to head south in an unappetizing manner. So I snapped the beans, dumped them in salted, boiling water for just a few minutes and then submerged them in ice water to stop them cooking. I let them cool completely and then froze them.
I also had a really pretty bunch of carrots and some parsnips. I love roasted root veggies and hated to see them go to waste but knew I just wouldn't get to them this week. So I chopped and roasted them in a cast-iron skillet (the oven was otherwise occupied).

When they'd cooled, I bagged and froze them as well. Now all I have to do is roast a chicken breast or a bit of beef, and I'll have quick sides to accompany them. I think these veggies would also be fantastic with a thick slice of sourdough bread and a bit of butter. Mmmmm. I love a hearty veg meal every now and again. Don't forget to label your bags!
I also had a several really lovely heirloom tomatoes that I just didn't need at the moment. So I decided to dry them a bit (I'd just read about preserving tomatoes like this and it seemed fortuitous as I didn't have time to can them in my pressure canner). So I cut them about 1/4 inch thick and laid them on cookie sheets covered in non-stick foil. I roasted them at 175 degrees for about four hours. Some of them completely dried, like sun-dried tomatoes. Some were not completely dried and will be great in pasta sauces.

I layered the tomatoes in between sheets of waxed paper, put them in a Ziplock, and froze them as well. 

I'd been to the farmer's market the weekend before and picked up my order from Rehoboth Ranch. So I had a giant packet of bacon to contend with, some green and yellow squash, yet more tomato, and a bunch of pasta. Fortunately, my husband is a great fan of pretty much anything with bacon and pasta, so off I went. At my house, we have either trashcan nachos or trashcan pasta when we need to clean out the fridge. They're both great vehicles for leftover protein, vegetables, and cheeses. So, I fried the bacon. Lots of it. 
When the bacon was done and draining, I poured off half the bacon grease into my jar that I save it in and fried onions, garlic, and disks of green and yellow squash in the residual oil. When those were done, I put the tomatoes in to cook a bit as well. 
When the pasta was done, I chopped the bacon and combined all the components. I added in a cube of basil frozen in olive oil, some thyme, red pepper flakes, and garlic salt. I topped it with some chopped scallions and fresh grated parmesan. 
I love our "trashcan" meals. I know they're not very sophisticated, but they're hearty (and usually healthier when I'm not cooking it all in bacon grease for my husband). Everyone was happy, and I hadn't let a ton of produce become compost. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I'm Still Here!

I don't know that anyone is really checking, but just in case you are, I'M STILL HERE! I have to apologize for not posting much of late. Between the various illnesses being passed back and forth between the members of my household (flu, bronchitis, and viral pneumonia, oh my!) and a series of work tragedies (no lie, two people I know from work have suddenly passed away in the last few weeks), not a lot of cooking has gone on here. However, here are some pictures to tantalize you that I'll write about soon!

Juicing for the win!
Trashcan Pasta--a great way to clean out the fridge.
Blueberry and White Chocolate Bread Pudding
Oh, and check out a blog I've been reading of late called Food Babe. I'll be back soon! Happy February to everyone!