Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rosemary Red Wine Pulled Pork w/ Armagnac Prunes

This giant pot of awesome came about because I was having some friends over for a dinner party & the main course request was for pork. I have made something very similar with lamb before, so I decided to give it a whirl with pork instead. Also, the fact that pork shoulder costs quite a lot less than a similar cut of beef or lamb makes it a good choice for feeding a crowd on a budget. And right now I don't know anyone who isn't on a budget.

As with all slow-cooked foods, this tasted even better on Day 2, so consider making this in advance if you choose to entertain with it.

Start by breaking down a 6lb pork shoulder (or "butt") into fairly equal size cubes, roughly 2 inches square each. You can skip this step and just get pork stew meat from your butcher, but I dislike buying the random cubes. 
However if you are less than secure in your knife skills, or squeamish about having to skin and cube the shoulder yourself, by all means get the butcher to do it for you.
I would recommend buying some loose pork bones from your butcher tho (about 2 lbs). The recipe does not call for them, but they will add a bit of richness to your final product, not to mention you might get lucky and find a little marrow to snack on at the end of the cooking process.

In a small bowl to the side, have about 20-30 prunes, roughly chopped, soak in about 1 cup of Armagnac (or brandy) for 1 hour. Stir occasionally to make sure they all have time to pick up some flavor.

In your heavy-bottomed pot, heat a little olive oil and brown your (seasoned) pork cubes in batches. Try not to rush this step as it adds a nice level of flavor to the finished product. Set aside the browned pieces in a bowl, making sure not to lose any juices that accumulate.

Next: Bacon.
I add about 4-5 slices to the bottom of the pan (heat reduced to medium-low) and render until crispy.
Remove cooked bacon.
Feel free to snack on this, or save to add back into the pot at the end as you prefer.

Into the rendered bacon fat over medium heat goes 1 large diced onion and 4-6 large peeled & chopped carrots. When the onions start to become translucent I add in 4 minced cloves of garlic and allow them to become fragrant for another minute or so.
Then add in the prunes with their Armagnac and stir to get any remaining brown bits (fond) off the bottom of the pot.

Return the browned pork to the pot along with any juices in the bowl. Add in the pork bones if you have them, your bouquet garni, and 1 bottle of red wine.
As always, the rule with the wine is to only use something you would actually drink.
I also add in about 3/4 cup of ruby port, as I like the richness it adds to the finished dish.
Resist the urge to add stock to this mixture, even if you are afraid the liquids do not come up high enough in your pot. Adding stock will vastly change the finished product, leaving you with something quite loose and lacking the rich flavor. 
The finished product should be dense and almost sticky.

For the bouquet garni: 3 rosemary stems, 3 fresh thyme stems, 2 bay leaves
I put all of this in a loose tea bag or cheese cloth tied with twine, along with about 8 black peppercorns I crush under the flat of my knife.

Bring the whole mixture to a simmer on your stovetop and then transfer to a 320º oven for 3 hours, lid on, stirring once or twice along the way.

The result should be dense, slightly sweet, and nicely caramelized with very little liquid left at all in the pot.

Remove the bouquet garni & bay leaves, and I find the easiest way to break everything down is with a potato masher. Gently crush the cubes of meat until you have a gently shredded/pulled consistency.

I chose to serve this over polenta, but it would also go very well over either quinoa or couscous. If serving this over polenta, keep it simple. Do not add a ton or milk or cheese to the bubbling mixture. Just water or stock, salt, and maybe a little butter at the end.

As I said, this followed the rule of tasting better on Day 2, so if you have the time try to make it a day in advance. Especially as breaking down the shoulder and browning all the meat takes quite a bit of time, so you might even want to do that the day before if you don't have time to do it all in one day.
Either way, this dish was a BIG hit with my friends, and it easily fed 6 hungry people with leftovers.
Try it out before the cold weather passes.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chipotle Curry Lentil Soup

To preface: this was an experiment.

I don't really enjoy lentils.
However, they are something of a super legume, so I am trying to incorporate them into my diet wherever I can. Somewhere in my brain it was decided that smoked chipotle + lentils = less blech.
Then I decided to add some curry powder.
And of course, bacon.
Because bacon will make it better.

After the bacon rendered it's fatty goodness, I added the trinity of onion, celery & carrot, and threw in some extra kale stalks for good measure.
A pinch of salt and a few minutes of sweating out and I add some white wine and a pinch of chipotle pepper flakes.

I'm not supporting a brand, but they are... convenient.

After the wine has cooked out I add about 1 1/2 TBSP mild curry powder and a cup of lentils that I soaked overnight.

I let the curry blend in a bit and then cover everything with chicken stock.
Bring up to a boil, reduce the flame to low, add the lid, and let the pot simmer for about 30-40 minutes.

Purée with an immersion blender and taste for seasoning.

This is not my favorite soup, but it's flavorful, healthy and hearty for a cold winter afternoon. Add a dollop of plain yogurt... or mascarpone... to make it really decadent.
Later I plan to add a sausage or pork product to make a heartier, more Hubby-friendly meal out of the leftovers, but for now it's a simple healthy bowl of goodness.
Experiment... mostly successful.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

When it comes to cookies, I'm a stickler for homemade. I loathe 95% of cookies that you can buy in a store. Unfortunately, I'm not big on baking. I'd much rather make dinner and have someone who enjoys baking bring the dessert.
These cookies are one of my exceptions.
They are cake-like and sweet but bright and light from the lemon, and I tend to make them every year around the holidays.
Sometimes I even give them to people who are nice to me...
Sadly I can't take credit for the recipe. I found it years ago in a Giada cookbook.
But it's a really good cookie.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 (15 oz) container of whole milk ricotta cheese
3 TBSP lemon juice
1 lemon, zested

Preheat your oven to 375º

Combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl and set aside.

I was making so many of these cookies I didn't have a mixing bowl large enough... so I opted for my stainless steel stock pot!

With the butter at room temperature, add the sugar and cream together until combined, about 3 minutes with an electric mixer.
Add eggs to the butter & sugar mixture.
Beat until smooth.

Add 15 oz of ricotta & the juice and zest of one lemon.

Add in your dry ingredients slowly, and once well-combined spoon the dough onto parchment paper.

If excessively sharp in shape, dampen your fingers and smooth the surface as you would making cream puffs or gougères.
Bake for 15 minutes. The base should be lightly golden but the cookies will still appear quite pale.

For the glaze, take 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and the juice and zest of one lemon (about 3 TBSP juice). Stir well and spoon over the cookies (once cool).
Allow to set for 2 hrs before packaging.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays

May your holidays be filled with sparkling wine, sparkling wit, loved ones, and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Hopefully the sparkling wine and strawberries will be edible, rather than ornamental.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Awesome Short Rib Ragu

I have been making this every weekend for three weeks running because short ribs have been on sale, and frankly, this is just so delicious that I don't mind that it taking 2 days to make it.
If you like slow-cooking beef, give this a try.
If you don't like slow-cooking beef... give this a try.

Step 1 - brown that meat.
Let your short ribs (about 3 lbs worth) come to room temperature, trim off any of that really thick, hard fat, season with salt, and get a good sear on the outside (use a little evoo in the pan).

Do this in batches so you don't end up steaming your meat.

Add 1 medium/large white onion, 2 celery ribs, and 3 carrots, 4 garlic cloves, all medium diced, into the bottom of the pan with all the tasty brown bits left by the meat. Season with salt.
You may need another drizzle of olive oil to get them all going.
Cook until the onions are almost translucent.

Next add a TBSP or so of tomato paste to the pot and pour in one bottle of dry red wine: tempranillo, cabernet, even a dolcetto would work.
Just make sure you like the taste of it to drink before you cook with it.
Throw in your herb bundle (use cheesecloth if you have it. I use tea bags meant for loose tea.)
Inside it should have: 1-2 bay leaves, half a sprig of fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp dry), 3-4 fresh thyme stems (or 1 -2 tsp dry), 1/4 tsp ground clove, 1/2 tsp ground allspice, 5-6 crushed black peppercorns.
Allow that to simmer for about 10 minutes and then allow to cool.
Pour over browned short ribs, or place short ribs in the pot with the wine mixture, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day allow the chill to come off everything before starting to cook.
Over medium low heat on the stove, add 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes and 3-4 cups of beef stock. Enough to cover all the meat in the pot but not come more than 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pot.
Optional addition: chopped, reconstituted porcini mushrooms.

Once up to a simmer, turn off the burner, add the lid to the pot and place in a 325º oven for 3 hrs.
If you remember, stir once or twice over the 3 hrs to move things around.

No, these are not Fig Newtons or dog treats.
By the time you remove it from the oven,  the meat should have fallen away from the bones (see above).
At this point I like to remove the meat and the bones and reduce the liquids in the pot over medium-high heat for another 40-45 minutes, or until thick.
I also shred apart the meat once it has cooled for easier consumption.

Add the meat back in and allow to set.
I prefer to let it sit overnight again, eating it on Day 3.

This goes brilliantly over most things: polenta, pasta, couscous, hearty bread... whatever you have on hand.
I was really in the mood for pappardelle, so that's what I made this time around.

As always, cook the pasta in salted boiling water, drain, and cook the final minute or two with the sauce so the flavors combine.

I gave this a sprinkle of pecorino, but it doesn't need it.
It's perfect just as it is... somewhere between a stew and a ragu.
Try it out the next time you have a laid-back weekend.
You won't be sorry.

And if you've been reading my blog for a while now, yes, this is essentially what I made for the So-Bro(nx) Dinner Party, but I have perfected it since then, so it deserved a second showing.
I think this will be showing up for Christmas Eve Dinner as well.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Feline Moussassin

This is what we have been entertaining ourselves with for the past week:

The smart cat has since become the destroyer of all iPad related movement... while the less-smart cat watches sans comprehension...

The Hubs has created a monster, as now both cats prowl looking for either an iPad or an iPhone to attack, even when there are no virtual mice running across them.
But they sure are cute when they tucker themselves out:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mahi Mahi with Orange Beurre Blanc Sauce

I saw this recipe by Robert Irvine on the Food Network's website and decided it tweak it to my preferences, and availability. And it was REALLY tasty.
And actually rather easy.

Step one: marinate your fish. You could use just about any firm-fleshed fish (but not tuna) in this dish.  As so often happens, I was using what was on special that week.
I squeezed the juice of one lemon, mixed with about 2-3 TBSP of tequila (silver), and poured that over my 2 portions of fish with a pinch of salt.
You don't want them to marinate too long or the acids will start to cook the fish itself, so I would do this right as you start to make your beurre blanc.

Beurre blanc is a decadent butter sauce that can be made any number of ways, but the base needs to be acidic for the emulsification to work. You can use vinegar, wine, a citrus juice, or a combination thereof. I used 3/4 cup of orange juice with 3/4 cup white wine for my base, as I thought both white wine and orange would go nicely with the fish..
Bring this to boil and allow to reduce by half.
If you like, add some finely chopped shallot while reducing. They will retain much of their onion-y flavor without being too powerful.

Once the liquids have reduced by half, remove the pot from the heat and start adding cubes of butter, whisking them each in one at a time. Occasionally put back over the heat for a moment to keep things warm.
(When making this for 2 people, I used about half a stick of butter. More will make a really rich sauce. Too rich for me. But go with what makes your dish happy.)
The finished product should be glossy and moderately thick.

Once the sauce is finished allow it to sit and thicken up a bit while you cook your fish.
In a non-stick pan on medium-high heat, add a drizzle of olive oil and the other half of your (optional) shallot and place your fish filets skin-side down.
Flip after 2-4 minutes, once the skin is crisp.
Cook another 4-5 minutes, or until firm and opaque.

Transfer your fish to a plate and pour the rich beurre blanc sauce over the top.
I served this simply with a side of peas as it was a light dinner (well... except for the half stick of butter...) but this would also go nicely with a bed of pasta or couscous as well.

Voila! A fancy-sounding dinner in under 30 minutes. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011-Style

There were two 12 lb turkeys, mashed potatoes made w/ ricotta, corn w/ butter, stuffing a la my great-aunt's recipe, and possibly the best gravy my mother has made in years.

Queen Of Turkey Rides Again
It was very similar to last year... with a few exceptions:

Get up under that turkey skin w/ the softened herb butter!
My mother checked the liquor cabinet before I arrived and thought the open bottle of Apple Jack would work in place of regular brandy this year. She might have been right.

Make sure the alcohol you use to deglaze the bacon fat has not been open for more than a decade (or 4), as you will end up with more water than booze in the pan, and not only does that not add flavor, it will spit at you like a dozen flaming ornery llamas.

Remember to roast the neck for added richness in your gravy,
as well as a snack while the bird rests!
Additionally, try not to have the element in your electric oven suddenly glow white-hot and crack, dripping molten metal onto your oven floor. That puts a kink in ones' cooking marathon.

Luckily my parents have two stacked wall ovens, so with careful planning everything got made on time, and the above pale yet promising turkey (note the flecks from the bacon drippings) turned into:

...the golden number you see above.
Once more: Bacon, Brandy, Butter, and 12 minutes/pound at 325º
Make sure your bird is completely defrosted before cooking, and weigh your bird once defrosted for best accuracy.

Save the skin from bird #1 and in the last 10 minutes of cooking bird #2, lay the foil w/ skin over bird #2's breast, baste the extra skin, and you will have extra cracklings to serve.

After resting for 45 minutes, I carved the bird (without mishap) and we all sat down to one of the most pleasant Thanksgivings we have passed in the last decade.

I hope the same can be said about yours.
Happy Holidays!