Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cider braised pork shoulder with greens and polenta

I made this dish a couple weeks ago and haven't gotten around to posting it since Abby and I have been pretty busy. Now we're back in Washington state for Christmas and I have a bit of down time before I start making Christmas eve dinner, which will be based on this meal.

A meal like this is great for several reasons during this fall/winter season. Most importantly, it tastes really great and is easy to make. Second, braised dishes and stews just seem more appropriate when the weather is cold. And, third, it uses really cheap ingredients, which is always a plus if you are trying to stretch your dollars. This last point should come as no surprise. A lot of the best home cooking was developed to make the best out of cheap ingredients. Here, I use a cut of pork that you can find for $2/pound at most places, greens, which are fairly cheap, and polenta, which is just corn meal. Again, very cheap stuff. All of the components of the dish keep really well too, so you can economize on both time and money, making a big batch of food one day and stretching it out over a couple of meals. The pork actually gets better the next day, and you can reheat it in the braising liquid and serve it the same way, or you can shred it and make a sandwich out of it. For the left over polenta, the best thing to do is spread it out in a layer (about 1/2 thick) on a nonstick surface (a baking sheet or frying pan will do) and let it set. Once the polenta is firm, you can cut it into smaller pieces and store it in the fridge. Reheat it with a little oil using a grill pan or nonstick frying pan. These polenta cakes make a nice snack, and are great with the leftover pork.

Here's the recipe for the pork.

Pork shoulder or pork butt (~3 lb)
1 onion
Apple cider
Chicken broth/stock
a few sprigs of thyme
2 T cider vinegar
1 head garlic
2 bay leaves
1 T peppercorns
2 t fennel seeds
1 t mustard seeds
4 T demi glace
1 carrot

Start by covering the pork with salt and pepper and browning on all sides over medium high heat. This should take about 6-8 minutes per side. If the oil begins to smoke, turn the heat down a little.
Remove the pork and cook the chopped onion, carrot, and crushed garlic cloves over medium heat for about 5-10 minutes. Add all the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Add the cider and chicken stock in a 2 to 1 ratio until the liquid comes about halfway up the pork. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the pork.
Cover and simmer over low heat for a couple of hours. I would give it 2 to 3 hours, but as long as the heat is low, you probably can't over cook this. After 2 or 3 hours, remove the pork, strain the liquid into a fat seperator and return the reserved liquid to the pot. Reduce by half over high heat. Return the pork to the liquid and continue simmering, covered, until you are ready for dinner. Serve over a bed of polenta with braised greens.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Abby and I thought that we were going to have a smaller group over for Thanksgiving this year, but we ended up with twelve people, and, let's see if I can count, 16 giant plates or bowls of food and several bottles of wine.
So, here are the dishes that I can remember: 1 free range organic turkey from Savenors, two kinds of mashed potatoes (with lots of cheese and cream and without lots of cheese and cream), two kinds of cranberry sauce (rosemary-cabernet and bourbon-orange), two kinds of stuffing (oyster and vegetarian), two kinds of sweet potato dishes (whipped and in a gratin with squash), braised greens, celery root salad, roasted carrots with dill, roasted Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar, spicy green beans, turkey gravy, and vegetarian gravy.Everyone brought at least one dish or wine, but Maia went the extra mile, bringing roasted Brussels sprouts
Two kinds of mashed potatoes and an awesome cheesecake.It might be a bit gratuitous, but here's another shot of our bountiful table. Everything was outstanding
And here are the desserts. Pumpkin pie, apple cake (two types), and cheesecake.

Turkey 101

Good turkey takes time. One of the keys to good turkey is the brine. You want to start soaking the turkey in brine on Tuesday evening. For the brine, I mix together kosher salt (about 1 or 2 cups), brown sugar (about 1/2 cup), several springs of rosemary and thyme, a head of garlic, an onion, an orange, and a handful of black peppercorns.
Put everything in a big pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil so all the sugars dissolve and let the mixture boil away for a while so the flavors meld. After simmering for a half hour or so, fill the rest of the pot with cold water and ice cubes. Dump this mixture into a container large enough to contain the turkey. Add enough cold water so the turkey is completely covered. You want to make sure the brine has cooled down before adding the turkey.

If the temperature outside is between 35 and 45F, you can just set the brine, covered, outside, and save fridge space for other stuff. Let the turkey sit in the brine all day, removing on Wednesday evening. Pat the turkey dry and then let it sit in the fridge overnight. This step lets the turkey dry out and makes it easier to get really crispy skin.

On Thursday morning, put together an herb butter for the turkey.
I combine a stick of butter with several cloves of roasted garlic with rosemary, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper. Whipped together, it looks like this.
Before buttering up the turkey, its a good idea to tear off a piece of foil and form it to cover the breast of the turkey. You'll add this midway through the cooking process, and it will help the breast cook more slowly.
Using your hands, separate the skin of the breast from the meat of the turkey. Put a spoonful of the herb butter underneath each breast and spread it around. Cut slits in the drum stick and thigh, and do the same thing. Spread the remaining herb butter around the outside of the turkey.

Place the neck, gizzards, and wing tips in the bottom of the roasting pan with a couple carrots, an onion, celery, a few cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of thyme and chicken or turkey stock. This will form the base of the gravy. Start cooking the turkey in an oven that has been preheated to 450F. After 20 to 30 minutes, reduce the temperature to 325F and put the foil shield on the breast. Cook until the breast meet reaches a temperature of 158F. Remove the turkey and tent it in foil. The temperature should go up another 10 degrees. Let the turkey rest at least 30 minutes before carving. While the turkey is resting, mix the pan drippings with a roux to make the gravy.

NOTE: The last time I made this recipe, I used a free range turkey, and it was a bit dryer than my usual turkeys. If you use a free range bird, you might try cooking until 155F instead. Also, if you are making turkey for a bunch of people, I highly recommend making the extra investment in an electronic temperature probe with an alarm that tells you when you get to the desired temperature. It is very easy to overcook turkey, so you need to be able to monitor your temperature precisely.

Sweet potato-butternut squash gratin

This was a new side dish this year. It turned out OK and was really easy to make. Start by peeling the squash and the sweet potato. Then slice them very thin using a mandoline.
Lay the squash and potato in alternating layers, covering each row with a little heavy cream. I mixed a little chipotle puree and maple syrup in with the cream, but you could just stick with a bit of salt and pepper for the seasoning.
Keep adding layers until you reach the top of the pan. You can put it together to this point a day ahead of time. Cook, covered with foil at 375F for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Let sit at least 15 minutes before serving.

Cranberry Sauces

This was our last Thanksgiving in Cambridge, and a few dishes have become staples on our Thanksgiving table. One of them is a rosemary-cabernet cranberry sauce that I came up with a few years ago. I usually also make a mustard cranberry sauce that is really great on those next day turkey sandwiches, but this time I decided to change things up a little bit and make an orange-bourbon cranberry sauce instead. The ingredients for the two sauces are shown below.
Rosemary-Cabernet Cranberry Sauce
1 package cranberries
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cabernet sauvignon
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
2 sprigs rosemary
1/4 tsp 5-spice powder
1/2 tsp grated ginger

Combine liquids and bring to a boil. Stir in sugars and grated ginger. When the sugar is dissolved, add the cranberries and bring to boil. Stir in the finely minced rosemary and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the five spice powder. A little bit of this should go a long way. Let cool. If you want a smoother texture, you can take out a portion of the sauce and puree it. This recipe has a real "holiday" taste to it that would make it a good side for a Christmas dinner.

Orange-Bourbon Cranberry Sauce
1 package cranberries
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
1 tsp orange zest

Reduce the bourbon to 1/4 cup, add water, OJ and honey. Bring to boil, add cranberries and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finish with orange zest.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Clam and white bean soup with chorizo

Here's a fairly simple dish that I came up with last night. The dish is, I think, a Portuguese preparation. At least, the main ingredients are all commonly found in Portuguese cooking. I found that the broth was a little thin for my taste, so next time I make it I'll play around with the seasoning a little more. Below, I listed the ingredients that I used, but if you make this, I would suggest trying ways to improve the broth. I listed a couple suggestions.

Depending on how long you let things simmer, this meal should take only about 45 minutes to make. I served it with baguette toasts and side of greens the had been braised with garlic, chicken stock, red pepper flakes, and cider vinegar.

INGREDIENTS (2-3 servings)
2 lb clams
2 14oz. cans of white beans.
1/2 lb chorizo, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
4-6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small bottle clam juice
1/4 cup white wine
olive oil
red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to taste
parsley or cilantro for garnish

Start by cooking the onions, garlic, carrot and chorizo with 1 Tbsp olive oil a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add a splash of white wine and turn the heat up to high to reduce the wine. Let the wine reduce for about a minute then add the clam juice. Add another 2 cups of water, the beans, and bring everything to a boil. Turn the heat back down to medium and let everything simmer together for a while. It can be as little as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. The more time you let this cook, the more the flavors will blend together. As this mixture is simmering, you can start seasoning. You can add a bay leaf and/or a few sprigs of thyme to add some depth to the flavor. Add salt and pepper a little bit at a time, and keep tasting the broth until you like the taste.

As I mentioned above, the broth was a little thin. Perhaps it just needed more time, but replacing the water/clam juice mixture with seafood or chicken stock might have improved things. The right amount of salt and pepper did help out a lot, but it didn't get it all the way there.

Once you are about ready for dinner, throw in the clams and let cook, covered, until the clams open up (around 5 to 8 minutes). Garnish with parsley and lemon juice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mussels in saffron cream sauce

The recipe is here. The one thing I would change is to go with a light cream instead of heavy cream....maybe even half and half and add garlic and some tomato paste or half a small can of canned tomatoes, hand crushed. This would add a bit more acidity to the sauce and improve the color. Is it stands, the broth is just too rich. Serve with toasted slices of baguette that have been brushed with olive oil (before toasting).

Beet soup

Wrap beets in foil and roast at 350F for 1 hour. Let cool, then peel and cut into chunks.
While the beets are cooling, cook roughly chopped red onion and ginger with butter and salt in a medium pan. I used 1 half of an onion and 1/2" of ginger for 8 small beets (about the size of a new potato). When the onions have softened (5 minutes), add the beets and enough chicken or vegetable stock to cover everything by almost an inch. Add part of an orange peel to the mixture and let simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the orange peel and puree the mixture. Season to taste with coriander, orange juice and lemon juice. For the garnish, mix together soft goat cheese with a bit of sour cream in a food processor. For a more refined version of this soup, pass the pureed soup through a strainer a couple times. This will make the finished product thinner and smoother.

Pollo al ajillo

This is a simple Spanish recipe. Start by seasoning bone-in skin on chicken thighs with salt and pepper and browning in a large pan with some olive oil. Once the skin is crispy, remove the chicken and pour out all but 4Tbsp of olive oil. Add an entire head of garlic (for 8 chicken thighs) and cook over medium heat. You don't want to brown the garlic, so keep an eye on it. Add a splash of white wine and lemon juice and stir in a bunch of chopped parsley. Return the chicken to the pan and cook, covered for another 15 minutes.

Tuna burgers

I used the same recipe that I used to make the tuna meatballs here. If I make these again, I would use about half the amount of bread crumbs in the recipe. Serve on brioche with arugula that has been tossed in a very small amount of olive oil, lemon juice, and kosher salt.

Cumin crusted lamb with pomegranate sauce and basmati rice

Lamb loin (1 per person)
Salt, pepper
Demi glace
Pomegranate molasses
Basmati rice
Chicken stock
Bay leaf
Slivered almonds
Red pepper flakes
Lemon juice
Olive oil

Begin by toasting ground cumin in a hot pan until it become aromatic. Rub the cumin into the lamb with salt and pepper and set aside.
Next, get started on the rice. For two servings, finely dice one quarter of an onion and a clove of garlic. Cook in a medium sized pot with 1/2 Tbsp butter. Add a cup of basmati rice and cook over medium heat for another minute. Add 1.5 cups chicken stock and a bay leaf and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 20 min. When the rice is done, add onions sumac, and additional cumin to taste.
Once the rice is going, cut the broccoli into florets and steam for 5 to 6 minutes and then get the sauce started. For the sauce, you want to just combine a bit of demiglace and pomegranate molasses. I don't remember the ratios, so just adjust this to taste. If you don't have demiglace, just mix two parts beef stock to one part red wine and reduce to about one quarter of the original volume.
Now you can cook the lamb. Sear it for about 2 minutes on each side over high heat and finish in the oven at 400F for about 5-6 minutes (it might need longer, but check it at this point). When the lamb is done, it will need about 5 minutes to rest. Use this time to finish off the broccoli by sauteing it with sliced garlic, red pepper flakes and olive oil. After the broccoli is reheated, hit it with a dash of lemon juice. When you initially steam the broccoli, it isn't cooked through, so this step finishes the cooking. It should still have a bit of bite to it though.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mac & cheese with blue cheese and bacon

This is the third version of mac & cheese posted on this blog. The other two (a southwest jalapeno version and a manchego and Spanish chorizo version) are posted here. This time around, I used three cheeses: cheddar, gruyere, and Valdeon - a really strong Spanish blue cheese and some applewood smoked bacon from Savenor's.

To make the mac & cheese, start by boiling water and cooking the pasta. I used DeCecco cavatappi pasta for this batch. Cut the bacon into small strips and cook slowly in order to render out a lot of the fat. While the bacon is cooking, you can start the cheese sauce. The first step is to make a basic bechamel. Heat up about 2 cups of milk. In a separate saucepan, melt about 4Tbsp of butter and mix with about 3Tbsp flour. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes until the roux just begins to color. Add the warm milk to the roux 1Tbsp at a time until you have added about 1/2 cup, then you can add larger amounts.
Let the bechamel simmer with a bay leaf for a about 10 minutes. You can add white pepper as well. Then, start stirring in grated or crumbled cheese. Add as much as you like. The more the better.
When the cheese sauce is done, add the bacon, mix in the pasta, and put everything into oven proof dishes.
Top with panko bread crumbs and finish in the oven for 30 minutes at 350F. To get the bread crumbs to brown a little better than in the picture below, you can put a couple pats of butter on top of the bread crumbs before putting it in the oven.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Roasted pork belly with spaetzle and collards

Ma Po Tofu

This is a dish that Abby and I make fairly often. Quick. Easy. Tasty. It's comfort food at its best.


Mix together 3/4 cup of water
1 Tbsp of Chinese cooking wine
2 Tbsp of soy sauce and 1 tsp salt.
In a separate cup, mix together 2 tsp corn starch and about a Tbsp of water.

Mince 2 cloves of garlic, an equivalent amount of ginger, and two scallions. Reserve about 1/4 of the scallions for garnish.
Mince the pork. It helps to stick it in the freezer for about 15 to 30 minutes first. This allows you to cut the pork into very thin slices. After doing this, just run your knife across the slices a few times.

Cut the block of extra firm tofu into 1 cm squares.Once these ingredients are prepped, you can start cooking. First, stir fry the pork in 2 Tbsp oil. When using a wok, you should always have the heat up as high as possible. It helps to use an oil that can stand up to high heat such as sunflower oil.
Once the pork is done, set it aside in a separate bowl, but keep as much oil in the wok as possible. Stir fry the garlic, ginger, and scallions for a minute or so, then add a tablespoon of hot black bean sauce for another minute.

Add the liquid, bring to a bowl, and then add the pork and tofu.Let everything simmer for a couple minutes and then add the corn starch/water mixture. If there is too much liquid, you can turn up the heat to reduce the sauce or you can add more corn starch to thicken the sauce more. Finish with a bit of white pepper, sesame oil, and the remaining chopped scallion and serve over rice.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Salt baked branzino

Here's yet another recipe from the Dave Pasternak cookbook. That makes three in a row. So far, they have all been good, but I think this is my favorite. It's easy, fun to make, and tastes really good.

Start with a whole fish. I used branzino, but any white fish will do. Just get whatever is fresh. Clean the fish, make sure it's scaled, clip all the fins, and stuff the cavity with lemon slices, a sprig of rosemary, some parsley stems (reserve the leaves for garnish), a clove of garlic, and a couple olives.
For the salt crust, mix together salt in a ratio of about one egg white to a little over one cup of salt. This fish was a little over a pound, and I used 2 1/4 cups of salt and two egg whites. If you get a bigger fish, use 3 to 3 1/2 cups of salt.

Place a little of the salt mixture on a baking sheet cover this with a piece of parchment paper in the shape of the fish. This will allow you to remove the bottom side of the fish from the salt crust when you are done cooking.
Cover the fish with the remaining salt mixture and bake at 400F for about 20 minutes.
When the fish is done baking, crack the crust with the spoon and peel it away from the fish. Run your knife along the spine of the fish to separate the top fillet and remove carefully. After you plate the top fillet, you can just pull out the fish spine in one piece, leaving the bottom fillet in the salt crust. You can just lift up the bottom fillet by cutting loose the parchment paper and then sliding the fillet onto the plate. Garnish with some lemon and parsley. Since we had some egg yolks left over from the salt crust, we also made some lemon aioli to go with the fish.
Serve the fish with whatever sides work for you. I made baked brown rice and a mixture of kale and collards with garlic, red pepper flakes, and bacon braised in chicken stock.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spaghetti with Tuna Meatballs

Here's another recipe from the Dave Pasternak cookbook. Spaghetti with Tuna Meatballs. These meatballs would actually make great tuna patties for a sandwich, so I'll probably try that sometime soon. The basics of this are like any other meatballs, you just use tuna as the protein. Start by combining the tuna and breadcrumbs in a food processor. After pulsing this mixture a few times, stir in an egg, salt, pepper, garlic and chopped parsley. You want to cook the garlic in olive oil first. For ratios, you should use about 1.5lb tuna, 3/4 cup bread, 1 egg, and 2 cloves of garlic cooked in 2 Tbsp of oil.
Form into meatballs and cook in a little bit of olive oil.

Serve with spaghetti and basic tomato sauce.