I really had the urge to make a batch of vegetarian chili when the weather dropped down to -18F (-27C for you metric types). I have always been interested in vegetarian chili styles but I wanted something that had a great texture. I started out with a base recipe from Emeril Lagasse off the Food TV site. But there are a couple of changes that are necessary to really make this shine. First of all, the tomatoes must be peeled and seeded. If you don't do this step the tomato skins curl up and are unattractive in the chili. The second change is to eliminate the one cup of water and substitute one cup of a good quality IPA beer. Something where the hops flavor really pops. And the last change is to add in 4-5 tablespoons of a nicely browned flour right towards the end of the cooking process. Maybe more or less depending on what it takes to get a nice thick consistency.
I have been working on several bread recipes so that I can develop a core of 4 - 5 breads that can be used both in table baskets and for sandwiches. Bread is really interesting and it is an art. You can make a recipe the exact same way twice and one time it will be soft and perfect and the next time tough as leather. This recipe is from Paul Prudhomme's Louisianna Kitchen cookbook. I used diced, fresh jalapenos and a really nice cheddar cheese from Wisconsin. It is not stable enough for a good sandwich bread, but it makes a great roll for table baskets. Table baskets are what I call the breads that are delivered to a table when you are first seated in a restaurant.
As with all things you are preparing for possible inclusion on a restaurant menu, you must know exactly what your costs are. I break down all of my ingredients in a spreadsheet and then weigh the test portions on a digital scale.
I flew back home from Missouri carrying some fresh squirrels from the farm. When I was a kid we ate these fried in flour and then the drippings were used to make gravy. The end product was biscuits covered in squirrel gravy with the fried meat served on the side. Very tasty and the memories of sitting at the kitchen bar stuffing my face with this goodness are some of the best. But when I had a chance to try a little different approach I wanted something to really marinate the flesh and bring out that nut fed flavor. I chose a Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout for the base and added in soy sauce, pepper and a bit of chopped garlic. Then the squirrel was marinated in this for about 4 hours.
Once the marinating was complete each piece was wrapped in bacon and then broiled in the oven on a rack for about 25 minutes. The main thing to watch for is that squirrel, like most game, is low in fat so you have to be careful not to overcook or dry it out. Then I served this over a nice bed of thinly sliced brussel sprouts that were sautéed in olive oil and some chicken stock. The flavor was really good, but squirrel is tough. Face it... its a rodent that spends its days running around from tree to tree. The next time I am thinking of a slow cooked version, or possibly a nice stew. That depends on if I can convince my dad and nephew to part with some of their supply....
I purchased a new immersion blender from Amazon and wanted to give it a try. The Waring WSB40 is a beast and almost overkill for a home kitchen. But I wanted to be able to do tomato juice, soup purees and even hummus without any issues. This thing does the job.
The acorn squash soup was created using a recipe that is fairly basic. The key is to roast the squash in the oven first to get a nice toasted flavor and then bring that out with some fresh ground nutmeg. When doing the puree you don't want to overdo it, since it gives it a much better mouthfeel if it is just the bare minimum to achieve smoothness without any chunks, but not watery. This was done with a nice vegetable stock and was completely vegetarian, no cream or milk. Very healthy, very tasty and a nice classy addition to an evening dinner.
One of the great absences in Beijing is the lack of a good Chicago style pizza, and also a Chicago style hotdog. I cannot do much about the hotdog without being able to get the proper buns, but I can work on the pizza. An interesting thing about my Chinese oven is that while it is smaller than the one on the U.S., it can reach higher temps. The downside is that it uses an upper electric element to do that. But high temps are what you need for pizza. That, and a really good pizza dough. I happened on a great recipe that can keep for up to 2 weeks at a time in the refrigerator.
I use a 9 inch (23cm) cake pan that is about 1.75 inches (4.5cm) deep for my Chicago pizzas. The dough is rolled out and hand stretched with fresh flour until you get something big enough to work. Since it can be fridged again, I just trim the edges around the pan (which is greased with butter) and put it back in the bowl for next time. Then spread the tomato sauce and meats in the bottom. This pizza used hamburger and pepperoni, then layers of black olives, green peppers, thin sliced zucchini and fresh tomato slices. The layers are broken up with a sprinkling of shredded mozzarella. The final step is to place a thick layer of mozzarella and a bit of salt and pepper before going in the oven.
Total bake time is only about 40 minutes at 428F (220C). The top element makes the cheese brown too quick, next time I will try to lower the pan even more, and maybe bring the temp down slightly so the crust browns first. But it did turn out very, very well and we had a nice movie night with pizza.
I wanted to use the Pampered Chef stone baking sheet that Heidi got me to try out some thin crust pizza. I used the same pizza dough recipe and rolled that out with ground beef, red onion, bell peppers, zucchinni, olives and smoked gouda cheese.
The incredible, mystical Beef Bourguignon from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, page 315. First thing was finding a good quality of top sirloin to begin the stew. 1.7 kg (about 3.75 lbs) of meat.
The meat is slow cooked with carrots and onions for 3 hours in a wine broth. This was done in my cast iron pot in the oven. The smell was amazing. Towards the end of that 3 hours I braised small onions in white wine and butter. And then about 1 lb (0.5 kg) of mushrooms quartered and browned nicely in butter.
At the end of the 3 hours the beef, veggies and juices are strained out of the pot. The cast iron pot gets a full cleaning and then the beef and veggies are layered along with the braised onions and mushrooms. The juices that were strained are put in a saucier and then reduced for about 30 minutes until they are thick enough to coat a spoon. Then this is poured back over stew in the pot, reheated, and served over fresh noodles.
I stopped by Terra in Beijing to try out the new Slow Boat beers. There is a very good bartender working there from France and he spent some time talking with me about various rums and the variety of infusions they are working with on the back shelves. I was very interested, especially after he made me a wonderful Mai Tai using their cinnamon rum.
So the first order of business was to go to Ikea and pick up a couple of jars to experiment with, and then I started out with a cinnamon and vanilla bean infusion using Bacardi Light.
And that was followed by a pineapple and ginger root infusion in Absolut vodka.
Some days a guy just needs some grilled meat. Or "chuar" as the Chinese say. The skewers they sell on the street smell tasty, but are a little too scary for me. So I came home last night and decided to grill up some things for our evening watching "Game of Thrones".
The smoke gets kind of scary even with all the windows open. It is critical to not have your clothes in the dryer when this process starts, as the grill and it share the same alcove. Everything will smell like the grill if you are not careful.
I made some more cornbread and a side of greenbeans. We did chicken wings, lamb sausage skewers and a big piece of something that was supposed to be a ribeye. A ribeye it was not, and a bit tough. Still, not too bad and I sliced it up in little pieces today and made Annie some lunch.
As I continue to look at some of my cooking techniques I went back to something I learned from Paul Prudhomme. In his Fork in the Road cookbook he demonstrates how to sautee different ingredients using fruit juices - primarily apple juice. The quick explanation is the acidity in the apple juice allows you to clear the pan and prevent burning. The flavor does not work for everything, but it does work with a surprising number of things. I have made many of these dishes from his book over the years, and finally I decided to branch out and begin trying out new things on my own.
For this dish I used chopped onion and bell peppers (red and green) and a spice mixture (definetly cajun). This was placed in the bottom of a very hot stock pot and cooked up for about 5 minutes. Once it begins to get brown on the bottom of the pot, you quickly add about a cup of apple juice. Thats the picture above. I boil this down for about 15 minutes until the mixture starts to thicken and glaze on the bottom of the pot. Then push that over to the side and add in some cubed chicken breast (also seasoned). I brown the chicken and after a few minutes add a couple of cans of whole tomato crushed up with my hands. Then some fresh chicken stock. This is followed by 4-5 cups of Chinese greens, similar to collard greens, mustard greens or bok choy.
I boil this for a few minutes and then that is served over some fresh spinach fettuccini from LMPlus in Central Park. I used to make all of my pasta fresh, but now I am just going downstairs and picking it up from Massimo. It is easier, the quality is excellent (come on - he is an Italian guy) and he has 5-6 different kinds. And a bottle of wine from him is about 160RMB which is not too bad for buying a decent wine in China.