That girl is on fire..fire..fiiiiire

No i swear I’m not channeling Alicia Keys or Katniss Everdeen, though given today is Election day I really did feel like it was going to be a Hunger Games kind of day but that’s politico talk and this is a place of happiness and joy and kittens from time to time.  My kitchen however; well on Sunday that place was probably as close to Hell as I have gotten in a while cooking wise.  Why?  Harissa..

What is harissa?  Besides the living embodiment of Satan?  It’s a spicy and rather aromatic chili paste which has roots in North African and Middle Eastern cooking and can be found on many a menu along side lovely dishes as babaganoush, hummus, chutneys, lamb kofta, beef kofta, shwarma, etc.  It’s a versatile paste which can be used to any chili or stew as a flavor enhancer or even as a dipping sauce for chicken and bread.  But man can it ever be spicy.

This weekend I got to try my hands and making it to pair it along side a Moroccan themed dinner I was having for some friends.  Roasted lamb with glass herbs that had been sous vide for 30+ hours, babaganoush, hummus, morrocan stew, couscous, naan & lavish bread.  It was quite a spread but I wanted to try something that could both compliment the lamb as well as possibly enhance it and of course me being me, the veritable unique snowflake that I am, I wanted to stay away from the normal traditional sauces that included mint, rosemary or yogurt.  So I ventured forth into Hell.  And like every good explorer I made sure to come well armed and prepared.  I wore goggles…And my Deadpool hat because well..Deadpool.

image000007 The ingredients for this harissa weren’t to difficult to obtain.  In fact you can pretty much find all of them in your ethnic aisle at your local grocery store.  And if not I’m sure that any international grocery store will carry them.    One suggestion would be to make sure you have gloves.  I didn’t wear any and got a rather wicked capsaicin burn on my left hand from playing with the rehydrated peppers.  And for the love of all that is Effie in the Hunger Game DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE OR YOUR BITS..YOU WILL HATE LIFE AND ALL THAT ARE AROUND YOU.  If you do happen to touch your bits um, well…..Yeah I’m sorry.

 

So the ingredients are simple and as follows.  Dried chili arbol peppers, cumin (ground or whole your choice), caraway seeds (ground or whole), sea salt, lemon, garlic, honey & olive oil.  See?  Nothing to fancy or expensive. It is however time consuming.  You don’t think ti would be but it probably took me roughly an hour plus dealing with the peppers themselves.  Sadistic bastards I hate you so so so so much >.<  t(o.to).  I’ll list all the ingredients and measurements at the bottom of the post.  image000005

The first thing you will want to do is make sure you really do have appropriate safety equipment because working with these peppers can cause potential breathing issues.  Weather permitting keep a window open and a fan going to help draw out the fumes once you start working hands on with the peppers.  Also make sure you have tissue nearby in case you start sneezing a lot.  I do and my nose runs so I enlist in the assistance of my husband to act as my scrub nurse and help me out so I don’t run the risk of touching my face and doing my re-enactment of Elphaba from The Wizard of Oz and scream that my face was melting. In a large sauce pan you will want to take two cups of dried chili arbol peppers.   No I’m not kidding, two cups of these little red seemingly innocuous peppers.  Cover with tap water and bring to a boil on your stove and allow to boil for 10 minutes to help soften the peppers and re-hydrate.  While this is happening you can prepare the rest of your ingredients which is to measure out your honey, olive oil, chop your garlic and get your lemon ready to go.  Also get a colander and a blender handy.  image000006

Once your peppers have softened you will want to dump them in colander and start running water over them.  This is where you will want to put on your disposable gloves because for the next hour or so you’ll be slicing these bad boys up and washing the seeds out of them as well as the ribs and pith.  This will help eliminate some of the intensity that inherently lives in peppers.  The burning sensation you get from peppers is caused by capsaicin which is a colorless, odorless, oily chemical found in peppers.  This chemical binds itself to certain sensory neurons and transmits the feeling of being burned even though there is no actual physical burning going on.  The majority of this chemical resides in the pith/ribs (white interior part of the pepper) so simply removing the seeds will not eliminate the devil in your mouth.  You have to take care of the insides as well.

Once you’ve sneezed, coughed, had to blow your nose about a good 5-6 times and then successfully de-seeded/veined your peppers you can now start building your Hellmouth sauce.  As you can see in the picture below, I was not happy at this point.  NOT AT ALL >.< but I am a determined committed chef and I wanted to see this through because I actually do enjoy spicy food.  image000001

So its really simple after this part.  You simply toss your ingredients into the food processor and mix till its a consistency you like.  I roughly chopped my peppers first and then slowly incorporated the rest and came out with a lovely smooth paste which to me is more appealing to my taste buds.  This can be paired with probably pretty much any protein or if you are adventurous, add this to your chip and salsa rotation at your next get-together.  Just don’t invite me.   Wait..no invite me because I wanna see if anyone cries ^.^

 

 

 

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Poor Dan.  He said he liked spicy!

Enjoy!

Harissa Dipping Sauce

  • Makes roughly 1 cup
  • 2 cups dried chili arbol (try subbing out for different peppers depending on your mood or if you truly do hate your dinner guests!
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 lemon juiced
  • 1 tsp caraway, ground
  • 2 tsp cumin, ground
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp honey
  • sea salt to taste
  1. boil the peppers for 10 minutes or until soft, drain into colander
  2. slice each pepper (or skip a few if you want to make it spicer) and remove all seeds under running water
  3. grind the chilis in a food processor mince by hand if you truly are that much of a culinary masochist until it resembles a thick paste.
  4. Mix remaining ingredients, adding more oil, water or honey to get the consistency you prefer (i added more honey to assist in muting the heat….it didnt work)

 

 

Braise the Lord Hallelujah!

Now that my wedding is done and over with I can hopefully find more time to keep my blog up to date.  It’s hard out to try and juggle work, wedding and passion but I will try to be a little more due diligent in the future.  A month or so ago my now amazing husband gifted me with a meat grinder after I won a bet of not cutting or coloring my hair for a year. Anyone who even slightly has an inkling of who I am knows that in and of itself is a challenge considering I change my hair color pretty much twice a month so going au natural for 12 months was a sort of sick and morbid type of torture.  You add not cutting or shaving it and I’m pretty sure that violates UN torture laws.  But I did it and I relished the diabolic joy of fastidiously going through different options for my spoils (insert diabolical laugh).  Now this post has nothing to do with actually using said meat grinder but hey spoilers for future posts maybe?

In the meantime while I waited for my package to arrive I set my eyes on a pack of meaty beef short ribs I had purchased on a whim at one of our chain grocery stores.  I hadn’t really worked much with beef short ribs but a burger recipe I had been oogling used ground beef short ribs and I didn’t want it to go to waste so I went through my pantry to find out exactly what did I have that could possibly go with beef short ribs.  And viola.  Found beef broth, garlic, tomato paste as well as a bottle of Cabernet on my wine rack and a little fresh thyme still on my plant outside.  Might as well do a little braising.  Hallelujah!!!!image000004

One thing I love the most about this recipe is that it literally only uses 1 pan.  There isn’t any need to dirty multiple pans and spoons and bowls.  I love recipes like that, Kyle loves recipes like that and my dishwasher definitely loves recipes like that.  Another is that it’s not an expensive dish.  You can easily find beef short ribs on the bone for around $5.00 a pack and even cheaper if you go to a butcher shop.  You don’t need expensive wine and can easily grab a $10 bottle off the shelf and most everyone has beef stock, tomato paste and garlic in their house already so this is an easy meal to make for under $20.00

So braising.  What exactly is braising?  Braising is a two part cooking method in which you first brown the meat and or vegetables (yes you can braise vegetables) in a fat (searing and creating the Maillard reaction before cooking them low and slow for a long period of time in a minimal amount of liquid.  It is meant to help break down tough pieces of meat or fibrous vegetables to make them more tender and succulent.  It differs from stewing in the fact that you don’t completely submerge your item in liquid and it can be done with quite large pieces of meat as opposed to small pieces like stew meat.  And it can be done either on the stove or in the oven.  I prefer the oven in the off chance I have other things that need to occupy my stove top space.

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by the power of Maillard!!!!

The first step always is to make sure you have a clean work space.  We are going to be temporarily working with raw meat and you want to reduce the risk of any possible cross contamination because lets face it, food poisoning is a horrid horrid thing and I really don’t like the idea of anyone getting sick off of my cooking.  You will want to place a roasting pan on your stove and heat over a medium high heat.  This allows us to be able to brown our meat prior to transferring it to a hot oven for the braising portion of the recipe. While your pan is heating up take this opportunity to premix your salt & pepper that will be added to the beef short ribs prior to going into the pan.  This again helps reduce the chance of cross contamination as you can simply throw the rest away after using it.  Add a fair amount of olive oil to the roasting pan and heat until it starts to smoke.  We aren’t talking roaring clouds of Chernobyl, but just little whisps of smoke.  Generously season all sides of your beef spare ribs and place meaty side down in the pan (there is a bone in these hence the meaty side down comment).  You will want to essentially fry these until well browned on all sides for around 10-15 minutes.  This gives you plenty of time to wipe down your work station and prep the rest of your ingredients.  Take your bulbs of garlic (yes whole bulbs) and slice across the equator.  If you have a large elephant bulb of garlic 1 should do ya but if you’re like me I only had the little ones so I ended up using about 4, plus I am a huge fan of garlic so I always use a little extra. More isn’t always a bad thing.

image000006Once you’ve browned all sides of your short ribs, place the garlic cut side down pressing it into the pan.  Take 2 oz of tomato paste and also place into the pan,  be mindful that it may splatter and you want to just cook it out for a minute or two to start the caramelization process, pressing the paste into the bottom of the pan.  I always love the smell of tomato paste as it starts to cook out.  It goes from being this tart acidic smell to a rich roasty smell.  I know so scientific right?  It just smells good dammit!

You will want to de-glaze the pan and scrape up all the little bits of fond that got stuck to the bottom.  That is the flavor right there and you want to incorporate it into your braising liquid.  What? We aren’t even braising yet? Nope still in the prep stage but its worth it. Put your trust in me I shan’t steer you in the wrong direction. And what shall we de-glaze the pan with? Why an entire bottle of dry red wine. image000008 No…I’m not joking, a whole bottle.  All 750 ml into the pan.  We gonna do this we gonna do this right..Make sure you get a wine that you’ll enjoy drinking because those make the best to cook with. Pour the whole bottle in (don’t cry you should have another to drink while you wait) and scrape up the bits on the bottom.  Return to a boil and reduce liquid by half which can take about 10-20 minutes depending on how big your pan is.  Once reduced, add your beef stock and fill till it almost covers the short ribs, bring back to a boil and gently baste your ribs before transferring to the stove.  Congrats ya’ll.  You’ve successfully created your braising liquid.  Now it’s time to braise.  BRAISE THE LORD!!!!!

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drunk off the fumes but thats okay!

Carefully take aluminum foil and wrap your roasting pan prior to transferring to the oven.  Carefully place inside the oven, get a buddy to help you if the pan is hot and heavy and let it cook for 3-4 hours, basting every 30 minutes until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.  That’s it.  That’s the braising process. Complicated huh?  During the cook time you can do some laundry, watch a few episodes of Shameless, torture your cats by putting them in Halloween costumes….What?  I’d never do…..oh..okay so like once…..or um okay twice..Okay three times..I swear they love it though!

When the ribs are done and you’ve applied Bactine to all your cat scratches remove carefully from the oven and transfer the ribs to a separate place.  All that beautiful meaty rich liquid does not go to waste.  If you throw it away and I find out I’ll hunt you down and slap you silly.  That is a gorgeous demi-glace and should be enjoyed. image000002 Remove the garlic and place in a fine mesh sieve and press out all the braised roasted garlic pulp, and then in the same sieve strain the braising liquid.  You can at this point reduce it down if it is a little thin after incorporating the garlic paste or if its the right consistency place in a separate bowl for your guests.  I personally saute up some mushrooms and shallot and more garlic and add the demi-glace to the pan prior to plating and then drizzle over my short ribs.  You can pair this with anything.  A lovely polenta with the rib nestled on top would be lovely.  Some egg noodles and go a little more rustic always a winner or even eating it by itself with a lovely vibrant salad.  Its all up to you.  I hope you enjoy!

Mangia! 

Recipe:

Oven temp 340 F / 170 C

Total cooking time 5 hours

Ingredients

6 large beef bone in short ribs

750 ml dry red wine

3 cloves garlic split horizontal

2 oz tomato paste

salt/pepper to season

4-6 cups Beef Stock (depending on size of pan)

 

Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Fire

Some of the best things in life started out as a pipe dream for a kid who was told “No”.  No you can’t do this.  No you can’t be that. But what about those kids who heard that “no” and decided to make it their own personal “Yes”.  I’ve always been inspired by those individuals who decide one day that they don’t want to be a shill to corporate america and take that leap into the great unknown to follow their dream and their passion.  One of those individuals is Chef Chris Oh of Seoul Sausage Co. based out of Koreatown in Los Angeles, California.

I first learned about Seoul Sausage ala Netflix when I wandered across a show called The Great Food Race, hosted by Tyler Florence.  Now anyone who knows me knows that me + food show = entertained for hours, not to mention that my husband was interested in watching it.  We started with season 3 and the premise of the show was to compete in a cross country cooking challenge in the hopes of winning their own food truck plus a cash prize of $50,000.00.  I had my contenders and people I wanted to be voted off.  Two trucks which got me excited were Pop-A-Waffle and Seoul Sausage.  Their exuberance and excitement made them clearly the #1 contenders in my book and I could not help but binge watch the entire season and become more enthralled with their team, their food, and their passion to change their stars.  Ultimately Pop-A-Waffle was eliminated after making it to 3rd place; however Seoul Sausage took home the truck and the cash prize.  Not to shabby for three guys that took a chance on their dream.

 

One of the items that earned them the victory was their firey kimchi fried cheesy balls.  An homage to the Italian classic Arancini they put their own Korean twist on it and no joke I’ve been obsessed with them ever since.  I’ve just never made them.  Until now..And well….If I wasn’t a fan before?  I’m a true fan now and it’s only spurned my love of cooking Korean style food and has made me want to learn more recipes or make up my own.  The recipe is rather simple; however it’s not gospel to what Seoul Sausage has because I’ve not yet found a printed version of theirs so this is my interpretation of what is their OG classic.  While the ingredients are modest the flavor it packs is utterly amazing and you will be amazed at how fast this recipe comes together.

 ****recipe adaptation of Seoul Sausage Co****

Ingredients: makes 16-20 contingent on size

Rice

  • 1 ½ cup uncooked sticky rice
  • 2 cups water

Addins

  • ½ cup chopped kimchi (your option of spice level..i went with spicy!)
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (their recipe calls for cheddar..use whatever you like!)
  • 1 container of SPAM (yes..SPAM…no I’m not lying..seriously legit..SPAM) sliced into ½ inch slices and then quartered and chopped again
  • 4 tablespoons browned butter
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced jalapeno (they use habanero but I didn’t have any)
  • 1 heaping tablespoons gochujang**
  • 3 scallions finely chopped**
  • 4 cloves garlic finely minced**
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes**
  • Salt/pepper to taste

Breading

  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 2 eggs well beaten
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs

Wasabi Cream:

  • 1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons wasabi paste

Sriracha Aioli:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • pinch salt

**Optionals:  Keep in mind I don’t have their recipe so I wanted to have a little more flavor to mine and make them ultimate firey flaming balls**

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In a medium sauce pan you’re going to add your 1 ½ sticky rice with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Once at a boil, place a lid on and reduce the heat to low and let simmer for around 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed.  Turn off the heat and let sit covered for an additional 10 minutes and then fluff with a fork to separate the grains of rice before transferring to a large nonreactive bowl to cool to room temp (I use glass)

Once cooled mix together the rest of your ingredients for the add-ins until combined.  You can if you choose to keep this vegetarian omit the SPAM and if you choose to, you can even eat as is since all the components to this point are cooked…Not gonna lie..It is fucking tasty as hell in this form..I may have eaten a few prior to breading ^.^…WHAT? Its my kitchen don’t fucking judge me :P…

 

MIXINGSOnce mixed you are then going to essentially form your rice balls ala meatball style,  you can use a scoop if you have one or if you’re like me you can just use your hands because they are the best utensils we’ve got!. Scoop about 4 ounces or so out and form into a ball, placing them onto a cookie sheet until all balls are formed.  I stopped at 12 but this batch probably would have been able to make around 16-20.

Prior to breading you need to make the ever vital decision on To fry or not to fry.  It’s the eternal question that has plagued mankind for eons. Regardless of whatever cooking method you choose the end results are just as tasty.  If choosing to deep fry you will need either a fryer with vegetable oil or in my case since I don’t own a deep fryer a heavy bottom sauce pan and heat your oil up to 350 degrees.  If opting for the healthier option and you decide to bake your balls you will need to heat your oven up to 350 degrees; however you will need to chill our rice balls prior to frying to ensure they don’t dry out in the oven.  Frying takes about eeeh 3-5 minutes whilst baking takes about 20 with a rotation middle of the cook cycle. Totally up to your preference,  I won’t judge…a lot.image000004

While your method of cooking heats up you’ll want to set up a three part breading station of flour, beaten eggs, panko bread crumbs.  Why a three part?  Simple, the flour acts as a barrier between the wet surface of your frying item and the liquid (egg)  Without it, the liquid mixture (in this instance egg) has trouble adhering to the rice ball.  If the egg can’t stick then the breading falls off when frying and you’re left with well not good eats.  Keeping one hand clean for transferring the final product roll your rice ball around in the flour and pat off any extra.  Transfer your floured rice ball to the egg wash and roll it around.  The egg wash will cause the crumbs or meal to completely coat the ball and form a tight seal when it is cooked.  Then roll around in your breading of choice shaking off any extra.  You can either choose to cook these off later or allow them to sit in the fridge for around 30 minutes to ensure the breading sticks.  Last thing we want is lovely rice balls getting all blech (cooking term legit yo) and not crunchy/crispy.  If choosing to cook them off at a later date (ie the next date feel free to wrap them in cling film and leave in the fridge.

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fried balls…fried balls..FRIED BALLS!!!

 

When frying make sure to not drop the balls into the oil.  I find the best method is to use a pair of tongs because once these have set up in the fridge they are rather firm and can be handled a little roughly.  Place around 3-4 in your pan until the oil covers the tops and allow to fry until golden brown.  Remove from the oil and place on a cooling rack while you let your oil come back up to temperature.  You want to allow this to happen to help avoid getting a soggy crust.  We didn’t have much down time between frying and transferring to wait for the oil to come back up to 350.   Once complete serve with your favorite dipping sauce.  We opted for a sriracha aioli and a wasabi cream and as a finishing sprinkled a little of my Death Dust (dried powdered Carolina reapers)

I do have to say that these are an amazing little appetizer and surprisingly filling. I recommend if you are reheating them you avoid putting them in the microwave to avoid them getting soggy and smooshy (another cooking term..legit yo).  You can place them in a 400 degree oven on a lightly oiled baking sheet for 20-25 minutes (40-45 if frozen)

 

Enjoy!!!

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I feel like chicken tonight, like chicken tonight!

Sometimes even I, the avid chef and foodie, like to partake in creations that others make. Shocking I know but after working at my primary job at Wash U for 10-12 hours a day, I don’t always have that gusto and drive to stand in the kitchen for an hour or so making dinner for myself and for Kyle.  In the past few years St. Louis has become quite a little foodie mecha.  Food trucks, pop up dining events, we’ve developed quite a little food scene here.  And one thing that St. Louis sports a lot of are fried chicken restaurants.  We have fast food chains, mom and pop eateries, long standing chicken establishments and then we have the little hole in the wall all we serve are 5 dishes and they are all chicken type places.

I’ve always been of the mindset that if you are going to have a small single item driven menu then that item needs to be outstanding and on point.  I’d be ignorant to think that every plate might be the same but the food itself needs to be there or you’ll never really get anywhere.  Last night, Kyle inadvertently forgot to take the steaks I had planned on making for dinner out of the fridge to come to room temp.  Not wanting to eat at 8:00 at night we opted to have an impromptu date night close to home.  We picked Old Standard Fried Chicken located at 1621 Tower Grove Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110.

Located at the northern end of Tower Grove Park, Old Standard Fried Chicken roosts in what appears to be a converted garage.  A quaint patio area is fenced by planters which normally houses the four varieties of mint that the bar uses for its mixed drinks; however on our visit the mint appeared to have dried up in the insanely hot weather.   Walking in you immediately smell cedar and oak as the restaurant/bar itself is nothing but wood.  Exposed rafters line the concrete block walls and the old weathered floor gives that sort of refined industrial look to the space.  The light fixtures were few and spaced far between due to the copious amounts of windows that allow an exorbitant amount of natural light filter in and reflect off the white walls.  We were immediately greeted by our server and escorted to our table near the door.  The menu is pretty limited but when you have a name like Old Standard Fried Chicken I’d anticipate the menu being geared towards fried chicken and it was. With such “old standard” items like fried pickles, fried shrimps, mac and cheese and mashed potatoes the menu held promise that our choices, while limited, would be delicious.

Instead of defaulting to bottled soda or a crafted beer, Kyle and I chose to indulge with one of the housemade sodas.  A double cream and a strawberry cream.  At $3.75 a pop we were hoping for something more then a slim 8 oz glass half filled with ice (probably only roughly 4 oz of actual drink) with a dollop of whipped cream on top.  But for what it was which was a housemade soda it was delicious.  The “snack” we chose the fried horseradish pickles which were made in house and our main meal we each picked the chicken deal which contained two pieces of chicken of our choosing, 1 trimming and a biscuit.  Kyle chose the mac and cheese  and I opted for the meaty greens.  As we waited we enjoyed the atmosphere of the space.  It wasn’t loud or crowded and it was pleasant.  The wait staff was observant of when we needed our water refreshed and after about a 10 minute wait our pickles arrived.  I wish I could say that these were phenomenal; however the breading used simply tasted like unseasoned flour and did no justice to the sweet pickle slices hidden them.  The saving grace that added flavor to the snack was the spicy ranch dipping sauce and the sweet with a hint of heat pickle.  image000005

Our meal showed up around 10 minutes after our snack did.  At first glance I was excited at the prospect of having a good ole fashion fried chicken dinner. Our server provided us with little side cups of butter and orange marmalade for our biscuit and a little side cup of hot sauce.  One thing missing from the table was salt and pepper which was located next to the bar on a little side cart which housed their glasses.

First off the meaty greens.  Collard greens smothered in smoked bacon which hey you can’t go wrong with bacon, but me not really being a huge pork fan I just ate around them.  First thing right off the bat the dish was lacking in seasoning.  Again there was a void where salt and an acid should be.  The greens were still slightly crispy but given the fact that they weren’t seasoned did not make up for that.  Kyle’s mac and cheese looked rather ooey and gooey but when I tried it I found our common theme.  The dishes simply lacked any sort of flavoring.   Sad really given the fact that this meal cost us $10.95 per person.  Would the chicken be any better?  I soon received that answer.  No it wasn’t.  I never really knew that it was hard to mess up fried chicken; however by eliminating any sort of brine or season it tasted dry and the rather harsh flour taste from the breading did not leave me much hope for redemption in this dish or this restaurant.  I know I’m picky but when you have to drown a piece of chicken in hot sauce to partake any sort of flavor something is seriously wrong.

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Johnny Down Bourbon Neat

The only saving grace besides the amazing whiskey and bourbon selection was the dessert.  Originally I had ordered the turtle pudding but was told it was out of stock, our server suggested the banana pudding, which per reviews of the restaurant was raved as a must have.  It was wonderfully thick and you could actually taste the bananas and it did not give an artificial chemical taste.  It was legitimate banana pudding which after much coercing Kyle tried along with his Johnny Down bourbon.

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Sadly, our experience at Old Standard Fried Chicken was not good.  After speaking to our server she advised us that the “chef” in the kitchen had only been there for about 3 weeks or so, but given that rather off reviews have been given about the food for a few months it more then likely is an ongoing trend.  Don’t get me wrong, I strongly recommend this place if you are a bourbon/whiskey fan and also want a good pudding, but if you are looking for old fashioned fried chicken you’d had more lucky in the drive through line at KFC a mile down the road.  Old Standard Fried Chicken?  More like No Standard Fried Chicken.  Sorry guys but the chicken is gonna be put down..and not in a good way  /sadpanda

 

The kind of rolls you wanna see in the summer

Well, I personally want to thank everyone out there who this winter wished for summer weather.  God has answered your prayers and parked Satan’s backside right here over the Gateway city.  It has been insanely hot.  So hot in fact that the idea of eating anything remotely warm is enough to make me toss down my towel, walk away from the kitchen and refuse to cook.  I loathe being in the kitchen during the summer.  It’s just not right to stand over a pot of boiling water when it’s almost hot enough to fry an egg on the asphalt.  So how I battle the heat is I eat things that require minimum cooking time or if at all possible no cooking time.  I fear for Kyle’s meat eating ways as he is in for a sore surprise when he realizes that any possibility of a roast chicken or lasagna dish will not happen until fall in my house.

With that being said there are plenty of quick dishes that you can prepare and prepare ahead of time that will allow you to enjoy your dark cool living room or if you are truly one of those summer masochists that feel the urge to go outside these are a light yet filling snack or meal that will satisfy you on your journeys into hell and back.  Fresh spring/summer rolls.

Wait.  Isn’t a spring roll fried?  Yes it is but these are the non fried variety commonly called fresh spring rolls or fresh summer rolls.  What’s the difference?  It’s not fried….oh wait you meant between the spring and summer.  A spring roll can be either fresh or fried and can be found in many different varieties in many different countries (egg rolls, lumpia).  A summer roll is a specific Vietnamese wrapped in fresh rice paper.  Spring rolls also often contain meat where as the summer roll is primarily vegetarian but can be served with shrimp and even sometimes pork.  Spring rolls are also made with a wheat flour skin made with egg in the base and summer rolls made with a translucent rice flour skin.  Either way both are good eats and I enjoy them frequently either by themselves or as an accompany to another dish.

You are only going to be limited with this recipe if you don’t care for fresh vegetables.  That isn’t an issue in my home so the fillings are only limited by what we might have in the crisper drawers.  But for the sake of this entry I’ll just post the standard typical fillings as well as a fun dipping sauce made out with peanut butter.  The majority of all the ingredients if not all of them in fact can be found at your local international grocery store.

Ingredients: Rolls

  • Rice Paper Skins (Circle/Square)-1 per roll
  • Rice Vermicelli Noodles (2 oz)-Can be omitted ****
  • 1/2 cup julienne carrots
  •  1/2 cup julienne cucumbers (seedless variety)
  • mixed greens or romaine lettuce leaves torn in half
  • cilantro
  • basil (i prefer Thai basil but regular basil will work in a pinch)
  • 6 poached shrimp cut in half (3 halves per roll depending on size) (leave the shell on but de-vein prior to poaching)

Ingredients: Peanut Sauce

  • 1/4 c. creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon lemon/lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
  • 2 tablespoons water

 

 

In a medium sized stock pot heat water to boiling and drop in your shrimp, shell on.  You can choose to season the water with some salt, peppercorns and bay leaf if you feel like it. Turn off the heat and place a lid on and let poach for 5 minute or until they turn pink.  Remove from the water and let chill in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and set to the side.  Refill the same stock pot and bring your water to a boil for your noodles.  Once at a boil, submerge your noodles, turn off the heat and lid the pot and let it sit for 3-7 minutes (vague i know but hey i don’t make the noodles).  We are just wanting the noodles to become soft.  Remove from the hot water and since in cold water for 30 seconds and let sit to the side to drain.  I normally will separate out my noodles into little bundles and let them sit on a paper towel while I finish my prep.

On a clean cutting board place down a piece of parchment paper or if you have it a silicone pad.  This will help the rice paper skin to not adhere to your work surface, potentially causing it to rip when filling.  In a large saute pan fill with warm water, not hot.  The reason we dont want hot water is we dont want to cause the sheet of rice paper to buckle and curl.  Just warm.  Submerge your rice paper and move around for 20 seconds until soft and pliable,  once the rice paper starts to soften time is against you as it will keep on absorbing any moisture left on the skin.  Gently dab with a paper towel and start filling with your choice stuffings. Be careful not to over stuff as it can potentially cause it to break and you will have to start all over.

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So sadly with these photos I overstuffed my summer roll because I was being impatient but it’s just for a point of reference.  You don’t have to follow this method for putting your items on in any sense of the word.  In fact they recommend you stack it side to side instead of on top of each other but meh to each his/her/their own.

So lay a small bundle of rice noodles down spreading out evenly (love how mine is even?!).  Next you’ll place next, on it your other vegetables (lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, peppers.  I recommend if doing avocado put your avocado slices UNDER your noodles.  Lay your shrimp or protein of choice at the top.  If using shrimp make sure the pink side is face down on the rice paper so it can show through for the finished product .   I prefer having a green background against the pink of the shrimp as its more visually appealing and as everyone knows, we eat visually before we actually eat.

image000001 When you’ve got you’re desired fillings on the skin you have a few different methods of folding this bad boy shut.  You can either choose to fold in the side’s first and then roll it up ala burrito style.  You can start to roll from the bottom and then fold in the sides.  It’s whatever is easy for you and best suits you.  You do however want to make sure you roll it tight enough to keep the contents together. I do a three roll roll image000003.  Once over the noodles, once over the veggies and the last one to seal it up and show off the protein (again if using one.  It’s totally optional).  If making more then one be sure to cover with a damp towel to avoid the skin from drying out and breaking.

 

 

These are commonly considered appetizers but with the hot weather hellbent on destroying my desire to cook a warm dish these have been a fantastic meal replacement.  Give me two with some peanut sauce on the side and I am a happy camper!.  By all means swap out and put zucchini in, some jicama.  Not feeling veggies make this with fruit!  Just nothing to liquidy or you’re gonna get a soggy mess.  Don’t want noodles?  Keep em out.  Nothing is set in stone with this recipe which makes it a versatile meal.  Slice in half, plate it up and enjoy with a nice glass of iced tea or a cold iced Vietnamese coffee 🙂

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***if not wanting to use rice vermicelli noodles you can always substitute them for cellophane noodles instead.  Or even omit them entirely.

 

 

 

 

I’m gonna gnocchi you out

I seem to be on a veritable roll this week with keeping this blog updated.  Go me for being either productive or not productive enough.  Das macht nichts (go on..you know you wanna look it up.  It means neither this/that doesn’t matter..My papa says it TONS!!!).  Whilst registering for the upcoming wedding I had made a mental reminder to ask for a gnocchi board because its insanely tedious to roll those little buggers out and then get the ridges with the back of a fork. And it reminded me that crap it’s Wednesday.  My normal dining partner had other plans and I had nothing to make for dinner.  Thank the Gods that the little corner store by my house has probably the most random things for sale.  Gustine’s Market.  If you’re a St. Louis resident that lives in South City I recommend you stop in and get a sample of wine and a Serendipity drumstick from the freezer section.  It’s amazing.  Plus the people are rather friendly so that’s a perk.

I never normally know ahead of time what I want for dinner when it’s just me cooking for myself. I’m perfectly content with cutting open an avocado and eating that for dinner; however my husband Kyle gets rather miffed if he realizes that I didn’t eat something that had some form of protein.  So when I got home I made a quick detour to Gustine’s Market and wandered the small tiny store and stumbled across the frozen gnocchi.  Now normally I make my own but with it being already 6 pm and me having not really the motivation to make homemade pasta I opted to go with one at least made locally.  Maria & Son’s.  I’m not ashamed.  Hey I’m pretty sure Gordan Ramsey at one point in his career has opted for something made by someone else in the name of saving time.  Don’t you shame me!

So off I go home with my tiny bag of perfectly rolled, frozen potato dumplings when I catch a whiff of what the neighbors were cooking.  I love my neighborhood.  It’s so…aromatic.  Coconut, cumin, curry powder.  Mmmmm Thai food and as we all know I am a sucker for a good Thai dish. And if you didn’t know, you know now.  Curry, gnocchi, I knew damn well I had sugar snap peas in my garden as well as some mushrooms and a ton of fresh basil.  The only question was, did I have all the ingredients to make my own curry slurry.  More then likely yes but did I want to take the time to make one from scratch?  Eeeeeeh Wednesday night, worked 12 hours at my primary job the answer to that was a no so this was a quick no fuss no muss idea.  And the results were awesome.

image000001Now I’ll never be one of this individuals that just use a pre made mix as is.  I always feel that it can be more of a “homemade” dish if you doctor it up some and while I was going to use a pre made curry paste the aromatics would be all me.  Now when a recipe calls for say 2 cloves of garlic minced I take that as a “suggestion” and always double it.  Never be stingy on the garlic as it is your friend.  So to my pre made paste I added my own aromatics.  Sweated the paste off with some onion till fragrant and then added the curry paste (red) and toasting it off.  I find toasting the paste adds an additional depth of flavor.  Kind of like when you toast tomato paste.  It helps deepen and concentrate the flavors, plus as I’ve gotten older I find I need bolder flavors in order to really appreciate my food.  More spice to counter balance the fact my taste buds over the course of the years have committed ritual seppuku to the God of Time.  Toss in some coconut milk and whatever vegetables you want and let them bubble away on low till your pasta/rice/chicken/whatever else you’re pairing it is with is cooked.  If you are going to use root vegetables I recommend parboiling them first or you will be waiting for a while for them to get soft and nothing says “this is….tasty o.0” like biting into a hard chunk of potato..Mmmmmm starchy..yeah no.  Sadly though albeit normal for me, by the time dinner was done cooking I wasn’t hungry but hey at least I have lunch for tomorrow (now today cause I’m a Time Lord and I can bend space

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Now for the meat…or rather meatless portion of the post.  The actual recipe.  I kind of made it up as I went along but here’s the gist of it.  You will need the following for a serving for two individuals.

  • 5 cloves garlic crushed and rough chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried lemon grass
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thai chili powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed coriender
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 white/yellow onion sliced thin and diced\
  • 2 tablespoons pre made curry paste (I use Mai Ploy-Massaman Curry Paste)
  • 12 oz coconut milk (milk not cream..dont make the same mistake I’ve made…before)
  • vegetable add ins:  I used baby bellas and peas 
  • pasta/gnocchi/whatever you are doing this with
  • chopped fresh basil

Take all ingredients and place into a mortar and pestle and pound away whilst thinking about that person who spurned you back when you were younger.  Or the fact that you’re favorite sportsball team isn’t doing well this season.  Goooo Sportsball!.  If you do not have a mortar and pestle whirl it away in a food processor/magic bullet/ninja/etc. Place in a small dish and put it to the side to allow it to rest.

In a medium sauce pan heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and saute onions.  We want to achieve a little bit of the Maillard reaction (browning) to allow the inherent sweetness of the vegetable to show up.  This also allows the enzymes and amino acids found in the onion to change at the molecular level as to help stave off any potential threat of turning the garlic in the aromatics a blue green.  This occurs because of a chemical reaction between the enzymes/amino acids and the acidity in the garlic when the two items meet and mingle.  FOR SCIENCE!!!!.  Once you’ve achieved the desired level of browning add your aromatics and let them mingle until they become fragrant.  This should take only about 1 minute.  Any longer and you run the risk of burning your garlic and that can provide a rather acrid note to the dish.

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This is listed as a spicy curry paste so if your tastes are more mellow and calm you can by all means use the green curry paste or yellow.  This is all based off your personal preference.  I like spicy food but I am not biased in any sense of the word.  Add in your curry paste and allow it to toast.  How do you know if it’s toasting?  It will take on a deeper darker hue of red.  This only takes about a minute and a half max and you want to watch it to ensure it doesn’t burn.  Switch your spatula for a whisk and incorporate your coconut milk into your paste.  Add your mushrooms and let simmer on a medium low while you prepare your pasta/rice.  If it becomes to thin by all means thin with a little vegetable stock or even some white wine, water, a little more coconut milk or some half and half.  Add your peas at the last 5 minutes of cooking.  Nothing worse then mushy peas.  Top with fresh chopped basil and serve in warmed bowls

There ya go.  Total time depending on what you’re having with it no more then an hour if doing chicken or less then 25 if doing pasta with shrimp.  I opted to keep this a vegetarian dish but did have poached shrimp on the side for my protein.  Not to shabby for a Wednesday and goes to show that premade doesn’t always have to be boring as long as you add your own little twist to it.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

ba ba ba ba ba Ramen

Like most college kids…hey..I work at a University…it still applies, we find ourselves living off of what seems to be an endless supply of ramen noodles; however have you ever looked at the back of that little celophane package of instant noodle soup?  If you haven’t then don’t because you will be mortified at what it shows you.  But when it comes to convenience it’s a staple to many of us both here in the states as well as across the globe be it college student, single parent, lazy gamer who doesn’t know how to cook.  Plus at times it can be pretty tasty.  But why not try it a little healthier.  Cut out all the sodium and save your heart and kidneys from having to do some unnecessary work.  How?  By doing it this way.

You can opt to use a pack of instant ramen noodles and just throw away the flavorings or you can go purchase some ramen noodles at a local distributor or asian market.  This recipe calls for the package we all have in our pantries, cupboards or possibly in the trunk of our cars.  It also features one of my most favorite fermented things to eat.  Can you guess what it is?  😀

You will need the following ingredients/tools

  • 3 cups of H2O
  • 1/2 cups of funky kimchi (you can use whatever brand you like at whatever level of heat)
  • 1/4 cup of bean sprouts
  • 1 tablespoon white rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil (i like to toast mine before adding it. personal preference and will not take away from your experience)
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (if you don’t have smoked paprika try toasting it in a dry pan to bring out the flavor but be careful as it can burn quickly)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 crushed black peppercorns (if you have Szechuan use those)
  • 2 packages of organic ramen noodles.   Or if using instant 1 package sans seasoning packages

Garnish:

  • 1 green onion chopped on the bias (green portion only)
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped kimchi

Now comes the easy part.  Like no joke its seriously simple.  Add all the ingredients to a medium sized sauce pan.  No seriously this is one of those kinds of dishes.  Toss the lot in.  Bring to a boil and cover and continue to boil for 8-10 minutes for organic noodles and about 4-5 for the instant noodles (this allows the kimchi to soften a bit).  Divide into bowls and top with the chopped green onions and kimchi and eat.

 

easy peasy lemon squeezy 🙂

I never cared for Stroganoff. She said that like a Romanov

 

Sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while.  Work and life have both been insanely crazy and busy with wedding planning and all that other fun stuff that goes with the new four letter word “Adulting” *twitches*.  But I have been cooking and I’ve been deciding on what to blog about.

It’s no hidden secret that I find great comfort in the kitchen.  It’s my sanctuary.  My “man cave”.  It’s where I can go and vent frustrations of the day by pounding out some dough or violently whipping of egg whites.  It’s therapy for me.  I’ve always had this dream of opening up a bakery that has an afternoon program geared towards teens who have a difficult home life where they can come and vent their frustrations through the creation of food.  I hope some day to make that dream a reality.

Why is cooking so therapeutic for me?  I wish I had the answer.  Maybe it’s because I have so many positive memories associated with cooking.  Standing in the kitchen on the holidays with a glass of wine watching my aunts and uncles shoot the shit while trimming green beans, filling pie crusts.  I associate the kitchen with a moment of happiness.  Huh…guess I did have the answer after all ;)…One of my most favorite people to be in the kitchen with is probably a tie between my father and my grandmother.  Probably only natural considering they are mother and son.  My father has taught me so many fine things such as how to make potato soup, foccacia, how to grill, how to tie my shoes (not really cooking related but important nonetheless).  My grandmother however taught me that the preparation of a meal is meant to be done with love for those eating it.  They will be able to taste your feelings in your food and your food reflects you at your core.  And that is very true.  When I’m in a funk it totally shows in my cooking.  I burn things, it tastes bland or over seasoned.  It’s a hot fucking mess I tell you what.  But when I’m happy and in that zone where everything is just right everything is awesome.  Everything is cool cause you’re part of the team!!! Another thing my grandmother taught me was how to make stroganoff.  Just saying that word makes me think of her and how her kitchen would smell when she would make it.  The onions, mushrooms,  the bits of skirt steak or if she couldn’t afford it, ground beef.  And the sour cream…..Good God those were some amazing combinations of smells.  She taught me how to make her version of stroganoff when I was 10 and it’s the recipe I’ve used for near 30 years and it will be the one I teach Ari my niephew (not a typo) and my children (if I ever have any).  But until then I’ll share it with you all 🙂

 

For this recipe you will need the following ingredients.  I will also list appropriate substitutions should you have difficulty finding certain items or if they are outside your dinner budget. This can also be easily made into a vegetarian option by subbing out and omitting certain items.

  • 1 1/2 lbs skirt steak  sliced 1/2 inch thick (you can use ground beef if you can’t find skirt steak) ****
  • 2 medium yellow onions sliced thin ( I recommend using a mandolin if you have one)
  • 4 cloves garlic finely minced into a paste (or you can use garlic paste in a tube)
  • 12 oz sliced portobello mushrooms (I recommend using baby bellas)****
  • 1 1/2 c. beef stock****
  • 1/4 c. butter or margarine
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 c. AP flour
  • 1 1/2 c sour cream (you can substitute this with Greek yogurt for a healthier option)

**** For a vegetarian option omit the beef and substitute for 1 1/2 pounds of portobello mushroom caps.  Use the large variety for a more “meaty” mouth feel.  Also substitute the beef stock for vegetable stock****

Now to put it all together.

  •  Take a large skillet and cook your mushrooms, onions, garlic and butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are tender.  Once done remove from the pan and reserve in a bowl to be added at the end of the cooking process. If opting for a vegetarian version of this dish skip the browning stage of the meat in step 2 and continue with the instructions.
  • While your vegetables are sauteing take your skirt steak and slice across the grain into 1 1/2 inch strips.  Place the beef strips (or ground beef) into the skillet and brown on all sides.  Take note to not over crowd the pan as the meat will then stew instead of brown.  We want to achieve the Maillard effect**  Once brown on all sides stir in 1 cup of broth and the Worcestershire sauce.  Bring contents to a boil and then reduce to allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes.  If using ground beef drain out extra fat before adding the broth and omit the 30-45 minute braising step. While you braise your skirt steak, take remaining broth and stir in 1/4 c. AP flour to make a slurry.  This is your thickening agent to make the creamy velvet sauce that we all know and love.
  • Stir in your broth flour mixture back into the beef mixture.  Add your mushroom and onions back to the pan and heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Once at a boil stirring constantly for 1 minute.  This will activate the flour and the fat in the pan and help thicken the sauce.  Stir in your sour cream and heat till hot (do not allow to boil!!!!).
  • Serve over egg noodles with a chunk of crusty bread to sop up all the goodness at the end.

Helpful tips

Partially freeze your beef prior to slicing as this will actually make it easier.  Place in the freezer for about 20 minutes or so.

Always use a sharp knife.  This will help make the process easier as well as help avoid any accidents.  I’ve cut myself many a time due to a dull blade slipping and cutting my hand.  Sharp knives save lives………no seriously…okay they end lives too but in this instance I don’t want to end up with 9 fingers.

If you dont feel like pasta try subbing out pasta and turning it into a pizza using the mushroom beef gravy as your sauce and top with a little mozzarella baking in an oven at 450 until bubbly.  I recommend using a more bready crust like Boboli to avoid any sogginess.

ENJOY!!!!!

Inside the pages of the Gastronomicon-Warm Mushroom Salad

With spring upon us and the ebbing cold weather our grocery stores are seeing the arrivals of the first spring harvest of vegetables.  This is an opportune time to indulge in a post winter fat gaining cleanse and clean out our stomachs, our arteries and our bowels.  I myself am extremely excited at the notion that this year is my first year at attempting urban farming.  Living in the heart of the St Louis it is difficult to locate a space large enough to plant a small vegetable garden.  I am lucky enough to live next to my parents who have a back yard that is just perfect for a small garden bed.  Plus with the abundant excess of milk crates found at local gas stations, grocery stores and flea markets I also am able to do small scale container planting on my own back porch.

It seems that every spring I have a tendency to shake off the shackles of MEAT!!! and don the garbs of vegetarianism.  I dont know exactly what it is about spring that just makes me want to enjoy a plate of greens over a burger.  More then likely its the impending onset of summer and having  lived in a non AC apartment for the majority of my adult life the idea of a hot kitchen is not appealing.  This year will be no different even though I now have central air and an apartment that keeps cool I still wont want to spend any extended amounts of time in the kitchen.  So to the veggies I go with the gusto and reverberant joy of a squirrel to horde away for the next six to seven months the bounty of my garden and the local farmers markets.

One of the things about eating vegetarian is having enough of a variety to ensure that you are maintaining your nutritional needs each day.  That means vitamins, proteins and minerals OH MY!!!!  One thing I struggled with initially during my 3 year stint as a vegetarian following my bariatric surgery was protein.  I never seemed to get enough protein.  I also wasn’t as adventurous with my cooking so my diet was rather limited.  Now, the second time around I have read up and resourced more in depth what is need to one ensure i don’t become malnourished and 2 that I don’t hit any stalls with weight loss due to protein deficiency.  So before venturing into the world of vegetarianism please consult a registered dietician to ensure that you are not causing harm to yourself as you start your path to a healthier meat free/reduced meat diet.

Warm Mushroom Salad with mixed Greens 

This is a simple herbaceous salad that offers amazing mouth feel to those who are just starting out on the veggie brick road.  Mushrooms are often called the steaks of the fungus world because they offer enough of textural difference and “meaty” taste that they can often be subbed out in many of your meat recipes like stroganoff, sloppy joes, meatloaf, burgers.  The one thing I enjoy most about mushrooms are the fact that they are high in minerals.  One such important nutrient is selenium. While meat, seafood, grains, and nuts have excellent levels of the mineral, mushrooms are the only produce that have high levels of it, so they are especially important to include in your diet if you are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. I.e they are good eats and should be considered a stable in your diet plan. Now to the recipe which hey is the main reason why you are here right?

  • 8-10 oz your choice mushrooms {with the exception of white button mushrooms.  Think shiitake, portobello, oyster.  The meatier the better)
  • 1/2 diced white/yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic minced to a paste
  • greens: can be any lettuce, dark green, leafy green you want!
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon good quality olive oil
  • coarse sea salt (to taste)
  • fresh cracked black pepper (to taste)
  • 4 tablespoons favorite crumbled cheese (feta, goat, bleu, etc.) or shaved Parmesan 
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice 
  • croustini (optional)
  • prosciutto (optional)

In a medium sized fry skillet heat on medium heat 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  We are going to dismiss the myth that the addition of olive oil will help increase the smoke factor of butter.  Rubbish.  Regardless of the addition of oil at 375 degrees evaporation of water in the butter occurs causing the release of butter fats and milk proteins which can cause smoking.  The addition of oil personally just imparts an additional depth of flavor.  You can choose to omit this if necessary.  Once butter is melted and foaming add your mushrooms and onion and toss to coat.  Allow this to sweat for around 5 minutes until onions start to become translucent in color and then add 1 teaspoon of salt.  We don’t necessarily want to saute the vegetables as we dont want to impart any additional coloring. Then add the garlic paste and gently fold in.  Once you begin to smell garlic allow to sweat for an additional minute while you make your dressing.

In a medium non-reactive bowl (preferably glass) add your lemon juice (fresh squeezed preferably-juice those yellow orbs of love!!!!) and your salt and pepper and then slowly whisk in your olive oil to create an emulsion, or you can place it all in a jar, seal and shake the fuck out of it!!!! Work out those frustrations plus your biceps at the same time 🙂  In a separate bowl add your greens, micro greens, dandelion leaves and slowly pour the dressing along the circumference of the bowl.  This allows the ability to allow the dressing to go to the bottom of the bowl giving you the opportunity to gently coat your greens.  We don’t want them swimming in dressing so be gentle with this.  Once dressed sprinkle with another teaspoon of sea salt and cracked black pepper before transferring to serving dishes.

Divide your greens into two bowls and top with your mushrooms.  At this point you will add whatever cheese you like or if you are wanting to add an additional protein, thin slices of prosciutto.  I enjoy a chèvre (goat cheese) with mine but it’s your personal preference.  Pair it up with a couple slices of toasted croustini rubbed with raw garlic and enjoy.  This dish can be served as the salad course or the main entree and can be paired with your choice of white wine either dry or sweet or paired with a rose.

One of the interesting experiences I had with this salad was that before I was able to enjoy it I smelled beef stroganoff.  It was the most surreal thing and the meatiness of the oyster mushrooms satisfied the craving I had for beef.  I hope you enjoy making this and eating it with your family as I did 🙂

Je Suis Sous Vide

Christmas came early this year at my house.  It came hella early.  Like before Easter early. And it came in the form of an Avona Sous Vide Precision Circulator.  Yes the key to this girl’s heart are kitchen gadgets.  Don’t buy me diamonds or pearls, buy my love with a shiny new immersion blender or knife set.  For probably the last 3 months I’ve been eyeballing different sous vide contraptions.  Some ranging as much as $3000 easy to as cheap as $179.00.  All I know is with a wedding to save for and bills to be paid the dream would need to stay just that….a dream…Until my amazing husband Kyle told me over breakfast that he ordered me the Avona.  Well..You can just imagine at how ecstatic I was to hear that news and crepes soon found their way into his belly that morning..No that’s not a euphemism for something else.  God!  I made him crepes because he wanted them and I now had a valid excuse to make them!

Well let me tell you something, last week waiting for this thing to get to me was the LONGEST week imaginable for a chef.  New toy on the way, recipes upon recipes looked out and decisions as to what would first find its way into a vac bag for the first sous vide test. But what exactly is sous vide and why am I so interested in owning a gadget that costs about the same as my car payment.  Sous vide is a school of cooking where you place an item inside of a bag and vacuum seal it prior to cooking.  This can be done with a vacuum sealer or if you don’t happen to own one by submerging your ziplock bag into a bath of hot water and using the displacement of pressure to force the air out.  What people more commonly associate with as “sous vide cooking” is the submersion of a sealed package into a temperature controlled water bath.  The results are almost always identical and yield results that cannot be achieved through conventional cooking methods.  Anyone who has cooked a steak knows that its almost next to impossible to get the same results steak after steak after steak.  Cooking a steak via the sous vide method takes out the guess work as well as the babysitting that goes along with cooking pretty much anything.  It’s like Ron Popeil use to say “You set it, and forget it”.

image000000When I first started this blog post I had only had my Avona for 3 days and believe me you I put that puppy through the ringer.  I sous vide eggs, pork belly, steak, shrimp, egg yolks in oil (yup) but I wasn’t sure exactly what to make the focus of this entry about.  Until last night (queue wavey trippy flashback music).  On Saturday, prior to hanging out with my friend Ruby, I made a stop at one of the local grocery stores as I’m known to do.  Let’s face it, I have a rather healthy relationship with the grocery stores here and I see multiple ones. Anyways enough about my torrid love affair with the produce aisles.  As I roamed amongst the cabbages and the leeks I steered my feet towards the seafood section.  An odd thing about the Schnucks in St. Louis is that each one is slightly different.  One might have a extensive cheese section, one might have a large kitchen supply section and this one had a lovely seafood section.  After pondering between the salmon, the swordfish and the tuna I opted to purchase a lovely pink yellowfin tuna steak.

So why sous vide.  What makes sous vide cooking such an optimal way of cooking?  Primarily it deals with being able to control the environment in which your food is placed in.  Through conventional methods of cooking the heat comes from the cook top, heating the water and the food in it.  You have a harder time in maintaining a controlled temperature and the nutrients of the food are then leached out into the water and subsequently dumped down the drain.  With sous vide cooking the water is heater and then circulated around your food which heats and cooks it thus reducing the leaching of nutrients into the water.  This is primarily because most sous vide are done within a bag with the exception of eggs but they are kept either in an oil bath and heated indirectly or in their shell.  Another perk is quality control.  I find that I am able to get more consistent results cooking sous vide then I would say grilling a steak or poaching an egg on the stove. While there will be some slight discrepancies from steak to steak I can successfully cook 2 steaks of the same thickness at the same time and both of them come out rare.  That is hard to do in a small home kitchen without causing an endless amount of smoke.

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Some people will probably say that the downside to doing sous vide is the amount of time it takes to do something as simple as an egg.  While yes 45 minutes for a poached egg seems silly I rather enjoy the long cooking process.  It actually is beneficial to me as I do multiple things while I cook and it frees me up and gives me the freedom to step away from the kitchen and actually enjoy my day.  So the long cooking time is not a negative its actually a positive.    So back to my yellowfin tuna.  Isn’t it beautiful?  A lovely fat fish with beautiful marbling and a vibrant pink color.  No fishy odor here which indicates that it was fresh albeit previously frozen but I didn’t have time this time to go to Bob’s Seafood in hopes they had tuna available.  Plus this was an impulse trip so ya know ya make due with what ya gots.

The preparation of the tuna was rather minimal.  I had decided to go with Asian as that seems to be the most traditional use of this beautiful fish.  Simply tossing it into a skillet and cooking it up did not seem to do this justice.  My marinade was three simple ingredients that should be in most peoples pantries.  Ponzu sauce, garlic chili sauce and honey.  If you don’t happen to have ponzu sauce a viable substitution is soy sauce and adding either half a lemon, lime or orange.

Marinade:

1/3 c. honey (i use organic local because I have it readily available to help with allergies)

1/2 c. ponzu sauce

1 tbls. garlic chili sauce

You will want to combine all your ingredients and whisk until combined and set it aside while you prepare your tuna.  The bag preparation will be solely your decision.  If you happen to have a food saver you are more then welcome to vac seal your fish for storage and cooking or if you happen to have freezer grade resealable bags then by all means use that but you may want to double up.  If you are using a resealable bag you will want to remove as much air as possible to avoid it from floating to the service.  The suggested method is called the Archimedes Principle (displacement method).  Once your sous bath has come up to the desired temperature you simply place your open pouch in the water and the pressure will force the air out causing a vacuum seal around your food.  You would simply either zip the bag closed or you can clip it to the side of your stock pot or Rubbermaid bin.  The reason for the double up is to ensure that the bag doesn’t have a seam fail and you find your food floating around like so many a passenger on the Titanic  (what?  to soon? There was totally room on that door!)

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Prior to cooking my pouch of love I placed it in the fridge to allow a quick marinade and then put it in the freezer for partially freeze the fish.  The reason for this was to ensure that during the water bath process that it didn’t overcook.  I wanted the interior to stay as pink as humanly possible.  It took about 5 minutes to bring the water up to temp.  I opted to not use hot water as it would have been hotter then my target temp of 110 F (43.3 C).  Once I heard the three beeps I inserted my bag in and set the timer for 30 minutes and walked away to enjoy the world outside the kitchen.  I’ve been told that its rather lovely out there!  Now with any other cooking method with the exception of an oven I would not be able to go and sit down and watch an episode or two of The Flash or even grab a shower.  I’d be chained to the kitchen to make sure that the fish didn’t overcook or burn.  This also allows me the luxury of it going  longer then it need be without ruining the dish because the water is held at a constant temp.  Once the timer went off I removed the bag from the oven and put it back in the freezer for another 15-20 minutes while I finished preparing the rest of the meal.  For this application I opted for a complete Asian dish and paired it with glazed shiitake mushrooms with bok choy over jasmine rice.  I’ll post the complete recipe at the bottom. The reason for the second refreezing was if I opted to do a flash sear for color and because I was covering the steak with black and white sesame seeds I wanted a bit of a crunch.  This ensures that the flash sear wont cause to much color on the fish.

 

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I won’t lie.  Whenever I do something new I always hold it in the back of my head that there is the slight possibility that I will jack it up and it will be ruined.  Thems the breaks when you cook.  Sometimes something will work out perfectly and other times it will be a huge plate of fail.  But you never give up and you always try again and hope for different results.  Needless to say I was quite satisfied with how the yellowfin tuna turned out. The center of the fish was a glorious vibrant pink with just the slight hint of color to the edge.  It was fully cooked yet provided the slight hint of raw texture.  It would have been fine either with or without the sesame seeds as those were more for aesthetic and the accompaniment was  amazing.  Yes it took around 2 hours for a dish that could have easily taken 30 minutes.  Yes I could have easily dirtied 3 or 4 more pans to get the end result yet with the sous vide the pot is still clean as the bag never failed, the water is essentially sanitized and hot enough to effectively wash my dishes afterwards. I just choose not to.  This way allowed me time to spend with my husband Kyle and relax and not feel stressed out over making sure everything was right.  And that in and of itself is worth the price of this machine.  I’ve made beautiful meals with it.  I will make more beautiful meals and if it means planning a meal a week in advance then I’m cool with that.  There are other ways of accomplishing a sous vide technique without spending $200.00 for an Avona.  One suggested way is filling an insulated beer cooler with hot water and setting up an insta-read thermometer and making sure its not in a cold place.  You may get 1-2 degrees of temperature change but hey if it works then more power to everyone!.  Until then remember that you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to cooking.  Always challenge yourself in the kitchen and you will create beautiful works of art.

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Manga!!!

Sous Vide Yellow Fin Tuna:

Marinade: (per steak)

  • 1/3 c. honey (i use organic local because I have it readily available to help with allergies)
  • 1/2 c. ponzu sauce
  • 1 tbls. garlic chili sauce
  • 1 pound yellowfin or ahi tuna steak

Mix all ingredients together in a small non-reactive bowl.  Place fish into vac bag/resealable zip lock bag and pour in marinade.  Remove excess air and place in refrigerator for 1 hour to marinate.  Prior to cooking remove and place in freezer to partially freeze fish to ward off any potential for overcooking.  Heat your sous vide up to 110 F (43.3 C) and once to temp place your bag in the water.  If properly vac sealed the bag will sink to the bottom.  If not then simply clip it to the side of the bag to avoid it floating around.  Set timer for 30 minutes and let it do its thing.  Once finished depending on when you are serving it you can either remove it and serve as is or you can place it in the fridge and serve it chilled.  Your choice

Marinated Shiitake mushrooms with Bok Choy (serves 6-8)

  • 2 pounds baby bok choy
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 small dry red Chinese hot peppers
  • 1 pound shiitake mushrooms (about 4 dozen), stems removed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 6 scallions, sliced diagonally, for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cut off and discard stem ends of bok choy. Separate leaves, rinse and drain. Drop leaves into boiling water and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until barely cooked. Immediately remove, rinse with cool water, drain and pat dry. Arrange leaves in one layer on an ovenproof earthenware platter, then set aside.

Put a large wok or cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add oil and heat until nearly smoking, then add hot peppers and shiitake caps, stirring to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Reduce heat slightly and add garlic, ginger, sugar, sesame oil and tamari (soy sauce). Stir-fry for 1 minute more.

Spoon shiitake and pan juices over reserved cooked bok choy. Serve at room temperature, or if you prefer, reheat covered with foil for 10 to 15 minutes in a hot oven. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds, if using.

 

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