Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pancetta Stuffed Fillo Wrapped Dates

Bacon wrapped dates, with or without a cheese filling, are such a common hors d'oeuvre that I thought it was time to spruce it up. It helps that I recently visited a great cooking school in seattle, Culinary Communion run by Gabriel Claycamp, that also happens to make their own charcuterie. I ended up walking out of there with a few pounds of cured meat, but most importantly I discovered what is quite possible the bet pancetta in the world. You can use any type of pancetta that is available, but if you are in the Seattle area I highly recommend stopping and picking some up.

Pancetta Stuffed Dates

1/4 Pound pancetta
20 Date
Several sheets of fillo dough

Prepare the pancetta in a fine dice and heat in a small sauce pan over medium high heat. Allow most of the fat to render off of the pancetta, while adjusting the temperature to ensure that you don't burn the pancetta. After the pancetta has browned and most of the fat has cooked off cooked off, drain it on a plate lined with paper towels. Allow the pancetta to cool, but reserve the fat and allow it to cool.

Make sure that the fillo dough is room temperature before using it, it will take about 2 hours to come to room temperature if it is frozen. Slice the fillo dough into 20 strips that are roughly the same width has the dates.

After the pancetta has cooled enough to handle, stuff the dates with as much pancetta as possible, a toothpick will help with this. Using a pastry brush, brush some of the pancetta fat onto a strip of dough and then wrap one of the dates with it. Do this for the remaining dates. Bake the dates on a baking sheet at 400 degrees until the dough develops a golden brown color.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Anchovy and Tomato Sandwich with Home-Made Garlic Mayo

This simple recipe is great for a snack or a light lunch on a hot summer day. I first had this sandwich while at the beach on the Costa Brava in Spain. Until then anchovies didn't have much appeal to me, but I saw all of the locals eating it, which is always a good sign, and decided to give it a try. This sandwich goes great with a cold glass of Spanish white wine.

Every time I make this sandwich I try to make fresh garlic mayo, but it has never worked out for me before. This time I used the Julia Child recipe for mayonnaise and of course it worked out great. I added some raw garlic to Julia's recipe to give an added kick to the sandwich.

Home-Made Garlic Mayonnaise

1 Egg
1/4 Teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Cup olive oil
2 Cloves of garlic

Mix the egg (both the yolk and the egg white), mustard, and salt in a blender at a high speed for 30 seconds or until the mixture is thick and foamy. Add the lemon juice to the blender and blend for another 10 seconds. While blending at high speed, slowly pour the oil into the top the blender. It is important that you add the oil slowly so that the mayo doesn't separate. The mayo will begin to thicken after adding about 1/2 cup of oil. If the mayo becomes too thick, you can thin it out by adding some additional lemon juice.

At this point you have a basic plain mayo. This is a good time to add additional seasoning or flavor to while it is still in the blender. For this recipe I added 2 cloves of raw grated garlic and continued to blend it for a few seconds to ensure that it was mixed evenly. You could also add fresh or dried herbs or any other seasoning that you want.

I found that when I took the cap off of the blender to add the oil the mixture began to splatter out and made a mess. I saved myself a lot of unnecessary cleaning by inserting a funnel into the hole on the top of the blender and pouring the oil through that.

This recipe will yield about 1 1/2 cups of mayo. This mayo will last in your refrigerator for at least a week if you keep in sealed in in an airtight jar.

If you don't want to make fresh mayo, you can do what I ended up doing every other time I tried to make this sandwich. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix 1 cup of store bought mayo with 1/4 cup of olive oil and 2 cloves of grated garlic.

Whichever recipe you use for the mayo, you should let it sit in the refrigerator for at least and hour before using it. This will not only make it nice and cold for the sandwich, but will allow the garlic flavor to fully penetrate the mayo.

Anchovy and Tomato Sandwich

1 Baguette
1 Plum tomato (thinly sliced)
2 Tablespoons garlic mayonnaise
2 Ounces anchovy fillets
Green leaf lettuce

Cut the baguette into 2 equal lengths, about 10 inches per sandwich. Cut each length in half horizontally. Spread the mayo on both the top and bottom of the sandwich. Layer half of the anchovy on the bottom of each sandwich. Top the anchovy with the tomato slices and lettuce. Enjoy.

The best type of baguette for this sandwich is a thin one with a hard crust that is soft on the inside. The texture of the bread balances the softness of the tomato and anchovy.

While this really is about as simple as a recipe gets, it is just too good not to share. You can use any kind of anchovies that you have on hand, but I find that the ones in jars are usually a better bargain and the jars are resealable. Even though some packages of anchovies say that they have salt, they are all pretty salty. So, unless you like things really salty you should avoid those.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cold Brewed Iced Coffee

This recipe is a great twist on a common summer drink. I do have to say that I have always thought that iced coffee, while refreshing on a hot day, is always a bit too bitter for my taste. I generally drink coffee without any sugar, but find myself adding it to iced coffee to offset the bitterness.

This recipe overcomes that bitterness naturally, and even has a hint of chocolate in it as an added bonus. When brewing coffee the conventional way, with hot water, certain chemicals are released that can have a bitter taste. That bitterness is most pronounced when the coffee is served cold. However, this method does not require any heat, fancy machines, or additional equipment for that matter. We all know that some of the simplest dishes are also the most delicious, and this is no exception.

Cold Brewed Coffee

1/4 Pound ground coffee
2 1/2 Cups cold water

Combine the coffee and water in a non-reactive container with a lid. Gently stir the mixture to ensure that all of the grounds are moist. Let the mixture steep, covered, at room temperature for 12 hours.

In order to ensure that all of the grounds are removed from the mixture, this will require two bowls and two rounds through a strainer. Begin by straining the coffee into one of the bowls through a sieve to eliminate the bulk of the grounds. Rinse the grounds from the sieve and place a regular coffee filter inside. Slowly pour the coffee through the coffee filter, moving from the first bowl into the second bowl. I found after about half of the coffee had been strained the second time that I needed to replace the coffee filter in order to strain the remaining coffee.

The coffee should be free from most all of the grounds after the second round of straining. You can store the coffee in an air tight jar in the refrigerator for a few weeks. This recipe will make about 1 1/3 cups of coffee, which is about enough for 5 servings.

Iced Coffee

1/4 Cup cold brewed coffee
3/4 Cups milk

Fill a tall glass with ice. Add the coffee and milk, then stir.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Warm Sausage and Couscous Salad with Chinese Cabbage

We made this dish with some of the venison sausage that we made earlier in the week. You can kick the flavor up a notch with spicy italian sausage, but any kind will do.

This recipe will make enough for four people, or in our case enough for two with leftovers for lunch.

Warm Sausage and Couscous Salad

3 Sausage links
1 Green bell pepper (diced)
1/2 Medium onion (diced)
4 Cloves of garlic (minced)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoon dry vermouth
1 Cup dry couscous
1/2 Cup water
1/2 Cup chicken broth

Brown the sausage in the olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Set the sausage aside after they have browned, leaving the oil in the pan. Cook the onion, garlic, and peppers until soft and beginning to brown. Deglaze the pan with the vermouth, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Take the pan off the heat. After the sausage has cooled enough to handle, cut the links into bite sized pieces.

While the vegetables are cooking, bring the water and chicken broth to boil in a medium pot with a pinch of salt. Stir the couscous into the boiling water. Remove the couscous from the heat, cover and set aside for 4-5 minutes.

After the vegetables are done and the couscous has had time to sit, add the sausage and couscous the the vegetables and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sauteed Chinese Cabbage

1 Head of chinese cabbage
4 Cloves of garlic (minced)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 Cup chicken broth

Rinse any dirt off of the cabbage and roughly chop into medium size pieces. Sautee the garlic in the oil over medium high heat. Add the cabbage to the pan when the garlic is beginning to brown. The cabbage looks like a lot when it is uncooked, so don't worry if it looks like too much for your pan because it will cook down a lot.

Toss the cabbage in the pan while it cooks, making sure that none of it burns. After the cabbage has lost most of its water and is soft, add the chicken broth and sprinkle the pan with salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium high heat, periodically tossing the cabbage, until most of the chicken broth has evaporated.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mexican Corn (Elote)

Mexican Corn

4 Ears of corn
4 Tablespoon parmesan cheese
1/2 Tablespoon chili powder
1/2 Tablespoon cayenne powder
1/2 Tablespoon cumin
3 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 Lime

Mix the dry and wet ingredients in two separate bowls.

Remove the corn from the husk and clean the fibers off the cob. Grill the corn over a medium heat, rotating periodically until golden brown. If you don't have a grill then cook the corn under a broiler, rotating periodically until golden brown. If you are using a broiler then cook the corn as closr to the heating element as possible.

After the corn has fully cooked, allow it to cool for a few minutes. When the corn is cool enough to handle, cover each cob with a thin coating of the mayonnaise mixture. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the mayonnaise and serve.


It wasn’t long ago that we had no idea of what farro was, but now that we've tried it, we can never turn back. Farro is working its way into our meals more and more frequently, and is often replacing both rice and potatoes as our starch of choice. Farro is a delicious, and healthy (don't let that stop you) whole grain that has a unique nutty flavor and firm texture. One of the best things about farro is that, much like rice, it can be stored in your cupboard for a long time as long as it is in a cool dry airtight container. This helps ensure that you will always have it on hand.

Usually when cooking it for two people we will use ½ cup of dry farro if it will be a side dish. If we are using it for a main dish or as part of a casserole 1 cup of dry farro would be best for two people. So far we have only used semi-pearled farro, which has a nice brown color to it.

Farro can be cooked in a variety of ways, but I think the simplest way is probably the best. There are recipes that recommend to cook it for up to eight hours, sometimes even leaving it to soak for an additional several hours. Some people even suggest that it should soak for several hours before cooking it. In our experience farro can be simply cooked by boiling it like pasta for about 10 minutes in well salted water and then strained.

If you want to add some additional flavor you can add it to the water with the farro. One suggestion is to throw one or two cloves of crushed garlic into the pot. The garlic is easy to fish out afterwards, or it can be left in and mashed (it will be very soft) into the farro for even more garlic flavor.

It is one of the oldest grains and some experts suggest that it is the grain that almost all others are derived from. The problem with farro is that it is a relatively low-yielding grain, and so is not ideal for today’s massive commercial farming system. In Italy there are only a few areas dedicated to cultivating farro scattered over the regions of Lazio, Umbria, the Marches and Tuscany.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for spelt to be mislabeled in stores as farro, so it is important to look for its latin name triticum dicoccon on the label. It can also help to look for farro that has been imported from Italy.

Cold Farro Salad with Red Onion

1 Cup farro
1 Half red onion
2 Cloves garlic (crushed)
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Bring a medium sauce pot to boil with salted water. Add the farro and garlic cloves to the boiling water. Cook for 10 minutes. Strain the farro, toss with olive oil and allow to cool. While the farro is cooking, slice the red onion into thin half circles. After the farro has cooled to room temperature, mix in the red onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste, finish with extra virgin olive oil.

This recipe is great as a side dish with just about any dish. As mentioned above, we often use this dish as a replacement or rice or potatoes with almost anything.

Baked Farro and Chicken Casserole

1 Cup farro
2 Cups cooked chicken (about one pound)
1 Half red onion
1/2 Cup chicken broth
1 Cup bread crumbs
2 Cloves garlic (crushed)
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Bring a medium sauce pot to boil with salted water. Add the farro and garlic cloves to the boiling water. Cook for 10 minutes. Strain the farro, toss with olive oil.

While the farro is cooking, slice the red onion into thin half circles. Dice the chicken into small bite sized pieces. Mix in the red onion, chicken, and broth with the cooked farro. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Put the mixture into a medium casserole pan. Top the mixture with the bread crumbs. Drizzle the top with olive oil.

Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. This does not need to cook for very long, just long enough to brown the top.

This is a great recipe to use any leftover chicken that you have. The actual amount of chicken is not terribly important, the last time we cooked this we used about 1/2 of a roasted chicken and it worked out great.

Roasted Farro with Pine Nuts

1/2 Cup farro
1 Medium red onion
2 Cloves garlic (crushed)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 Cup pine nuts (pignoli)

Bring a medium sauce pot to boil with salted water. Add the farro and garlic cloves to the boiling water. Cook for 10 minutes. Strain the farro, toss with olive oil.

While the farro is cooking, slice the red onion into thin half circles. Mix in half of the the red onion with the cooked farro. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Put the mixture into a medium casserole pan. Top the mixture with the red onion and pine nuts. Drizzle to top with olive oil.

Cook the casserole until the onion has softened, about 5-10 minutes, at 350 degrees. Finish the casserole under the broiler for about a minute or until the onion and pine nuts begin to brown.

We came up with this recipe to use up some leftover farro that we had from the night before. As much as we love farro, you still need to mix things up a little bit.

Maryland Crab Cakes

On a recent trip to Baltimore we were fortunate enough to have been told in no uncertain terms that we must go to Faidley's in Lexington Market for their crab cakes. I can't say that we were very impressed as we approached this historic landmark, but we were soon enjoying what must certainly be the best crab cakes money can buy. Of course these kinds of statements will incite some people to reference their grandmother's recipe that they grew up on, but I assure you this was the best!

While we can't take credit for this recipe ourselves, all of the credit belongs to Faidley's, we found this to be not only a delicious recipe that can easily be made at home, but a great way to impress your friends too!

The best part of this recipe is that even though the crab cakes hold together really well after cooking them, they end up being so moist that you don't need any tarter sauce with it.

Maryland Crab Cakes

1/2 Cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 Cup crushed oyster crackers
1 Egg
1 Pound fresh jumbo lump crab meat
1 Quart vegetable oil

In a medium bowl, beat the egg and then mix the remaining wet ingredients. Gently fold in the crab meat and the crackers. Allow this mixture to rest for a few minutes before making the crab cakes.

This mixture is enough to make four large round crab cakes. If the mixture seems too wet when forming the patties then gently squeeze some of the liquid out. Place the crab cakes on a wax paper lined tray, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least on hour. This will allow the crab cakes to firm up before cooking.

While the crab cakes are in the refrigerator, heat the
oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. You should have enough oil to completely cover the crab cakes, add more oil as needed. Fry the crab cakes individually, or two at a time depending on the size of your pot, until the are golden brown. They don't take much time so you should watch them closely. After they are finished let the crab cakes rest on a paper towel.

These can be made about an hour in advance. If made in advance, you should heat them for about 10-15 minutes at 150 degrees.

Make sure you pick through the crab meat before using it. I usually find one or two pieces of shell mixed in. If you can't find jumbo lump crab meat or if it is too expensive then regular lump crab meat will work just fine. These crab cakes are pretty big, but that is how they are in Maryland. Each one should be enough for an entire serving.

This recipe calls for oyster crackers but they were not available when we made this, so we used saltines. They worked out great but make sure you don't buy the unsalted ones. When crushing the crackers, crush the crackers roughly leaving some larger pieces for texture.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Braised Short Ribs with Celeriac Puree and Gremolata

Along with some of our other posts, this is more about a cooking technique than the actual recipe, although the recipe is clearly a winner. This recipe comes from our friends in Brooklyn, and for them it’s all about braising.

It’s my main reason for looking forward to winter and it produces my favorite comfort foods. Braising gives you the ability to take a tough, inexpensive cut of meat and turn it into something wonderful. It’s also great for dinner parties because you can make it in advance and then simply re-heat by popping it in the oven.

Braising is really hard to mess up as long as you follow a simple formula. The main ingredients are a meat, aromatics, cooking liquid, and patience, and the possibilities are infinite. For meat, it can be a shank, shoulder, stew meat, short ribs, etc; it can be veal, pork, chicken, boar, beef, rabbit, etc. The aromatics can anything from garlic, onion, celery, leeks, herbs, carrots, fennel, and all types of spices. The liquid can be any combination of wine, stock, water, and/or canned tomatoes. The last ingredient is patience, and it’s needed in two spots. First, you must be patient in browning the meat, which may have to be done in batches. When the meat is browned properly, you’re left with what the French call fond- the caramelized brown bits at the bottom off the pan. This is the base flavoring of the sauce. Then, like BBQ, braising should be done low and slow. I always do it in the oven as opposed to on the stove top.

Polenta, mashed potatoes, or a simple risotto are all great with braised meats; you want something that can absorb some of the delicious braising liquid. My favorite dish to serve with this is this simple, delicious celeriac puree. These short ribs are quite rich, so I find it necessary to cut it with a gremolata. This is best enjoyed on a cold, wintry Sunday evening. Enjoy!

Serves 2

Short Ribs

3 Short ribs (about 1½ pounds)
1 Red onion, diced
1 Carrot, diced
4-5 Stalks celery, diced
5 Cups beef stock
½ Bottle of dry red wine
5 Cloves
1-2 Whole star anise (depending how much you like it)
2 Bay leaves
Black peppercorns
Garlic clove, whacked (depending on how much you like garlic)

Season short ribs well with salt and pepper. Sear in a heavy bottom pan or dutch oven until all sides are well browned- no shortcuts here. Remove to a plate.

Add celery, carrot, onion and sauté over medium heat 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and continue sautéing until soft, about 5-7 more minutes. Add the rest of the spices (bay, peppercorns, cloves, star anise) and the wine and cook until the wine is reduced by about half.

NOTE: If you are going to strain the sauce in the end, the garlic, thyme, and spices can just be tossed in. If not, you should chop the garlic and thyme and wrap the spices in cheesecloth so they can easily be fished out.

When wine in reduced by half, add short ribs and stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover and put in preheated 350 degree oven for about 2½ hours.

At this point, you have the option of straining out the solids for a more refined sauce. Cool everything down and then refrigerate until ready, preferably overnight.

Skim the fat off of the top of the sauce and reheat until heated through in a 350 degree oven, about an hour.

Celeriac Puree

1 Large celeriac (celery root), peeled and cubed
2-3 Small yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
Milk, enough to cover celeriac and potatoes

Add milk, celeriac and potatoes to a pot and cook until fork tender.

Remove vegetables from milk and puree in food processor until smooth, but do not over-puree. Season to taste with butter, salt, and pepper.


Inner, lightly colored leaves from celery
1 Lemon
1 Clove garlic, minced

Zest and juice lemon. Mix in minced garlic and chopped parsley and celery leaves.

Serve the short ribs over the celeriac puree and top with the braising juice and gremolata.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Veal Osso Bucco

There are few things in life better than a big hunk of veal on the bone. It isn't cheap, but it's well worth the price. This is a simple version of an amazing classic dish. You can substitute the veal for beef as long as you have a shank on the bone.

For the more adventurous eaters out there, make sure that you have some tiny spoons ready for the marrow. The marrow is great as a spread on toast also, which could make a great appetizer or amuse bouche.

Veal Osso Bucco

4 Veal shanks (~3-inches thick)
1 Cup chicken broth
1 Cup dry red wine
1 Cup water
4 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 Cloves of minced garlic
4 Whole anchovy fillets
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
The zest from 1 lemon

Mix the flour, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Cover all sides of the shanks in the seasoned flour. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium pan over medium high heat and brown the shanks, adding more oil as needed.

Place the veal in the crock pot after browning. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and chicken broth.

Add the wine and broth mixture to the crock pot. Add the remaining ingredients, cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours.

After the veal has finished cooking place the shanks on a serving plate, they will be very tender so be careful when removing them from the crock pot. If the remaining sauce is too thin for your taste, reduce it in a small pot until it reaches the desired consistency. Season the sauce to taste and pour over the shanks.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding

The best part of this recipe is that I discovered cocoa nibs for the first time! I worked with several different chocolate bread pudding recipes until I finally gave up and pieced this together myself. The combination of the bittersweet chocolate, white chocolate, and cocoa nibs gives this a great chocolate flavor without making it too chocolaty (as if that were even possible).

Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding

1 Loaf brioche
2 Cups heavy cream
2 Cups milk
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
6 Ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
6 Ounces of white chocolate
8 Large egg yolks
2 Tablespoons cocoa nibs
3/4 Cup sugar

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut the brioche into 1 inch cubes. Place the bread cubes into a baking dish.

If you want to be a little fancy in your presentation, reserve the cubes taken from top crust layer of the bread and use those to top the baking pan. This will create a great crust on the final pudding.

Combine the cream, milk, vanilla extract in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add the chocolate, and whisk until smooth.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl. Slowly pour the melted chocolate mixture into egg-sugar mixture, whisking constantly, until fully combined.

After all of the chocolate and egg mixture has been combined, pour the mixture over the bread, covering all of the bread. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, firmly press down on the bread to make sure that all of the chocolate mixture is absorbed. Let the bread sit for 30-45 minutes.

If you have a larger baking dish, place the one with the bread pudding in the larger one and place in the oven. Fill the larger dish with enough hot water to go halfway up the side of the smaller dish. Bake the pudding for 30-45 minutes, until it has set. Allow the pudding to cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes, but it is best served hot.

Sprinkle the cocoa nibs on the top of the pudding before serving.

This dish will last for a few days if refrigerated and reheats well.

Jellied Milk

This is a simple recipe that makes a great amuse bouche or palette cleanser in a multi course meal. Of course this would also work as a dessert, but I think that it is more fun in a small portion. I believe this is a very old recipe that comes from england, renowned for their culinary prowess, but does serves as a great example of how delicious things can come from unexpected places.

Depending on what you are serving this with you may want to cut down on the sugar a little bit, as this is a fairly sweet dish. This recipe made enough to serve about 12 portions of the size shown in the picture. I don't have much experience working with gelatin but this is a pretty fool proof recipe.

Jellied Milk

1 Pint milk
5 Teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 Cup sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons almond extract

Soften the gelatin in 4 Tablespoons of the milk for 5 minutes in a bowl big enough to use as a double boiler. Place bowl with the mixture of milk and gelatin on top of a small pot of very hot, but not boiling, water and stir until the gelatin is fully dissolved.

Heat the remainder of the milk and the sugar in a pot until it simmers. Add the dissolved gelatin/milk mixture and stir continuously for 5 minutes, never going past a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in the almond extract.

Pour the mixture into a chilled loaf pan and refrigerate for several hours until set.

I found that running hot water over the bottom of the pan made it easier to remove the jellied milk after it had cooled. Cut into rectangles and serve.

Although the almond flavor was a great match with the milk, this recipe would probably also work with any other extract or flavoring that you prefer.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sous Vide Duck Breast with Orange and Cranberry Sauce

After working with our home-made sous vide rig for a few weeks now, we have finally made a small upgrade to our kitchen. We found a 'controller' on eBay for about $100. This wonderful little device works in conjunction with our crock-pot by overriding the built in temperature control of the crock-pot providing us with a wide range of programmable constant temperatures to choose from.

Sous Vide Marinade

2 Tablespoons dried cranberries
1/4 Teaspoon sugar
1/4 Teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 Teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Before cooking the duck we removed the skins and set them aside. We seasoned the breasts prior to cooking with dried cranberries, sugar, salt and pepper. The duck was cooked at 130 degrees fahrenheit for 8 hours. While the duck was cooking the skin was cooked under a bacon press in a medium sauce pan on a low heat until all of the fat had rendered out. Duck fat is way to expensive at the store to let any go to waste, so all but 2 tablespoons was saved in the freezer. The remaining 2 tablespoons were set aside for later use with brussel sprouts.

Orange Cranberry Sauce
1 Cup orange juice
1/4 Cup dried cranberries
1 Teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt

Mix all of the ingredients in a small sauce pot and bring to a boil. Cook the mixture on medium high for several minutes, or until the orange juice has taken on much of the color from the cranberries. Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Puree and strain the mixture. Set the sauce aside until the duck is ready.

To go with the duck we had brussel sprouts sauteed in the reserved duck fat with mashed potatoes. This is the dish that made me change my mind about brussel sprouts once and for all. The sprouts are somewhat time consuming, in that we peel the individual whole leaves off before cooking. Sautee the leaves in the duck fat on medium high heat for 3-4 minutes. Salt to taste and serve.

For the potatoes we tried something a little bit different. The potatoes were cubed and boiled in a mixture of milk, butter, salt and pepper. You only need enough milk to cover the potatoes and about 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook the potatoes until they are fork tender. Strain the potatoes, reserving some of the milk mixture, and mash. While you are mashing the potatoes add a dollop of sour cream and as much milk as you need to make the potatoes creamy. Salt and pepper to taste.

While the whole meal was delicious, the duck was the obvious star of the show. The orange cranberry sauce was amazing with the duck and also mixed well with the potatoes. We used dried cranberries from Trader Joe's but i'm sure that any dried cranberries will do the trick. As far as the sous vide goes, I am not yet convinced that the duck needs to cook for the whole eight hours, but am also not yet experienced to know for sure.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Mark's Ribs

Submitted by my brother and his wife who now live in Houston - these ribs definitely got the Texas stamp of approval:

I defy anyone to figure out how to make better ribs without a smoker. If done right, these will come right off the bone with just a little tug. It really upset some of our Texan friends when us Yankees turned out tasty, tender ribs like this without some ridiculous smoker contraption. I hope you enjoy and when you see Mark, thank him.

Recipe is for 5-8 people depending on how hungry they are.

8 lbs. ribs - St. Louis cut or spare ribs work best, but any pork rib cut will do

Dry Rub
2 Cups Brown Sugar
4 Tbsp Paprika
2 Tbsp Garlic powder
2 Tbsp Onion powder

30oz. bottle Ketchup
1/2 Cup Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 Cup Brewed Coffee
1/4 Cup Orange Juice Concentrate
2 Tbsp Fresh cracked pepper

Rinse and dry the ribs then place them on large foil lined pan(s). Mix the dry rub ingredients together, removing lumps, and apply to the ribs. You will have more rub than ribs, don’t worry, we’ll use it later do not get rid of it. Let the ribs sit for about an hour.

After ribs have sat, take them to the bbq. Preheat the bbq on medium high heat. Once the bbq is hot get the ribs on there, about 5 or 6 minutes a side until the the rub gets crusty and the ribs just start to sear. The sugar in the rub may blacken a bit, which is ok, but do not burn the ribs. Once a crust has formed, put the ribs back on the foiled pan, cover with foil and place in 300 degree oven for at least 2 hours, closer to 3. While baking, combine the wet rub ingredients and the rest of dry rub in a large saucepan. Bring this to a gentle boil then reduce to a simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the ribs are done in the oven we’re going back to the bbq on medium high heat again. Before putting the ribs on, slather the bbq sauce on one side and put that side down on the grill. While that gets crispy and gooey, slather the other side of the ribs with sauce and flip. This takes 2-4 minutes a side. Some blackening may occur, but be sure not to burn the ribs under any circumstances. When finished, place the ribs on a platter and cover with more sauce. You should have plenty of leftover sauce which can be served with the ribs.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sous Vide Duck Legs

When I first learned about sous vide I thought that the premise was that as long as you cook something at the exact temperature that you want for the internal temperature of the meat you can't overcook anything. However, all of my recent sous vide dishes have been cooked for no more than 1 hour so I didn't know if this really mattered or not. I was fortunate enough to attend a cooking class with Wylie Dufresne who did in fact give a pseudo-sous vide demonstration. During the class I asked Wylie his thoughts on this. He said that even at a low temperature there is still a chemical process going on with the protein and that the timing is essential to the dish. Of course, I am neither a scientist nor a professional, so I will defer to the experts on this.

Sous vide duck legs marked our first experiment with an extended cooking time. We cooked two legs for 8 hours at 178 degrees. Before placing them in the vacuum bag, we removed the skins and excess fat. Any fat that we were easily able to remove from the skin was placed in the bag with the legs, for both flavor and moisture. In addition to some salt and pepper we seasoned the meat with a few sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and rosemary (whatever is fresh an available will work great). After dropping the legs into the water, we made ourselves comfortable and watched a few movies. Not a very involved process at all.

We decided to save the skin, c'mon it's flavor country, and attempted to make a crispy wafer from each one. We left them in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator until there was about 40 minutes left on the duck. After removing the skin from the refrigerator we salted each side generously and cooked them, one at a time, in a very hot pan. We used a bacon press to keep it flat and press out the excess fat. Between the two pieces of skin we rendered out at least 1 1/2 cups of fat, we saved it for another time. Both skins came out great, although I think the second skin, which was cooked on a medium high heat, was a bit better.

To go with the duck we did a simple dish of roasted root vegetables, perfect for a cold winter night. We used a mixture of potatoes, fennel, celery, red onion and garlic tossed with olive oil, gray salt and fresh ground pepper. Not wanting to waste the fresh herbs, we topped it off with some thyme as well. This was cooked at 450 degrees for about an hour, tossing them periodically.

After removing the duck legs from the water, we gave them a quick sear in the now well oiled pan that we crisped the skin in.

I am starting to think that sous vide is an idiot proof method, assuming you have adequate heat control. Everything came out great, the duck fell right off of the bone and the meat was very tender. The crispy skin made an excellent compliment to the texture of the meat and the root vegetables go great with any kind of meat on a cold night. Next time, and there will be a next time, we have decided to try a lower temperature over the same time period, and maybe in the future we will also try this with a shorter cooking time as well.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sous Vide Steak

Well, its official. We've finally gone off the deep end. We have not simply dipped our toes into sous vide cooking, we have dived in head first. Anyone who watches Top Chef has probably heard one of the chefs taking mention it, anyone who has ever eaten at a fancy restaurant or even on an airplane has probably had it, but not enough people are doing it. I don't say that because I think it is fancy or trendy, but because it is an amazing way to cook food with an high degree of control over the final product.

I have been cooking for years, and maybe its my lack of formal training, but I almost always cook my proteins to a different level of doneness. I usually get it pretty close to where I want it, but if I turn away for a minute to stir the rice or mash the potatoes, I miss it and end up with dry chicken or well done steak. I've tried using thermometers and take it out at the perfect time, but it always manages to cook more than I ant even after taking it out of the oven. I don't mean to suggest that I am not happy with what I cook, but simply that I have not been happy with my method.

Enter sous vide. Quite simply, it means to cook under vacuum. It is a method that was developed in France in the seventies and has been utilized extensively in commercial cooking. Though it has only slowly been adopted in restaurants and home kitchens. Well now its time has come. Some things were meant to be sauteed to broiled, and some things were meant to be sous vided!

Sous vide allows you to cook anything to a precise internal temperature. Many people who sous vide use very fancy, and expensive, equipment but I don't feel like spending upwards of several thousand dollars for a steak. Call me crazy. If you look on eBay, you can find all sorts of immersion circulating heaters and constant temperature water baths. But between the cost and the fact that those are all second hand items from a hospital or lab, I and a little weary of going down that path. I will admit that not every kitchen has the right equipment, but if you do, this is well worth the effort. I live in a cramped NYC apartment and am just lucky, I guess, that I have a medium sized electric stove. This turns out to be ideal for this type of cooking. The only major requirement for this method is being able to get a pot of water to the temperature that you want and then keep it there for a long time.

I was a little hesitant going into my first sous vide dish, but I like a challenge and am drawn to the scientific. I ran across a posting on another blog that convinced me that I can do it without any special equipment. This first dish I attempted was a very simple steak.

I took the steak and put it into a ziploc bag. Ok, so I did use a little bit of equipment, Reynolds makes a device called the Handi-Vac (pictured below), which sells for about $10, and a box of bags is less than $5. It is basically a standard ziploc bag, except it has a little hole in one corner. So I put the steak into the bag with a pinch pf salt and pepper, sealed it up, and then used the Handi-Vac to suck the air out. This cheap little device works great and give you a very satisfying vacuum seal. The one downside to this is that it was clearly not made with the at-home sous-vider in mind (I know what your thinking, how dare they!), so unfortunately the area that you suck the air out of is not fully water tight. So to get around this I just placed this vacuum bag inside of a regular gallon ziploc bag and pushed the air out. While this may seem counterintuitive that I would use another non-vacuumed bag, trust me when I say that it does make a difference. By having the meat in the vacuum sealed bag any seasoning that you use is spread very evenly and pulled into the meat with a combination of the vacuum environment and the pressure of the water. So you only need a small amount of seasoning or sauce to impart a great deal of flavor to the meat.

So back to the steak. I took the steak with a pinch of salt and pepper and placed it into my water bath. For this I used a large stock pot filled with hot water. As you can see in the accompanying picture, I have a cabinet door above my stove, so I hung a thermometer from that door and used a rubber band to secure it to a wooden spoon placed across the top of the pot. I know it sounds crazy, but it works and is actually pretty easy to set up. In order to get the water to the proper temperature, for this steak I was aiming for 135 degrees (medium rare), I put my stove top on one if its lowest settings and watched my thermometer until it hit the sweet spot. Making my life a little easier, I have a thermometer with a remote sensor so I can watch the temperature from another room. You certainly don't need this, you just need to watch the water closely. It took a little experimentation for me but once I was found the right setting on my stove top I was on my way.

When the water got the to right temperature I dropped my bag of steak in. If the steak floats to the surface, you may need to push some more air out of your bag or you can use something like a ramekin to weight it down. I cooked my steak about 135 degrees for about 45 minutes. I won't lie, my set up is not perfect and so the temperature fluctuated between 133-137 degrees over the course of cooking. I did not notice that this caused and problem and I think that a few degrees here or there is probably not going to be a big deal. After taking out the steak, I did notice that it had the appearance of a boiled steak. Which if you've ever seen one is simply not appetizing. So to finish it off I quickly seared it on both sides on a grill pan to give it some color and texture. And that is it.

I hope I haven't made it seem too involved, it really isn't. In fact I think it is actually easier than many other types of cooking, because once it is going you can just walk away. As you can see from the pictures, the steak ended up perfectly cooked and was delicious. I didn't make any kind of sauce or anything fancy, but it truly ended up being one of the most tender steaks I have ever had - and this was no filet mignon. I have since tried this method with both chicken and a rack of lamb. Both of which also turned out perfectly. I can't think of a better way to cook a steak or a chicken breast, and wonder how I went all these years with dry over cooked meat.