Foodie Jousting: Orange, Black and Sugar~

26 10 2009

Nov_09_miseI love participating in the Royal Foodie Joust…it always pushes my creativity out of the box a little.  When I read the ingredients selected by Kat of A Good Appetite, I had to laugh.  It’s Autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere.  Orange is abundant…Halloween is upon us so Black is joining in…and sugar.  Hmmm.  Orange…pumpkin, butternut, acorn…there are a number of orange fleshed squash.  Black as in dark beer, or cola if you prefer.   Hmmhmmmm…and sugar…  What to do with those ingredients… Then, I remembered the bottle of Double Chocolate Stout I’d stashed away knowing it would work into something sometime, and I’d wish I’d bought it. Today, would have been that day.   After a few weeks of thought processing, I came to a point of needing a dessert for a birthday dinner, and time was running out.  Why not?  She did say she wanted me to cook for her…  The worst case scenario would be to pull out ice cream.  So the joust begins…butternut squash, double chocolate stout beer and sugar to start with…and with any luck at the other end we’ll have a Chocolate Stout Butternut Brulee.

Nov_09_sqshIt sure starts out orange and black!

Double Chocolate Stout Butternut Brulee~

1 1/2 cups butternut squash chunks
1 1/2 cups Double Chocolate Stout

Simmer the squash with a dash of cinnamon until the squash in tender and the stout has evaporated. Measure 1/2 cup cooked squash pulp.

Squash pulp
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
grating of fresh nutmeg

Mix together in a blender until smooth. Pour into ramekins and bake in a water bath at 325º until custards test done.  Sprinkle cooled custards with just enough sugar to cover the surface of the custard and torch until sugar liquefies and caramelizes.

Tasting Notes~
When we tasted the custard mixture before we baked it and it tasted like a chocolate malt, we knew we were headed the right direction.  The  crackly caramel crust provided a nice little crunch to go with the creamy texture of the custard.  The chocolate was just right…not too deep, but overshadowing the spices so that they were more like delicate flutes rather than fanfares of flavor.   There is no way I’d have realized I was eating any kind of squash if I hadn’t created the dish myself!  We all loved the dish, including the Birthday Girl!

CI: Pan Roasted Lamb with Juniper Berries~

19 10 2009

CI-lamb-w-juniperberries-platedThis recipe from Marcella Hazan was supposed to have been cooked last week, but in the process of catching up, I missed it by a week.   I had everything to fix the dish except sufficient time, and available meals!  This dish is pan roasted/braised low and slow on the stove top like many we’ve done recently, and is a fine example of the changes the meat can go through.

CI-lamb-w-juniperberriesIt starts out rather plain, just a bit of olive oil and our lamb shoulder.  The recipe recommends cutting the pieces 3-4 inches.  These “steaks” weren’t much bigger than that, so I left them alone.

CI-lamb-w-juniperberries2Next you add a bit of this, a dab of that…a tablespoon of chopped carrot, 2 tablespoons of chopped celery, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, a sprig of rosemary, a couple peeled cloves of garlic, a couple bay leaves, some salt and pepper, and a cup of dry white wine.  Simmer, over medium low heat, turning every half hour while it turns gray and nasty and then gets pretty, just like magic!

Tasting notes:
We like lamb, so this wasn’t a favorite with us.  We both felt the lamb had been cooked to the point that all the flavor from the lamb was driven into the sauce.  Which…would be ideal for a non-lamb lover.  Just keep the au jus away from them!  I’m going to cook the cut of lamb again to see if it’s a way to make an otherwise difficult to use cut, edible, or if it’s just another way to cook lamb.  It comes out lovely, but the flavor has left the meat.  I’d consider making it again, and cooking it for less time…

WW: Carre d’Agneau~

18 10 2009


Carre d’ Agneau…Rack of Lamb…Seriously a favorite in our house.  I’m rewinding between other recipes to mid September when we did this recipe and I couldn’t bear to fix this in 100º+ heat!   This is a wonderful recipe.  Just a quick sear, then off a hot oven for a fast roast.  While the juices are settling in the roast, the pan juices are becoming a lovely pan sauce…  Ok, I know. You don’t see that on the plate.  I can explain…really, I can.


If you’ve read more than 2 of my blog posts, you’re aware that I live in a culinary challenged area.  I found a rack of lamb. I was ecstatic!  It didn’t occur to me until sometime later that part of this lesson was the actual “frenching” of the rack.  Oh well…but…with that bit of butchery lie all the bits and gobs that make for the tasty pan sauce.  So….we didn’t have a tasty pan sauce, and therefore, we had Au gratin dauphinois as a side dish, along with minted peas and carrots.WW-pomme-dauphinoisTasting Notes:
The lamb was lovely…but cooked a little more done than we like.  I shot the half that came out prettier.  The other half was a little more done.  I think I might go 10 minutes and turn next time.  We opted for mint jelly this time around.  Oh quit…I worked on a pan sauce first, but there was an acrid taste in it that I just couldn’t get rid of.  The mint jelly played nicely off the fresh mint in the veggies.  The lamb is a definite do again, and the potatoes obviously are…I think this is the 3rd or 4th time I’ve made these.  There sure wasn’t anything left…

Whisk Wednesday: Rillettes de Porc ~

17 10 2009


Our Fearless Leader, Shari, has completed all the lessons in the Beginning Curriculum of the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school via our little cooking group.  She is now about half way through her real life experiences at the LCB academy in Ottowa, CAN.  How I envy her!  Though we are a small group, we’ve all decided to venture into the realm of the Intermediate course with her. How scary is THIS!!  So far, the recipes are a little more difficult to locate, but…we’re finding them!  We’re also allowing ourselves a bit more time between courses, I’m mean recipes!

This week we’re making Rillettes de Porc, (rillettes, pronounced “ree-yet”) a little French appetizer of sorts, usually served with bread and sour pickles, or cornichons.  One of these days I’ll remember to take the camera into the kitchen with me when I’m starting out, but that day apparently hasn’t arrived yet.  The mise en place for this was pretty easy…pork, a pinch of thyme, 2 bay leaves, salt and a clove studded onion. Oh, and 2 oz. of water. This is what it looked like after the long, slow cooking process:
rillettes-1stcookingSee all the lovely caramelized pieces of meat?  Those are problems in rillettes.  You want a smooth, creamy texture, and those nummy little brown pieces need to be beaned into submission.  I didn’t take that as seriously as I should have.  Take your frustrations out on those little brown pieces, but do wear an apron! Protect your lovely clothes!  After draining and pounding and shredding, you should start having nothing but meat fibers that look something like this:
rillettes-mashingThe next part was kind of difficult.  Not having any experience with Rillettes, nor even a picture to refer to for the desired texture, I was really at a loss for just how much of the pan juices and fat to add to the mixture.  I didn’t think to look for a picture on line until tonight. Duh.  Oh well.  I’m in the neighborhood I think!  I ended up adding all the pan juices in, and eventually all of the fat as well.
rillettes-crockWe ate it at this consistency…as you can see there are still little brown bits that didn’t get beaten down really well.  They make spreading more difficult.  Therefore, do not follow my example…follow the directions! *Ü*  You’ll end up with a more spreadable product.  We liked it at this consistency, but felt it was really still a little too dry.  The flavor was really good though, and kind of kept you coming back for just another bite.  Back in the kitchen, I took the rest of the meat and added more fat to it and stirred it in, and ended up adding in every bit of it.  It wasn’t overly soft, but was spreadable and tasted much better.  It looks a little better too.rillettes-final-productTasting Notes:
Don’t be in a hurry to season this.  Make sure you taste it before you start adding a lot of salt especially.  Yes, it needs to be heavily seasoned, but taste before you start adding.  There’s been a lot of reduction going on, and the flavors have intensified.  This isn’t something I’d necessarily think of right away, but it’s sure interesting!  It’s good, but a little odd for my West Coast palate!

Cooking Italy: White Clam Sauce with Spaghettini~

11 10 2009

Now this is a happy coincidence!  I actually have everything together to be able to have created a dish on time! Don’t worry about this becoming a habit…I’m sure that won’t be the case…but it was certainly a nice achievement!

This week Cooking Italy is preparing Marcella Hazan’s White Clam sauce for spaghettini.  It was perfectly simple and very easy (and quick!) to put together.   I found it just a bit salty, but that could be because I used the rest of the clams that I didn’t use for the paella.  I bought 1-1/2 pounds total…so that really wasn’t all that much.  They were just salty little suckers! *giggle*  Hubby was very interested in this dish. We’ve both seen in on menus, but have been leery of ordering it…especially where we live.  Inland seafood preparations can be very scary.  After a few horror experiences you can get pretty shy about ordering something like clams.

Once again, I was amazed at the amazing amount of flavor in just a few ingredients.  I’m learning to love Italian parsley.  I always knew I loved garlic!  I eventually caught the slight heat from the pepper flakes.  Not much heat, but a tiny bit.  The little bit of basil to finish the dish was just fabulous! I wondered about parmesan, but didn’t see that it was called for, or passed at the table.  I understood why when I tasted it.  There was already enough salt, and the flavor would have overpowered the delicate taste of the sea.

I’m not a big seafood cook, but I can see me preparing this from time to time.  It’s worth the effort for a lovely change of pace!  Another keeper!  Thanks for a great selection Angela!!


11 10 2009

Once in awhile, Life delivers little gifts.  My gift from Life was the opportunity to make a reasonably authentic paella!  How exciting is that!  I have never, ever, ever – in 20 years of looking – seen Spanish Chorizo in Butte County!!  Now…I’m sure part of that is that I don’t LIVE in Chico.  And part of that is that I don’t always get to the right specialty store on the right day when they just “happen” to have a special order in…  But THIS was my day to hit all of those variables AND to be able to score FRESH, LIVE shellfish as well.  SCORE!!!!!  And my only wish for the weekend was to be able to buy some Fun Food!  Oh Happiness!!!

Chorizo, Manchego, and pancetta in hand…not to mention a pretty little crock for storing Rillettes de Porc later this week…I was on my way to score my shellfish.  And yes…Costco was doing a Seafood Roadshow!  I bought clams and jumbo shrimp there, and mussels and oysters at another location along with the chicken.  Let’s face it…Costco had chicken to feed an army. I didn’t want to feed an army…just the two of us!  Making paella for 2 is almost impossible anyway, but I still wasn’t cooking that much! LOL!

Back home, I’d convinced myself I didn’t have to make paella this night…it was a heck of a shopping trip…3 hours, 4 stores, plus dealing with repackaging and putting it all away.  But…that siren song won’t leave me alone…  I pulled out my old recipe and realized it wasn’t exactly “authentic” by my current standards…so I went hunting.  After reading through a dozen recipes, I got the hang of it, and realized, my dish wasn’t going to be 100% authentic this time either…I had no red peppers.  I could have sworn I did, but…I sure couldn’t find them.  Oh well.  Close though!!  But…the shellfish was fresh, and still alive…oh let’s just GO FOR IT!

I started by rubbing my drumsticks with salt and smoked Spanish paprika.  Wow…smelling good already!  While that was sitting for a bit to get some of the flavor going, I peeled my shrimp and put the shells in a pan with just enough water to cover them along with a bay leaf.  I brought them to a low boil and let them simmer for a bit, until we got a nice delicate “shrimp” perfume coming off the pan.  I set it aside to cool a bit.  I’m sorry I didn’t stop to take prep shots…it would have broken this up some.

Next I sliced half of my chorizo…oh my…tasty little thing!  As I researched chorizo, there appears to be a cooking chorizo and a snacking chorizo.  Perhaps I brought home a snacking chorizo.  Darn tasty little nosh…smoky…a little bit of heat, but packed with flavor!  I found myself wishing I’d bought the quince paste that was right there.  That’s what goes with the chorizo and manchego as a tapas…quince.  Darn!  Another project…  *Ü*  Still….it’s Spanish Chorizo.  If this was all I had to work with…next time I’d dice a bit for the pan…for the flavor and the color, but I’d add the sausage to the paella just before the shrimp and seafood so it doesn’t dry out too much.  Still, it added an incredible flavor!  The next step was to chop an onion…I used half an onion for 4-6 servings, and that seemed to be plenty.

Now…to start cooking!  A bit of olive oil for the pan…and I just happened to have Spanish Olive Oil!  Good Ol’ Trader Joes!  The chicken needs to be browned on all sides, and particularly the presentation side.  One side of the chicken is going to be “sunny side up” throughout the remainder of the cooking, so you want one side of it particularly pretty (and pretty much surface cooked as well).  When the chicken looks all nice and pretty, remove it to a dish and add your rice, with a little more oil if needed.  While the rice is toasting, add in the chopped onion, and your sliced cooking chorizo.  Add in sliced fresh peppers at this point, or roasted peppers after the rice has started to toast.  I used 2 cups of rice (Spanish Calasparra or Bomba are recommended; pearl rice may be used; I used Uncle Ben’s Converted…this is the only recipe I use it in).  When the rice is nicely toasted, but not too browned, add a pinch of Mancha Saffron and your liquid. There are several opinions as to what this should consist of…water, wine, broth… I used primarily chicken stock but also 1 cup of the shrimp fumet, for a total of 4-5 cups of liquid.  I don’t have this part quite down yet.  I never get enough liquid in to cook the rice and yet, crust the bottom of the pan…someday… *sigh*  Nestle your chicken parts evenly in the pan.  Add a clove of garlic to each “serving” and let it simmer at a low heat for “awhile” until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and you start smelling the aroma of the rice toasting on the bottom of the pan.  Set your cleaned shrimp on top of the rice and skoosh (wiggle and squish) the mussels and clams around so their hinges are down in the rice to cook.  Still…never covering the pan (ok…when we get here…I do for just long enough to cook the shellfish!). And here’s our reward….


Can you smell it?  It’s slightly smoky, a whiff of the sea, and just a touch enchanting…that’s the saffron… Come a little closer…

Yes, I still have a few things to learn…but this was an improvement in flavor over other recipes we’ve used that worked around the lack of available resources.  It’s time to look for a genuine paella pan…I’ll find one…when the time is right! *grin*  That’s how it works.  In the meanwhile, this satisfied my deep desire for adventurous cooking! And it was fun to watch the various vendors as I asked for just 6 of this and that.  Well…no sense in over buying!  Even just 6 shrimp, clams and mussels proved too much…along with the chorizo, chicken, rice and did I mention oyster on the half-shell appetizer?  That’s what I get for waiting until I’m TOO in the mood!

Until the next time!  Happy Cooking!

Cooking Italy: Pork Bolognese~

8 10 2009


I’m still lagging way behind in my cooking groups, but I’m still cooking! This week, I managed to get the Pork Bolognese accomplished for Cooking Italy.  While it may not be one of the prettier dishes I’ve fixed (I don’t think I was patient enough in the end to get a pretty finishing sauce), it was certainly one of the tastiest.  Hands down. And one of the the more aromatic…perhaps because the simmering is done on the stovetop…  Great recipe selection Angela!!

I chose a Pork Boston Butt (which is actually a neck cut) rather than the loin as it has more fat and would be juicier in the long run.  I’m glad I did.  It cooked beautifully.  The only problem was that it was a 3# roast rather than a 2# roast, so it took a bit longer to cook.  It took every bit of 3 hours…actually closer to 4.  That made it 10 p.m. or slightly later by the time we were able to sit down…and after working 8 hours already…I didn’t have a lot of patience for waiting for the milk to caramelize, and my sauce didn’t work out quite right.  So it isn’t pretty on the plate.  But…it was tasty. Down-RIGHT tasty!  I’d have never thought a little old piece of pork, browned, sprinkled with salt and pepper and cooked on the stove top in milk…MILK of all things…would taste so incredibly complex, but…it did and does!  You have to try it!


That was the entire ingredient list…save a bit of butter and oil to start the browning process, especially needed for the pork loin, not as desperate if you use a Boston Butt.  Sliced and sauced, it isn’t much to look at…like I said, by 10 p.m. I’d run out of time, energy and worst of all, patience to finish the dish out properly.  The little milk nuggets are supposed to smooth out into a creamy sauce more like you see in Angela’s (Spinach Tiger’s) dish.  This was purely tasty…I know we’ll try it again.  It will be interesting to see how it turns out the second time around!  I served it over sour cream mashed potatoes and we pretty much purred our way off to full tummy slumber!  Another Marcella Hazan success!