31 January 2007

Something Different

Reader DagoodS has issued me my first challenge. His wife has asked for "something different" for appetizers to be served at their Super Bowl party. That presents me with a problem, because I don't really gravitate toward different things. Almost everything I cook is normal (if not same-old, same-old) to someone out there. I gravitate toward the classics done right, but without too much fuss. There's room to do this even with football party food. Like, for instance, hot wing sauce should be made with Franks Red Hot and margarine, not butter, because that's how you make hot wing sauce. Making it with butter changes it. That said, if you only have butter in the fridge, use that. It's not worth going out to the store just for that one difference. So I'll try to remain true to that ideal.

DagoodS specifically asked for something other than weenies in crescent rolls. So I offer you Sausage Puff Pastry Rolls... OK, all kidding aside, when I need to please some folks at a party, and throwing some cheese and salami on a board is not an option, I go straight to my mom. And this is probably my mom's best party pleaser.

1 package Pepperidge Farms puff pastry, thawed
1 lb Jimmy Dean sage sausage (Gimme Lean for veggies... Hey! I just got that!)

  • Preheat oven to 350 F
  • I can't remember if the puff pastry comes in one sheet or two. In any case, I know that it comes folded into thirds. Unfold the puff pastry and cut it along the seams so you have three long, thin rectangles.
  • Form the sausage into a long snake, about as thick in diameter as a magic or dry erase marker. Lay this along the length of the pastry.
  • Roll the far edge of the pastry over the sausage toward you and press the two edges together. Then, roll the whole snake back and forth a few times to round it, leaving it seam-side down.
  • Slice into 3/4" rounds. You can freeze these for months to have ready at any time. If you choose to freeze at this point, you might want to turn off your oven.
  • Bake rounds in a single layer on a baking sheet. They will give off some fat, so a rimmed sheet and some baking parchment might be advisable.
  • I don't know how long to bake them for. Will get the timing from my mom's book tonight and edit this post.
OK, my Super Bowliest recipe would probably be Seven Layer Dip. I know, also, that it's not different, but it's demanded by my best friend every year for his Independence Day barbecue, so I figure it demands a place here. Again, small differences, corners not cut, make it "different". First, using interesting variations like green chile refrieds, or roasted garlic sour cream. Second, thinning the beans with the salsa. Third, grate your own cheese. Fourth, seven is too many layers. Six is just fine (see below for seventh layer).
  • 1 can refried beans (I really like Annie's with Green Chile)
  • 1 small tub sour cream. (I found a roasted garlic sour cream that's perfect in this recipe.)
  • 1 jar salsa (got a fire-roasted one this year that made all the difference. Fresh Direct carries it, for all the NYers out there.)
  • 1/2 lb block of cheese. (pre-grated has the shreds coated with nasty stuff to keep them from sticking together)
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 can sliced black olives, or whole black olives that you slice. They must be black and canned and not fancy.
  1. Combine a half cup of the salsa with the beans and mix until well-combined, layer on the bottom of the dish.
  2. Stir sour cream in a bowl and spread on top of the beans.
  3. Layer on salsa.
  4. Grate cheese on large holes of a box grater. (Small holes will make it stick together and fall off the chip.) Sprinkle over.
  5. Finely slice all of the white part and about half the green part of the green onions. Sprinkle over.
  6. Top with black olives.
On the Fourth, I usually say the seventh layer is patriotism. I think we all know what the seventh layer is in this case... FOOTBALL! Seriously, though, I've put some thought into this and can't reasonably come up with a seventh layer that's reasonable. Guacamole or avocados go brown over the course of the party, driving people away from the second half of the dip, even though it's still tasty. Diced tomatoes are out because they're made redundant by the salsa, as are any forms of hot sauce, jalapenos or more green chile. Meat's out because chips and dip are a vegetarian's last resort at a party. Plus, if you have a better idea for the seventh layer, let me know, Commie.

You also might want to check out Union Square Cafe Bar Nuts. I saw this recipe in Saveur ages ago. They're awesome. I think there's a misprint in this recipe, though. It's supposed to be for 2 lbs of nuts.

Shrimp is also key party food.

I will look up tonight and post tomorrow my mom's recipe for Shrimp with Delice Sauce, a light curry sauce that makes a great and easy appetizer.

I will also get my friend's recipe for Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp, if she'll part with it. It's fairly involved, including apple butter and other ingredients, but they're by far the best.

More tomorrow!

29 January 2007

Pappardelle al sugo di coniglio

Well, the second time out with the pasta maker attachment was a success. It sort of all came together.

M offered to cook me eggs on Saturday morning. Nice of her, but there was the problem of no eggs in the house. So, I was dispatched to get some eggs and some cheese while M made coffee and sauteed the mushrooms and peppers. I had wanted to go to the butcher up the road to get the farm fresh eggs I love, but D'Agostinos is right across the street, so I went there instead.... and walked out within three minutes. Anything above factory farmed was over $5.00 for the dozen. Some dozens were north of $6.00! Totally disgusting and shameful. Especially when the butcher down the street carries those big, beautiful, hand-gathered eggs for $3.50 a dozen.

When I walked in, Mr. Simchick was trimming what looked like a cut-up rabbit. I said, "What is that, a rabbit?" He said, "Yes, would you like one." I didn't see how I could refuse. I'm only one man. What can I do? I also took a dozen eggs, and they'd just finished baking a spiral cut ham. It was steaming on the countertop. I told them a few slices and went next door for cheese, already plotting the Sunday dinner in my head.

I got some gruyere at Ideal Cheese, and a small tub of oil-cured olives. I normally don't like their bitter, pasty texture, but knew that they'd plump up and become sweet when braised in tomato with that rabbit.

Breakfast was great in its own right. I ended up cooking the scrambled eggs, adding some of that spiral-cut ham, and following the technique I've been using recently of stirring vigorously rather than allowing large curds to form. I had added some water to the eggs, which I probably won't do again, because they did give off a bit of water on the plate. I left them quite moist, something we've not really been worrying about, given the freshness of the eggs. M loved them. As I was watching, she sort of disappeared into the eating experience. It's a fascinating transformation. When I really hit the mark, she eats in a completely different way. Not any faster or slower, but more intently.

I kept back some of the ham for use with the rabbit. Here's how I did it:

Pappardelle: 2 x-large eggs to 1 cup flour. This is a learning experience. The normal recipe is 5 eggs to 3 cups flour (a pound), or 2 large eggs to 1 cup flour. I ended up having to put more flour into the mix. I'm also having trouble getting down the mixing technique. But it's pretty forgiving. I put in more flour until it came free of the board, then kneaded it for a good ten minutes, adding flour whenever it stuck. Then, wrapped in plastic and left to rest for a half hour at room temp. Fed the sheets through the rollers, folding in thirds and rotating a quarter turn. I've seen other recipes that stress folding in thirds and re-rolling each time you put the rollers down to the next notch. I don't know that this is exactly necessary. It might result in a bit more toothsome noodle, but delicate is okay as well.

1 rabbit, cut up and trimmed
1 tbsp. neutral oil (like vegetable or light olive)
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 cloves garlic (I would've preferred more, but that's all I had)
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes + 1 cup water (I used whole San Marzanos and a potato masher, but the flavors in this dish are strong enough that that wasn't strictly necessary. I also should've used a big can rather than small.)
1 cup oil-cured black olives
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp mirto, an herb from Corsica, reminiscent of herbes de provence, which can be substituted.
1 Star brodo stock cube
salt and black pepper

I seasoned and floured the rabbit pieces (cut up for me) and browned them in two batches in oil in the bottom of the pressure cooker, which was not really necessary, as I had all day to do the sauce, but I hadn't used it in a while. I set the rabbit aside and I sweated the onions in the remaining oil, adding the garlic once they'd softened. Then, the remaining ingredients went in. I re-added the rabbit and brought it to a boil, then pressure-cooked for 20 minutes. The "sugo," or juice, was a little watery, so I left it open and sprinkled a little Wondra flour in there to give it some body to the sauce. I also let it simmer uncovered for a while. I find this a lot with pressure cooker food. If you give it a little time to readjust back to natural atmospheric conditions after depressurizing, it will often "relax" and become identical to the long-braised dishes that the pressure cooker is meant to approximate.

I hand-cut the pappardelle with a pizza wheel, boiled it for barely a couple minutes. I took it right out of the water into warmed bowls and ladled over the sugo, which was saucy, but not thick, leaving the meat in the pot. A few little shreds of meat came along with the sauce, but that's not really the point. The point is to use the pasta to soak up the flavor that's come out of the meat, then eat the meat as a secondo. I did this. M got stuck on the pasta, which she loved.

We ate it with grated Parmigiano. Italians say that pasta dishes based on game and fish should not be cheesed. I think everything tastes better with a little Parm, especially when there're tomatoes involved. It counters their acidity and makes the whole thing just... better. And this isn't really game.

Looking forward to a couple more great meals out of this one recipe.

08 January 2007

I made a catch-all gumbo over the weekend, using chorizo in place of andouille, dried okra from the spice store in the place of fresh, and the stock I'd made for lasagne in brodo the other night. All the substitutions worked out fine. The big lesson was to warm the stock before adding to the roux-vegetable mix. It resulted in a silkier, thicker gumbo, with less skimming (and thus more fat) and actually a good thickness to it. Cold stock apparently shocks the roux into separating. I'll check my McGee book tonight for the science on this.

05 January 2007


Had dinner at Sake Bar Hagi near Times Square last night. It was good food, a little greasy, but satisfying and a good base for the bottle of Towari buckwheat shochu we shared. It wasn't exactly a standout, but the ochazuke (tea-rice) we had was about as close as I've gotten so far to what I had in Tokyo.

I've learned from Maki of justhungry.com that the little round crispy things on top of the ochazuke I had in Tokyo were arare, tiny rice crackers. She has a good overall description of the dish in that post. As far as the cultural place of ochazuke, a couple of Japanese people have likened it to mac-n-cheese. It's warm, comforting, unpretentious. I suppose what I had in Tokyo was the equivalent of a truffled mac-n-cheese. Same unpretentious dish made fancy for a high-paying clientèle. Coming soon, a home attempt of this lovely little dish, just as soon as I get to a Japanese market.

ps. I chickened out on the chorizo-flavored Lahey bread mentioned in my last post. Rather, I'm currently doing the rise on a second attempt of the plain bread. It's just too risky to leave meat out overnight, however cured and spiced it is. Maybe I can figure out a way to stuff the Lahey bread with minced chorizo, though, for the last rise.

02 January 2007

How to score a fiancee with a nice rack

I think it's telling that the only tears of joy that were shed on the night we got engaged (New Year's Eve) were by M, and they were not over the beauty of the vintage ring I'd bought her, but over the rack of lamb I made her, long before the ring made an appearance. This bodes well for our future. I intend to make her many, many more meals... I can't necessarily say the same about buying her diamonds. (Sorry, love.)

This was my second try at duplicating the smoked paprika rack of lamb we had at Daniel on M's thirtieth birthday, and I think I did it. I wanted to bread the lamb, but I didn't want to give up a seared flavor, so here's what I did:

Smoked Paprika Rack of Lamb

Rack of lamb, two bones per person, trimmed of excess fat.
Bread crumbs from one fete biscottate per person (or substitute 2 tbsp plain bread crumbs)
1/4 tsp smoked paprika per person
1 tsp butter per person, melted

flour seasoned with salt
1 egg, beaten.
Salt and pepper

1.) Heat a cast iron griddle or skillet on the stove. Cut the rack of lamb (fresh from the fridge) into portions of two bones each, and season generously with salt and pepper.
2.) When the pan is very hot, sear each side of the lamb shank just until brown (no more than 30 seconds), then remove to a plate to cool. Doing this with the lamb straight from the fridge will make sure they just sear, rather than cooking.
3.) Combine crumbs, paprika, and butter, in that order, and toss until well-combined.
4.) Holding by the bones, dredge the lamb in flour, then egg, then the paprika bread crumbs. Set on a roasting pan, bones arced down and leave out to come up to room temperature.
5.) Preheat oven to 375. Serve appetizers. (We had Prince Edward Island mussels with garlic, white wine, and olive oil.)
6.) Place lamb in oven, roast at 375 until internal temp reads 135 F, about 12-15 minutes.
7.) Before serving, slice in half between the two bones, arranging on the plate so that one crusted and one carved side is up.

I served it with simple steamed asparagus and butter, with a nice Rioja on the side. M cried. A better compliment I couldn't imagine. Well, agreeing to marry me later that night was probably a little better.