Sunday, March 1, 2015

Shrimp Stew from Puglia

Every recipe can tell a story, if you are willing to listen to it.  This recipe tells of small fishing villages along the coastline of Apulia or Puglia. Villages such as Molfetta or Monopoli.  Walking along the docks early in the morning, one would watch as the small fishing boats head out into the Adriatic Sea, searching for the freshest catch available.  The catch could be mackerel or anchovies.  It could be squid or octopus.  And, for some, it could be shrimp.  As the boats return to the harbor and the docks, one waits to survey the catch.  And, if possible, one could select the freshest seafood, and take their "catch" to a nearby restaurant to be prepared in the local style.  Local seafood prepared by local chefs. 

This recipe -- Shrimp Stew from Puglia -- comes, not from a local seafood restaurant in either Molfetta or Monopoli.  Instead, it comes by way of Mario Batali in his book America Farm to Table.  The recipe was provided by Mariquita Farm, which is located in Watsonville, California.  The farm does not cultivate or raise shrimp.  Rather, it grows a variety of produce, including sweet peppers.  Those peppers provide a nice contrast to the briny shrimp, which is what makes this dish shine.  

Shrimp sauteing in the pan.
When it comes to the shrimp, Mario Batali suggests that one look for American gulf shrimp. The reason is that buying American helps to support local fisheries; and, there is no doubt that the shrimping fishery in the Gulf Coast region definitely needs our support.   

There are also other reasons to buy American shrimp.  One major reason is that there are grave issues with respect to shrimp that is harvested in certain areas of the world.  For example, there are numerous reports and stories about slave labor being used by Thai fishing boats. Those same vessels also do not use sustainable fishing methods, which leads to overfishing and damage to the oceans.  

Fortunately, I was able to find some wild caught shrimp from the United States.  When you look for shrimp, you should buy shell-on shrimp, so you can make the shrimp stock called for in the recipe.  You should also look at large shrimp, such as U-12 (twelve shrimp to a pound), but no smaller than 16-20 count (sixteen to twenty shrimp per pound).  Smaller shrimp would simply get lost in the stew.  

Although there is no mention of it in the recipe, I would suggest that this dish be served with a good piece of crusty bread.  The stew is very good and the bread works well to get every last drop of its sweetness.  We did not have any bread when I made this dish for my beautiful Angel.  That was the one missing ingredient.


SHRIMP STEW FROM PUGLIA
Recipe from Mario Batali, America Farm to Table, pg. 167
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the shrimp stock):
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Reserved shells from 2 pounds of shrimp
2 tablespoons of sweet paprika or pimenton
4 cups of water
Kosher salt

Ingredients (for the shrimp stew):
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 red onion, cut into 1/8 inch dice
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/8 inch dice
2 yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/8 inch dice 
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/2 cup basic tomato sauce
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds (16/20 count shrimp), peeled and deveined,
     shells reserved for stock
3 cups of shrimp stock
1/3 bunch fresh chives

Directions:
1.  Make the shrimp stock.  In a 3 to 4 quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shrimp shells and toss well.  Allow the shells to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often.  Add the sweet paprika and cook for 3 minutes more.  Add the water and bring to a simmer, pressing down on the shells with a spatula or large spoon to extract maximum flavor.  Cook until reduced by one-quarter.  Season with a little sauce to taste.

2.  Saute the vegetables.  In a 10 to 12 inch saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over high heat until just smoking.  Add the onion and bell peppers and saute for 5 minutes.  Add the red pepper flakes, sugar, tomato sauce, and salt and black pepper to taste and cook over low heat until tender, about 10 minutes.   Remove from the heat and set aside.

3.  Saute the shrimp.  In a 12 to 14 inch saute pan, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat until smoking.  Season the shrimp with salt and black pepper on both sides and cook until very red, 1 to 2 minutes.  Turn carefully with a wide spatula and cook on the other side for 1 minute.  You may need to cook the shrimp in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.

4.  Make the stew. Remove the shrimp, add the bell pepper mixture and the shrimp stock to the pan and bring to the a boil.  Cook for 3 minutes, then return the shrimp to the mix and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer for a few minutes more.  

5.  Plate the dish.  Ladle the stew into deep bowls and garnish with chives and and a drizzle of good olive oil.

ENJOY!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Stickin in my IPA

It seems only natural that NOFX, a punk band with a 1994 album named Punk in Drublic, would eventually collaborate with a brewer to produce an alcoholic beverage of some sort.  What one would not expect is that it would take more than twenty years for that collaboration to take place and for the beer to be released. And, when I saw a craft beer collaboration between Champion Brewing (from Charlottesville, Virginia) and NOFX (from Los Angeles, California), I knew I had to try it.

From the craft beer perspective, I have tried beers inspired by musicians.  I've even blogged about a couple, including Dogfish Head's Bitches Brew (a tribute to Miles Davis) and Hellhound on my Ale (a tribute to Robert Johnson).  The effort of brewers to brew beer to commemorate a musician, especially when it focuses on an artist or musical style that I love, such as jazz or blues. 

One musical style that I really love is punk music.  Bands like Bad Religion, Pennywise, Minor Threat and, yes, NOFX, constitute a large portion of my digital music.  I have several of NOFX's albums, including Punk in Drublic, The War on Errorism, and Wolves in Wolves Clothing.  Some of my favorite songs include The BrewsIdiots are Taking Over and Leaving Jesusland.  

However, it is a song off of NOFX's album White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean that gives this beer its name.  The song is Stickin in my Eye, which the the basis for Sticking in my IPA.  The brewers at Champion gave a nod to NOFX's west coast roots by brewing this IPA in the "West Coast style."  This style means a heavy emphasis on the central features of the hops ... its bitter, piney notes.  The hops used in this beer are Simcoe and Falconer's Flight hops.  To round out the bitterness, the brewer use rye grains, which help to add a little "sweetness" and, in turn, a little complexity to the beer.  

The Stickin in my IPA pours a golden, amber color, with a small, thin foam that quickly recedes to the edges of the glass.  The hops work their magic in this beer.  The Falconer's Flight hops provide a wonderful aroma of piney notes, which are intermittently cut through with a sweetness from the rye and malts.  The Simcoe hops provide a strong, yet manageable bitterness to the taste of the beer.  The bitterness is shrouded in piney notes, with a sweetness that reveals itself after each sip.  As the sweetness greets the tongue, the bitterness holds on to the edges to serve as a reminder that this beer is an India Pale Ale with an IBU of 65 and an ABV of 7.5%. 

I found this beer at a local grocery store.  It sells for $8.99 a can.    It is definitely worth a try, even if you don't like or know about NOFX or punk music.

ENJOY!

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Vanillaphant

Just as chefs pair ingredients, seeking to create complementary or contrasting tastes, so do brewmasters.  This is a relatively "recent" development; and, by "recent," I mean within the past twenty or thirty years.  For decades, beer was not brewed for its taste, but for its drinkability.  Then came the craft beer movement.  The ability to down a six-pack during a quarter of college or professional football was no longer as important as the ability to enjoy different styles of beer, as well as flavors and characteristics of those beers.

One seemingly natural pairing is vanilla and a porter.  The objective in that case is to create a contrast.  On the one hand, there is the sweet, smooth flavor of the vanilla. On the other hand, there is the biting, somewhat harsh flavor of the roasted malts.  The combination of vanilla and roasted malts is something akin to brewmasters trying to combine vanilla and chocolate ice cream ... except it is in a beer. 

As natural as the pairing may be, vanilla can be rather hard to come by.  The ingredient originated in the New World, in the area that is now the Mexican State of Veracruz.  Mexico was long the principal producer of vanilla; however, others wanted to get into the market  The difficulty in cultivating vanilla made it hard for anyone to be successful outside of Mexico.  However, a man by the name of Edmond Albius discovered how to hand-pollinate the flowers of the plant.  This allowed for vanilla to be planted and cultivated in other areas, including the Bourbon islands, which is present day Reunion (and could include the Comoros and Madagascar, at least with respect to vanilla cultivation).

The brewers at Avondale Brewery obtained vanilla from the "Bourbon Islands" to make the Vanillaphant, a Porter Ale brewed with Vanilla.  The brewers describe their beer as "surprisingly light bodied for its robust flavor."  They also say "it resembles the chocolate and roasted nut flavors that you expect in a porter, but with a special vanilla twist at the end.  The malty and vanilla sweetness are perfectly balanced with hoppy bitterness."

The brewers' description of this beer is relatively accurate.  The body of the beer is relatively light for a porter.  As I sipped the Vanillaphant, I could ascertain the chocolate and roasted flavors, as well as the sweetness from the vanilla beans.  Although I am not sure that I could characterize it as a "special vanilla twist at the end," the brewers were able to balance the bitterness of the roasted elements with the sweetness of the vanilla. 

This beer is best reserved for dessert.  It could be paired with desserts such as Tiramisu, chocolate cake or just a scoop or two of ice cream.  I did a search to find what others have paired with this beer.  One pairing was sticky toffee pudding. Another pairing was a little more adventurous ... Vanillaphant braised lamb short ribs.  While I could see a porter being used in such a braise, a vanilla porter would be rather interesting, especially with lamb short ribs (as opposed to beef short ribs).  

I got a bottle of the Vanillaphant as a gift, so I can't say how much a bottle costs.  However, as far as I know, Avondale beers are generally available only in the State of Alabama.  If you happen to be in the area, it is definitely worth a try. 

ENJOY!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pistachio and Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with Roasted Asparagus and Rosemary Potatoes

One of the dishes on my "to-do" list was a recipe for Pistachio and Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb, with Roasted Asparagus and Rosemary Potatoes.  I came across the recipe along time ago, when I was making dishes for my beautiful Angel when she was pregnant with our little guy.  Clare does not eat lamb, so I set aside the recipe for one of my "Steak Nights."  The "to-do" list for Steak Night was rather long, and, thoughts of the recipe sat, somewhat neglected in the recesses of my mind.

That was until very recently, when I had the urge to cook with a rack of lamb.  A rack of lamb is a cut perpendicular to the spine of the animal, and, usually consists of about eight (8) ribs and chops.  The rack of lamb cut is very popular, and somewhat expensive, especially if you purchase a "frenched" rack, where the ends of the ribs have been stripped bare of fat and meat.  A "frenched" rack of lamb provides for better presentation.   So, I bought one, because I could use a little help in the presentation department.    

Once I had my frenched rack of lamb, I proceeded to get the other ingredients.  The part of the recipe that piqued my interest is the "crust" of pistachios and fresh herbs.  I have seen many different recipes for "crusted" rack of lamb, but this was the first one that I saw which used pistachios.  Those nuts, along with the fresh rosemary and thyme, created an interesting combination of tastes and textures for the lamb. Apparently, it is also a fairly popular one, judging by the number of pistachio crusted rack of lamb recipes on the internet.  Some of those recipes did not include the fresh herbs, or, worse, added bread crumbs. Given the use of pistachios, bread crumbs seems kind of redundant for this dish, at least in my humble opinion.

Once I got home and made this recipe, I regretted not making it sooner.  The pistachio and her crust was delicious, and, as always, the lamb tasted very good.  However, I realized that I needed some more practice, both with respect to working with the crust and carving the finished product.  Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this recipe, and, as with so many other recipes, it will go on another list ... to make again.  Hopefully, it will not take as long to get back to the dish.


PISTACHIO AND HERB CRUSTED RACK OF LAMB WITH
ROASTED ASPARAGUS AND ROSEMARY POTATOES
 Recipe from Erika Lenkert, Healthy Eating During Pregnancy, pg. 110

Ingredients:
4 small red potatoes, halved
5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound asparagus, stems trimmed
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/3 cup dry-roasted pistachios
2 frenched racks of lamb (each rack 3/4 pound) 
     trimmed of all but a thin layer of fat
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Directions:
1.  Cook the potatoes and asparagus.  In a wide bowl, toss the cut potatoes in 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary to coat.  Season with salt and pepper and transfer, cut side down in a single layer to a rimmed backing sheet.  Roll the asparagus in the same wide bowl, coating with the remaining oil, and set aside.  Roast the potatoes for 35 minutes.  Add the asparagus in a single layer and roast the potatoes and asparagus for 10 more minutes, then keep warm.

2.  Prepare the pistachio/herb blend.  Blend the parsley, thyme, and remaining 1 teaspoon rosemary in a blender or food processor until minced.  Add the pistachios and blend or process until minced.  Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and pulse until combined.  Set aside.

3.  Prepare the lamb.  Season the lamb with salt and pepper.  Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high.  Sear the meat one rack at a time by cooking the ribs until brown, turning once, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the lamb to a large roasting pan, meat side up, and coat them with Dijon mustard.

4.  Roast the lamb.  Gently press the pistachio mixture onto the meaty portion of the rack (not the bones).  Roast the lamb until a thermometer inserted diagonally 2 inches into the center (do not touch the bone) registers 155 degrees Fahrenheit (for medium), 20 to 25 minutes.  Transfer to a cutting board.

5.  Finish the dish.  Let stand for 10 minutes, then gently cut the meat into individual ribs.  Serve with the potatoes and asparagus.

ENJOY!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Roman Turkey Burgers

There is a seemingly infinite number of turkey burgers out there.  If you search for "turkey burger recipe" on Google, you get 147,000 results.  Not every result is a recipe for a turkey burger.  However, the search produces turkey burgers of every variety inspired by cuisines across the world.  There are southwestern turkey burgers, which usually include some chipotle or ancho chiles in the recipe, and "Greek" turkey burgers, with yogurt, oregano and feta cheese in the burgers.  And, there are quite a few "ultimate" turkey burgers. 

Recently, I wanted to make turkey burgers for my beautiful Angel. I perused page after page of turkey burger recipes but none of them really caught and held my attention.  I eventually decided that I would create my own turkey burger recipe.   A turkey burger recipe raises two questions, one that is easily answered and another one that is a little more difficult.

The first question is what type of ground turkey to use.  One has two choices: ground turkey breast or ground turkey thighs.  Personally, I think turkey thighs are better because they have a higher fat content, which helps to prevent the meat from drying out during the cooking process. If you are looking for a healthier turkey burger, you could use one-half thigh meat and one-half breast meat.  However, given the fact that you are making a turkey burger, as opposed to a regular burger, you are already making something that is relatively healthier.  

The second question is what to add to the ground turkey.  If you don't add anything to the turkey burger, you have a simple meal.  A simple, boring meal.  That is why there are so many different turkey burger recipes.  Many people have experimented with different ingredients that are mixed into the ground turkey to create a more flavorful and delicious burger.  

In the end, I decided to incorporate some Italian ingredients into this recipe.  I started with some sun-dried tomatoes.  I bought a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, which provided an additional way to add flavor to the turkey.  I also bought some fresh basil and flat leaf parsley, both of which are chopped rather finely.  I rounded out the ingredients with some minced garlic and some grated Parmesan cheese.  All of these ingredients are complementary, working very well together in the ground turkey mixture.  

Overall, this recipe worked out very well.  It is a relatively easy and quick recipe to make during the week.  This means that I will be making it again, probably very soon.



ROMAN TURKEY BURGERS
A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 pound of ground turkey (preferably ground thighs)
6 sundried tomatoes in olive oil, thinly sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons Italian basil, chopped
1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large tomato, sliced
1 red onion, sliced thinly
Lettuce

Directions:
1. Prepare the burgers.  Place the turkey in a bowl.  Gently add the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil, salt, and pepper.  Mix the ingredients thoroughly.  Then add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Mix the ingredients gently.  You can add an additional tablespoon of olive oil, but that is optional.  Form into 4 patties and make an indentation in the middle of each one to help the patties cook evenly.

2.  Cook the burgers.  Pre-heart the broiler.  Broil the patties until firm and brown, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.  Serve on toasted buns with lettuce, tomato and onion. 

ENJOY!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

South Coast Winery Wild Horse Peak Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (2008)

Where horse thieves & renegades once sought refuge, vines now flourish in the rolling mountain vineyards of Wild Horse Peak.  Those words introduce one to the Cabernet Sauvignon produced by South Coast Winery.  The winery goes on to describe the vineyards in very descriptive terms:

"The overwhelming red soils, granitic outcroppings and steep terrain coupled with outstanding climate conditions define the mountain vineyards of Wild Horse Peak.  At an altitude of over 2,000 feet, these vineyards wrestle with Mother Nature, enduring the circumstances of the environment & yielding a small concentrated crop that is unparalleled in the region."

Those descriptive words are a very good introduction to South Coast Winery's Cabernet Sauvignon.  The grapes from the Wild Horse Peak vineyard were used to produce this wine.  However, I wanted to learn more about the wine.  Apart from the descriptive label on the bottle, information about this wine was very hard to come by. This left me to my own devices, which could be a good thing or a bad thing when it comes to a wine review.

The Cabernet Sauvignon pours a nice dark crimson color, with magenta hues shining through depending on the light.  The aromatic elements are full of fruit, such as ripe cherries, with some raspberry and blackberry in the background.  Those fruit make their way to the taste of the wine, along with a little earthiness or slate.  The most notable feature about the wine is its dryness, with a nice level of tannins to help round out the wine.  

This wine is perfect for red meats, such as grilled beef, lamb or venison.  Two dishes that readily come to mind are the Cowboy Steak in the Prime Style and the Italian Ribeye. It would also work well with some heartier preparations of chicken or pork. Some suggestions include Pollo a las Brassas con Cebollitas and Herb Roasted Pork Sandwiches.  The grilling or roasting of chicken or pork complements the robust nature of this wine.

This wine was a gift to Clare and myself from my parents, who visited the South Coast Winery.  The winery also happens to have a hotel and spa.  There is something about a place where you can take a vacation and sip wine in some relaxing surroundings.  If you are ever near Temecula, California, then you should check out this winery.

ENJOY!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fennel, Apple and Celery Salad with Cilantro and Lemon

Generally, I have never been a big fan of salads.  I consider myself an alpha carnivore, preferring to eat meat over leafy greens.  If I have to have a side, it is usually a starch, such as potatoes or rice.  To be sure, I eat salads and cook vegetable side dishes, but  not as much as I should.

My beautiful Angel has made tremendous strides in opening me and my diet to salads.  This recipe is an example of that.  Before I met my Angel, I would not have thought of making a salad of fennel, apple and celery.   However, a few weeks back, we had dinner with Clare's parents and her father made a salad that included fennel.  The salad was very delicious.  It also got me to thinking about different salads that I could make for Clare which feature fennel.

Fennel is a very interesting ingredient.  The white bulbs with straight, green branches and feathery leaves sets this vegetable apart from others on a grocery shelf.   One would think it was related to any number of vegetables that sprout from bulbs.  However, fennel is from the Umbellifereae family, which means it is closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander.  Yet, the taste of fennel -- with its strong notes of anise -- is completely different than parsley, coriander and the like.  

The anise flavor of fennel pairs well with a variety of ingredients, most notably apples.  This basic pairing is what makes the salad work.  The use of celery, cilantro and lemons add levels of flavor to the salad.  The result is a delicious salad that has helped to further focus my attention to vegetables.


FENNEL, APPLE, AND CELERY SALAD WITH CILANTRO AND LEMON
Recipe from Food Network
Serves 8

Ingredients:
1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large apples, julienned
1 medium head of fennel, cored and thinly sliced
3 large ribs of celery, sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Directions:
In a large non-reactive bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Add the apples, fennel, celery and cilantro.  Toss until well combined.  Taste and adjust the seasonings. 

ENJOY!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sweet Pepper and White Bean Soup

Mario Batali introduces a recipe for sweet pepper and white bean soup in words that are seemingly quintessential Mario: "The creamy bass notes of white beans play perfectly against the high-hat brightness of the peppers' sweet acidity, extending the spectrum of flavor to the perimeter of yum."

The thing about Mario Batali is that he is exactly on point when it comes to this recipe.  The white beans have a creamy note that fulfills the base of this dish.  I expected the beans to do this, so it is not a great surprise.  What shocked me is the range of those red bell peppers.  I have always known that bell peppers are sometimes called "sweet peppers," because, quite frankly, most other peppers are considered "hot peppers."  However, the red peppers provided an unexpected, yet completely welcomed, sweetness that did, in fact, elevate the soup to levels that I did not expect.

The one thing that Mario left out about the recipe is its versatility.  I made this recipe for my beautiful Angel, who is no fan of pancetta and does not eat chicken.  I substituted turkey bacon for the pancetta and vegetable stock for the chicken stock.  The only difference was the color, which became a more deep red (due to the vegetable stock).  I am sure that other substitutions could be made, such as different beans or even the use of chickpeas in the place of the beans.

In the end, my soup differed from Mario's recipe.  The vegetable stock and turkey bacon provide different flavors than chicken stock and pancetta.  However, Mario's description is still appropriate because the main stars of this soup -- the sweet pepper and white beans -- still perform flawlessly, providing the sweetness and creamy bass notes as Mario suggests.


SWEET PEPPER AND WHITE BEAN SOUP
Recipe adapted from America Farm to Table by Mario Batali at pg. 73
Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:
4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (homemade or low sodium-store bought)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
4 fresh sage leaves
1/4 pound pancetta or bacon, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
3 red bell peppers, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 (15 ounce) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
1.  Saute the pancetta, onions and peppers.   In a medium pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil.  In a Dutch oven, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until almost smoking.  Add the onion, sage and pancetta.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until the onion is slightly browned.  Mix in the tomato paste and the bell peppers and continue to cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes more.  

2.  Make the soup.  Add the boiling chicken stock to the Dutch oven and return to a boil.  Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  In small batches, transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, then pour into the pot in which you heated the stock.  Add the white beans and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  

3.  Serve the soup.  Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and freshly cracked pepper.

ENJOY!  

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