Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Farm to Brewery in the Free State

Recently, my beautiful Angel, Clare, organized a surprise for my birthday.  She kept all of the details under wraps, except one: we would be having a picnic.  That's it: a picnic.  All of the other details, such as where we were having a picnic were a mystery.  While a picnic with my wife is a birthday treat in and of itself, I knew that she had other plans.  I also know that she knows me very well.  Just how well she knows me was reinforced when I learned of my surprise: a tour of a couple of Maryland's Farm to Breweries.  Farms + Breweries = a very happy and intrigued Keith!

The Farm-to-Brewery movement in Maryland was sparked by a bill passed by the state legislature a few years ago.  That bill created a new license -- known as the Class 8 Farm Brewery License -- which allows farms that grow hops to produce their own beers.  Not only could farmers produce their own beer, but the license allows them to sell the beer on premises, as well as to distributors or individual customers.  However, farmers are limited to just 15,000 barrels per year (that's 1,840,000 pints of beer).  The farmers must also use at least one ingredient grown on the farm, such as barley or hops, (the other ingredients do not have to necessarily come from the particular farm in question).

The first stop in our tour was Red Shedman Farm Brewery & Hop Yard.  The name "Red Shedman" hearkens to a story of the owner's father about a mysterious stranger who lurked in the red shed in the yard.  The father told the story to explain the source of mysterious sounds -- the bumps in the night -- to his frightened children.

Needless to say, the Red Shedman now refers to the Farm Brewery, whose buildings are all decked out in a solid barn-red color.  The farm cultivates Cascade, Chinook, Columbus, Nugget, and Crystal hops,  It does so only on one-half acre of land, which is a small area compared to the 70 acres of grapes grown by Linganore Cellars, which is owned by the same family. Nevertheless, that half-acre of hops makes its way into the beer, such as the Pump House IPA.

The Pump House IPA -- a West Coast Style IPA, produced with farm grown hops and supplemented with Amarillo and Summit hops -- was one of six beers that I tried during our visit.  I also tasted the Utopia, a farmhouse Belgian Saison that was well balanced.  (The only negative I can say about that beer is that my sample kicked the keg and there was no more for a pint.)  I also tried the Suicide Blonde Nitro, which was an adept combination of a classic Belgian Wit and a dry-hopped India Pale Ale.  The Suicide Blonde featured the best of each style -- the lighter, fruitier aspects of a wit with the bitterness of the IPA.  I also tried the Lunatic Fringe, a "lightly aged" Habanero IPA.  This beer had just the right heat from the habanero peppers but still allowed someone who is not accustomed to such heat to enjoy the beer.  The last two beers that I tried were the Grinder Espresso Stout -- a Chocolate nitro stout blended with Colombian coffee -- and the Honey Bourbon -- a limited release aged in bourbon barrels.  All in all, the flight provided a range of beers that were very good.  The best of the beers was the Pump House IPA (although the Utopia was a close second).

After sampling the beers, we moved on to the second stop on the farm to brewery tour ... Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm.   The Stillpoint farm raised sheep, cultivated hops and even had an apiary.  However, the owner was a home brewer and wanted to pursue brewing as a way to supplement his income. (After all, a farmer could make more money selling beer than selling hops.)  He worked with farmers, brewers and officials to help to pass the law that gave rise to the Class 8 Farm Brewery License.  The owner then opened the Milkhouse Brewery, which was Maryland's first farm-to-brewery operation.  

We sampled nine beers at the Milkhouse brewery, which spanned the spectrum of beer styles.  There was the Dollyhyde Petite Farmhouse Ale (a Belgian "Patersbier" made with honey from the Stillpoint farm), the Goldie's Best Bitter (dry-hopped with Chinook hops from the farm) and the Homestead Hefeweizen, which was a very good example of the style.  We also sampled a couple of IPAs, including the Throwback IPA and the Stillpoint SMaSH Pale Ale, both of which were good.  Another noteworthy beer was the Petite Summer Sour.  While Clare did not care for the beer, I thought it was very good for a sour.  The beer was tart, full of a lemony citrus character, and light on the tongue. It would make a very good palate cleanser.  We also had the Coppermine Creek Dry Stout, which was good, and a couple of other beers, whose names escape me at the present time.  Overall, the Milkhouse Brewery had several beers that were standouts, such as the Hefeweizen, the Summer Sour and one of the pale ales (whose name I cannot remember).

In the end, this little foray into the farm to beer movement was a great introduction to the types of beers that could be produced by farmers-turned-brewers.  It also provides us with a new way to support local businesses.   And there are more such local businesses to support, including Manor Hill Brewing, Ruhlman Brewing and even the Brookville Beer Farm, which will be opening close to where we live in the near future.

So, there will be more to come.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Salmon Belly Masala

There is something magical about salmon belly.  The long strips of fatty meat, covered by a narrow stretch of skin. As it cooks, the fat begins to render, bathing the meat in the Omega 3 fatty acids that actually make this belly healthier to eat than pork belly.  Once it is pulled off the grill or removed from under the broiler (or a smoker), you are ready for tasting what might be some of the best that salmon can offer.  After you have tasted the fatty, tender meat, you are left asking yourself, "why the hell do I keep buying salmon fillets or steaks?"  Three little pieces of salmon belly have far more flavor and oh-so-good richness than a pound of salmon fillets or salmon steaks.

I am often surprised by the fact that I do not see packages of salmon belly in stores.  Fillets and steaks are everywhere.  King Salmon, Coho Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Atlantic Salmon (don't buy). Package after package, fillet after fillet, steak after steak.  But, no belly.

Fortunately, a small, locally-owned store near me has been stocking salmon belly over the past few weeks.  This has led to some experimentation on my part with this wonderful ingredient. Before the experiments could take place, I had to have at least some idea of what to do.  I perused various websites and recipes.  The general theme is that salmon belly is best grilled (or broiled) or smoked.  The goal is to achieve a degree of oily goodness, while also crisping the skin.  This can present quite the challenge, as there is a lot of fats and oils in the belly.

Another challenge comes from the richness of the meat.  In my humble opinion, there needs to be something to contrast the unctuous nature of the ingredient.   I gave it some thought and decided that I would use a spice mix to create that contrast.  As for which spice mix to use, I decided that I would rely upon Indian cuisine well known for its mixes ... or masalas.

I focused my search on Indian and subcontinent recipes that included a masala or for salmon.   Based on those recipes, I developed my own spice mix.   The basis of the spice mix is garlic and ginger, along with garam masala.  I then added some small amounts of cloves and cinnamon, as well as some salt.  The end is a mixture that has a lot of spice, but no piquancy or heat.  The goal was to flavor the fat, not to make it burn.

I then decided to make kebabs.  The reason is simple.  As I noted above, salmon belly is very rich.  Too much salmon belly may be too much from some people.  By making kebabs, I can control the portion size, thereby ensuring that no one gets too much of a good thing.

I have made this recipe a couple of times and each time it has turned out well.  The key is to keep the skin side up, so as to allow the skin to crisp as much as possible.  It may not always happen, because the kebabs may not be in the broiler for a long enough period of time.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

1/2 pound of salmon belly, cut into even sized pieces
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
Red onions, for garnish
Fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish

1.  Marinate the salmon belly.  Combine the garam masala, garlic powder, ginger, powder, ground cloves, ground cinnamon and salt.  Add the oil to a ziploc bag and then add the salmon belly pieces.  Coat the salmon belly with the oil.  Add the spice mixture and make sure each belly piece is coated with the spices.  Marinate for at least 1 hour.

2.  Prepare the skewers.  Place 3 pieces of salmon belly on each skewer.  Use a brush to brush some more of the marinade on each side of the salmon belly pieces.  

3.  Broil the skewers.   Place the skewers, skin side up, under the broiler for about 5-7 minutes or until done.  

4.  Finish the dish.  Place the skewers over rice.  Garnish with red onions and cilantro.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Shrimp Masala in the Pakistani Style

After having just completed my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge to prepare a main course from the country of Pakistan, which was a delicious dish of Karahi Gosht, I still felt inspired by the Pakistani cuisine.  I was looking for a shrimp masala dish when I came across a recipe for Prawn Masala in the Pakistani Manner.

Before I get to the recipe, there has always been something that kind of vexed me.  Is there really any difference between a prawn and a shrimp?  As it turns out, there is. Prawns come from the sub-order Dendrobranchiata, while shrimp are from the sub-order Pleocymata.  Latin aside, there is a more obvious biological difference.  Prawns have claws on three pairs of legs, while shrimp only have claws on two pairs of legs.  Other than an extra set of claws, prawns are relatively similar to shrimp.  Both come in a variety of sizes, from small to very big.  Both have relatively the same taste and texture.

But, alas, in most supermarkets around where I live, there are shrimp, not prawns.  The prawns seem to find their way only onto menus, usually of higher-priced restaurants. So, whenever I come across a recipe calling for prawns -- like Prawn Masala in the Pakistani Manner -- I use shrimp.  Shrimp are cheaper and, when used in the recipe, it sounds a little less pretentious.

With respect to this particular recipe, it did not really matter whether I used shrimp or prawns.  What really matters is the masala.  The word comes from the Hindi word for spice.  As it is used in cooking, a masala can refer to two things.  First, it refers to the spice mixture or paste that is used in Indian ... and, as this post obviously suggests, Pakistani ... cooking.  The mixture could include a variety of spices, such as chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garam masala (a masala unto itself) and turmeric.  Second, it can refer to the dish that in which the spice mixture is used.  Thus, a Shrimp Masala is a shrimp dish in which a masala is used.  

This particular masala dish uses a really simple masala.  It consists of four ingredients: cumin, coriander, garlic and chile powder.  Those four ingredients work together to produce a complex spice blend that (with the cumin and the chile powder) provide heat on a couple of different levels.   The simplicity of the masala mirrors the simplicity of this dish.  Saute some garlic, then the shrimp and the masala and finally some tomato.  Serve with rice and you have a dish.  Can't beat that, especially after a busy day at work or with the kids on a weekend.  

Recipe adapted from Spice Spoon
Serves 2-3

1 pound of shrimp, deveined, shells and tails removed
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely width-wise
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/4 read chile powder 
2 medium sized tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves and stalks

1.  Saute the garlic.  Place a wok or a frying pan on medium heat.  Add the oil and garlic and saute for two minutes, until fragrant.  The garlic should not darken in color.

2.  Saute the shrimp.  Add the shrimp and spices (turmeric, cumin, coriander and chile).  Continue to saute for 3 minutes more or until the shrimp are opaque.

3.  Add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat to medium high and add the tomatoes.  Stir the shrimp with a spatula, and, after one minute, turn the heat off.  The tomatoes should not be overcooked and the skin should remain intact.  

4. Finish the dish.  Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve with crusty bread or rice.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Pakistan

The last chapter of my personal challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes, involved preparing a main course from India.  The dish was Rogan Josh.  It was a Kashmiri version of the traditional lamb stew or curry; but, the recipe shared one thing in common with other Rogan Josh recipes: it was full of flavorful spices.   

The next challenge does not take me very far, at least geographically.   In fact, it is just across the border from India ... Pakistan.  The two countries are very different, but, when it comes to cuisines, there are some commonalities.  One overarching similarity between Pakistani and Indian cuisines is that there are significant differences from region to region.  The cuisine in the Punjab and Sindh regions is very seasoned and spicy, similar to what you might find in southern India.  The further north you go in Pakistan, just as in India, the dishes are less spicy, but no less flavorful.

Another overarching similarity is that both Pakistan and India draw from some common influences.  The dishes that may appear on the tables in Pakistan, just like in India, draw from Afghan, Persian, and Central Asian cuisines.  Pakistani dishes also draw inspiration from Indian dishes (vice versa).

The challenge in this case is one such example.  The recipe is Karahi Gosht, a very spicy lamb curry that can be found in both Pakistan and India. For this challenge, however, I have to focus on the version of the dish that I might find on the streets of Lahore:

A "karahi" is a thick circular deep cooking pot, like the one in the video above.  "Gosht" is mutton or lamb.  Thus, Karahi Gosht is literally lamb cooked in a pot.  Other meats, such as chicken or goat could be substituted for the lamb.  One could even make a version of this dish with paneer, if you have any vegetarians (like my beautiful Angel) in your family.  I decided to stick with mutton or lamb.  Actually, I went with lamb because mutton can be hard to find in most supermarkets around where I live.   I used a couple pounds of butterflied leg of lamb, although lamb shoulder would probably work just as well, if not better.

As for the karahi, that kind of cooking pot is not one that I have lying around my kitchen (although after making this recipe, I have been looking for one).  I substituted a wide saute pan with curved sides.  While it may not be truly authentic, it worked well nonetheless.

Recipe from Scientific Psychic
Serves 4-8

2 pounds of lamb or mutton, cut into cubes 
3 medium onions, finely chopped
1 large tomato, diced
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 pieces of fresh turmeric (or 1 tablespoon ground)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 lemon juiced
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon mustard seed
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 1/2 cups of water

1.  Prepare the lamb or mutton.  Put the lamb pieces in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and lemon juice, stir and set aside for 20 minutes.

2.  Saute the vegetables and spices.   Set a pot on medium heat, add the cooking oil and saute the chopped onion,s garlic, ginger and turmeric until golden brown and fragrant (If you are using ground turmeric, wait until you add the spices.)  Add cumin, cinnamon, ground coriander, mustard seeds, garam masala, cloves, allspice and chilies.  Stir until fragrant and well mixed.  

3.  Cook the lamb.  Add the lamb pieces and stir until the spices cover the meat.   Add the water, cover the pot, and lower the heat to simmer for about 45 minutes until the lamb is cooked.

4.  Finish the dish.  When the meat is tender, add the chopped cilantro and tomato and mix well.  Serve with basmati rice.

*     *     *

As with the Rogan Josh, the Karahi Gosht was a success.  It reminded me of why I love South Asian cuisine.  The various spices that went into the dish -- from allspice to mustard, along with the blend of garam masala -- never disappoints my palate.  With this challenge completed, I have made main courses from four countries in the South Asian region: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Pakistan.  That leaves only a handful of challenges from this region, such as Sri Lanka and Nepal.  Those will have to await another day.  It is time to move on to another part of the world for the next challenge.  Until next time ...


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Pan Roasted Black Grouper with Black Eyed Pea Cakes and Smoked Tomato Coulis

I was perusing the seafood section of a local store when I came across the sign: "We have the Cadillac of all groupers." The sign caught my attention.  When one refers to a "Cadillac" of anything, the implication is that it is the best. After all, a Cadillac was supposed to be the most prestigious, most luxurious of all of the General Motors cars.  The name has been used to signify something that is an outstanding example of its kind.

So, to understand what could be a "Cadillac" of groupers, one has to know the different lines or species.  There are the small species, like the Brown Grouper.  Known as the Scamp, it is relatively small and fairly common.  Then, there is the sporty species, like the Red Grouper, which is said to give the some of toughest fights when hooked.  There is the flashy species, like the Yellowfin Grouper, whose bright red or brown splotches and yellow pectorals are said to make it one of the prettiest of the grouper species.

And, there is the Black Grouper, which is the largest of the Mycteroperca species, often growing to sizes between 50 to 100 pounds.  Thus, the Mycertoperca Bonaci - or Black Grouper -  fulfills the size proportions that one would expect of a "Cadillac."  The only question is whether it also fulfills the "luxury" expectations that comes with the use of the term.  The definition of luxury is subjective. Nevertheless, the fillets of black group are thick, meaty and mild in flavor.  For most people, that would probably satisfy the definition of luxury when it comes to fish.

I have some limited experience with the Black Grouper.  A couple of years ago, I created recipe a called Spanish Black Grouper with Saffron Rice.  My goal with that recipe was to pair a subtle spice and smoke that comes with the paprika used in Spanish cuisine with the thick fillets.  While that was a delicious dish, I wanted to try something different with this fish.   I searched the Internet for some ideas and inspiration.  I found it in a recipe from the Food Network.

The Food Network recipe was fairly ambitious.  In addition to the fish, the recipe also called for black eye pea cakes, shrimp, frisee salad and smoked tomato coulis.  That is a lot of different elements. I am sure that, together, they make for a great dish.  I decided to trim down the recipe.  I would focus on the fish, the black eye pea cake and the coulis.  I "86'd" the shrimp, and decided to do a simple side salad.  After all, there should be something green on the plate.

One final note: the smoked tomatoes.  Fortunately, I have a Cameron Stovetop Smoker and I smoked the tomatoes using some pecan wood dust.  If you are not able to smoke the tomatoes, you could just make a tomato coulis or add a little ancho chile or smoked paprika to give the coulis that smoked flavor.   

Recipe adapted from Food Network
Serves 6

Ingredients (for the Black Grouper):
2 pounds of black grouper, cut into even-sized pieces 
1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Ingredients (for the Black Eyed Pea Cakes):
3 cups cooked black-eyed peas
1/2 cup finely sliced green onions
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon creole seasoning
1 egg
1/4 cup shredded romano
1 cup finely ground bread crumbs
2 to 3 tablespoons clarified butter
1/2 cup seasoned flour

Ingredients (for the Smoked Tomato Coulis):
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup shallots, minced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 ripe tomatoes, smoked, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1.  Prepare the fish.  Season the fillets with salt and pepper.  In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over a high flame, but not quite to the smoking point.  Add the butter, then quickly, just as the butter begins to brown, place the fillets in the hot oil  Allow the fish to brown well before turning it over, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Turn the fillets and brown the other side.  Once the fish is browned, place the fish on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.  Finish baking the fish in the oven for about 3 to 4 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Make the Black Eyed Pea Cakes.  With your hands or a potato masher, smash the black eyed peas, leaving a few peas whole.  Add the green onions, red pepper, spices and egg.  Mix thoroughly.  Add cheese and bread crumbs. and mix well.  Divide the mix into six 2 1/2 inch balls.  Flatten balls to 3 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick  This may be done a day ahead of time, covered and stored in the refrigerator.  Heat butter over medium high heat in a large skillet.  Lightly dust the both sides of the cakes with seasoned flour (salt and pepper) and place them in the skillet to brown.  Leave enough room between the cakes to be able to flip them over.  When the cakes are brown on both sides, place them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 7 minutes or heated through. 

3.  Make the Smoked Tomato Coulis.  In a small stainless steel sauce pot, heat the olive oil over a low heat.  Place the shallots, garlic, salt and cayenne pepper in the hot oil and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent browning.  Add in the peeled and seeded smoked tomatoes and cook over a low heat for about 10 to 12 minutes.   Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Place the cooled mixture into the blender and puree until smooth.  Stir in the vinegar and warm until ready to serve. 

4.  Plate the dish.  Place the black eyed pea cakes in the center of each plate.  Place the grouper atop atop the pea cake and place a small pool of the smoked tomato coulis near the front of the dish. 


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Oysters with Beer Mignonette

A mignonette is, by definition (assuming that one could define a mignonette), is a sauce consisting of three ingredients.  Those three ingredients are shallots, cracked black pepper and vinegar.  This definition is very basic; and, it is good.  Not excellent.  Not even very memorable.  Just good.  

The goodness of a mignonette may be the reason why many exercise their creativity to add ingredients to those three basic flavors.  I've done my part in the past.  I've made a Balsamic Mignonette, a Peach-Champagne Mignonette, and even a Mango-Habanero Mignonette.  Each effort was an attempt to add a couple of ingredients to the sauce.  The goal was to create flavors that would make a mignonette something memorable.  Sometimes, I succeeded.  Many times, I failed.  

My latest effort was to try something completely different.  If one were to add a liquid to a mignonette, it is usually a sparkling wine, like Champage, Cava or Prosecco.  If one could use wine in a mignonette, why could not someone use a beer.  I had a relatively light and tasty beer in the fridge -- New Belgium's Shift Pale Lager -- that could work.  As for the vinegar, I went with a sherry vinegar.  It was a tip of the hat to the fact that beers are often aged in barrels, including sherry casks.  The end result was a good effort at trying something new.  It could use a little refinement, but definitely a good start.

I can't end a mignonette recipe without talking about the oysters.  I used Choptank Oysters for this recipe.  Choptank Oysters are cultivated and harvested from the Choptank river, a Maryland river on the Eastern Shore that flows into the Chesapeake Bay.  The farming of these oysters represent one of many efforts to use sustainable methods of aqua-farming to restore this iconic shellfish to the Bay.  That is one reason why I bought them for this dish.

The other reason is the flavor of these oysters.  Choptank Oysters are sweet oysters.  The sweetness is most likely due to the fact that the Choptank river has only a moderate salinity.  A lower salinity means a oyster that is not very briny or salty. When it comes to a mignonette, the sweetness provides a great tableau for a mignonette.  The challenge is not to overwhelm that sweetness with other flavors.  While Choptank Oysters worked well with this recipe, any oyster will work as long as it is fresh.  

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

12 dozen Choptank oysters, shucked
1/2 cup of beer (preferably pilsner or lager)
1 teaspoon of pink peppercorns
1/2 shallot, minced
Sherry vinegar
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Pour the beer in a cup and let sit for 20 minutes to reduce carbonation.  Combine the shallots and peppercorns in a small bowl.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the beer and let the shallots sit in the beer for about 20 minutes.  Add a few dashes of sherry vinegar.  Stir well and pour into a ramekin.  Serve alongside the oysters.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Wine Club -- Dinner at Rick's Cafe Americain

Casablanca is my favorite movie.  I can still remember being introduced to the movie in college.  I was a second-year college student who elected to take a cinema class as part of my general education requirements.  The class was taught by Professor Turaj.  On the first day of the class, the Professor told his students (including me) that he could show the movies that other professors used in their courses.  However, he found many of them boring.  Instead, he was going to show movies that he liked ... and that we would like.  So, we got to see movies like High Noon, Deer Hunter, and, of course, Casablanca.  

The iconic movie's plot unfolds at the fictitious Rick's Cafe Americain.  The cafe with a view of the airport, which was a perfect spot for anyone trying to escape the Nazis and the Vichy collaborators.  Walk through the doors and one enters a large restaurant, with its white walls and round arches, crammed with tables of anxious people.  Their collective anxiety focuses on the requisite papers needed for the flight to Lisbon and then on to America.   The multitude of tables surround a pianist playing tunes, such as Knock on Wood, to lift the guests' spirits.  Waiters, such as Carl, wind their way around the restaurant, serving drinks and food....

But wait, the one thing missing is the food.  Having watched the movie more times than I can count, I can recall only one reference to food.  To set the scene: Captain Louis Renault just sat down at a table with Major Heinrich Strasser and his aide Colonel Heinz.  Major Strasser orders a bottle of champaign and a tin of caviar.  Captain Renault suggests a bottle of Veuve Cliquot 26.  That's it.  

Not every guest could have ordered caviar.  After all, many did not have enough to pay for the exit visas needed to get to Lisbon.  This leaves the question of what would they have eaten.  This question leads to an even more basic one: what would Ricks Cafe Americain have had on its menu.  The cafe's menu is the one aspect of the restaurant that the writers and directors did not explore, probably because it did not have any meaningful relationship to the telling of the story.  

So, for the January Wine Club, we are going to explore what could have been the menu at Rick's Cafe Americain.  One of my friends gave me, The Casablanca Cookbook, which has recipes for wining and dining at Ricks.  These recipes loosely draw from Moroccan-inspired recipes, with character's names, like Ugarte's Tangy Chicken Wings and Emil Chickpea Fritters.  This book provides a great start, but we need to delve a little further to create the menu.

Coriander Shrimp Kebabs and Ground Lamb Kebabs
Served over Coucous Morocain

Kebabs are a significant part of many Mediterranean cuisines.  Morocco is no exception, with kebabs reaching the Moroccan area during the height of the Ottoman Empire.  For our first course, everyone will have a choice of two skewers of Coriander Shrimp Kebabs or Ground Lamb Kebabs (or a combination of both).  The kebabs will be served over Moroccan style couscous.

Chicken Tangine with Preserved Lemons and Olives, 
Served with Carrots with Cumin and Garlic

The tangine is the emblematic dish of North African cuisine.  When it comes to Moroccan cuisine in particular, one of the most popular dishes is Tangine Djaj Bi Zaytoun Wal Hamid.  This dish features bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs that are marinated with spices and then cooked until very tender.  The chicken is then served with preserved lemons and green olives.  If you don't like olives (and I know a couple of you do not), don't worry -- I will add the olives at the end, thereby enabling me to omit them from your serving.  This tangine will be served with a side of Carrots with Cumin and Garlic. 

Apricot Pistachio Cake

Agriculture in Morocco encompasses a wide variety of ingredients.  For the final course, we will serve a cake that combines two fairly prominent ingredients -- apricots and pistachios.  Morocco is 7th in the world when it comes to producing of pistachios and 11th when it comes to apricots.  

As always, the menu is subject to change.  If there are any food preferences or dietary restrictions that we have overlooked, please let us know.  We look forward to seeing everyone!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

If someone were to ask me what pasta dish would I order at an Italian restaurant, I would reply "the Bolognese."  A "Bolognese," which is also referred to as a "ragu," is a sauce of chopped meat and vegetables cooked in a liquid, such as water or wine.  The sauce is perhaps the most familiar dish from the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna.  And, if it is done right, the Bolognese is perhaps one of the best pasta sauces ever created, not only in Italy, but perhaps the entire world (at least in my humble opinion).  

Speaking of origins, the earliest documented recipe for a Bolognese dates back to the late 1700s.   Lynn Rossetto Kasper writes in her book, The Splendid Table, that Alberto Alvisi, a cook to the Cardinal of Imola, made a sauce that he called "ragu for maccheroni."  The first published recipe was written by Pellegrino Artusi in his 1891 cookbook, La Scienza in Cucina e L'Arte di Mangiare Bene ("The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well").  The recipe called for veal fillets, butter, onions and carrots.  The ingredients were to be minced finely, cooked in the butter, and then covered with a broth.   Artusi also suggested adding mushrooms to improve the taste, as well as cream to make a smoother sauce.  

A lot of time has passed since Artusi published his recipe.  With time, comes change.  At some point over the years, decades and centuries, cooks began to use other proteins, such as beef and pork.   They also substituted water or wine for the broth.  The changes went beyond mere substitutions. Cooks decided to add other ingredients, such as tomato paste.  Many of these changes were probably brought about by necessity, such as the availability of cost of beef.  Other changes were probably made to alter the taste, such as the use of wine over broth.  In the end, these changes produced a sauce made with minced meat, onions, carrots, celery and tomato paste, all of which are cooked in a liquid of the cook's choice.  

One final note about this recipe.  Traditionally, a Bolognese is served with Tagliatelle pasta, which is the traditional type of pasta in Emilia-Romagna.  Tagliatelle is a long, flat pasta.  The flatness of the pasta is the key.  You want a surface that can serve as a canvas for the sauce.  Tagliatelle can be a little hard to find, especially if you do not have an Italian store near you.  If you can't find that pasta, you can use Fettuccine or even Pappardelle.  Just avoid the dried pasta.  A Bolognese should only grace fresh pasta.   It definitely costs more to buy fresh pasta.  However, trust me.  It is definitely worth the cost.  

Recipe from Oscar Farinetti, How to Eataly at pg. 56
Serves 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 small carrot, minced
1 rib celery, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
4 ounces ground veal
4 ounces ground pork
4 ounces ground beef
Fine sea salt, to taste
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken or beef stock
Coarse sea salt for pasta cooking water
Fresh tagliatelle
Grated grana cheese, for serving

1.  In a heavy Dutch oven or large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil.  Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and fragrant, about 2 minutes more.

2.  Crumble the veal, pork and beef into the pot.  Season with fine sea salt.  Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat has rendered most of its fat and is just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.  Spoon out and discard some of the rendered fat, but leave enough to cover the bottom of the pan.  (This will depend upon the meat that you are using - there may not be an excessive amount of fat.)

3.  Add the wine and increase the heat to medium.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine has evaporated, about 6 minutes.

4.  Decrease the heat to low, add the tomato paste, stir to combine and cook, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add the stock and adjust the heat if necessary to reach a gentle simmer.  Simmer until the stock has reduced but the sauce is still moist, about 45 minutes longer.  Taste the sauce, adjust the seasoning if necessary and remove from the heat.

5.  Bring a large pot of water to boil for pasta.  When the water is boiling, salt it with coarse salt and add the pasta.  Cook until the pasta rises to the surface of the water.  

6.  Smear a small amount of the sauce on the bottom of a warmed pasta serving bowl. 

7.  When the pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander, then transfer it immediately to the serving bowl.  Top with the remaining sauce and toss vigorously to combine.  Serve immediately with grated cheese on the table.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...