Sunday, December 30, 2012

Green Beans with Toasted Almonds and Lemon

Every other year, Clare and I spend Thanksgiving with her parents.  Clare's parents, Frank and Geri, have a tradition of spending the holiday with some longtime family friends.  All of these families consider themselves to be extensions of one another, creating one big family for the holiday.  

Both Frank and I love to cook; and, when it comes to preparing the Thanksgiving meal, we are both more than willing to do our part.  This year, the hosts had not only a gargantuan turkey (over twenty pounds if I recall correctly), but bags of fresh green beans. I will readily admit that I am not a fan of green beans. I usually steer clear of them whenever ordering at restaurants and I do not use the ingredient very often in my own cooking.  However, we needed a vegetable for the dinner, and, the green beans were that vegetable.  

What happened next is a collaboration between Frank and myself.  We decided to blanch the green beans to keep their color, and, just before the meal was ready, we would saute the beans in a little butter, add some toasted almonds and parsley.  We would finish the side dish with some lemon juice to add some acidity and lightness to the dish. The end result was a green bean dish that even I liked.  

A Chef Bolek Collaboration with Frank Savage
Serves 2

1/2 pound of green beans, washed and trimmed
1/4 to 1/3 cup of slivered almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 teaspoon of parsley flakes
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 lemon, juiced
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1.  Blanche the green beans.  Bring a pot of water with a teaspoon of salt to a rapid boil.  Add the green beans to the pot and cook for two to four minutes, depending upon the size of the beans.  Prepare a bowl full of ice water.  After the beans have cooked, remove them from the boiling water and place them into the ice bath.  Drain the beans and set them aside.

2.  Toast the almonds.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread the almonds on a sheet pan.  Place the sheet pan in the oven.  Toast the almonds until they begin to turn brown.  Remove from the oven. 

3.  Saute the green beans.  Heat the butter in a sauce pan over medium high heat.  Add the beans and saute for about three minutes until they are warmed through.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Sprinkle the almonds, the crushed red pepper and the parsley flakes.  Finish with lemon juice.  Serve immediately.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Local 1

Every year I look forward to the National Geographic Live's beer tasting event.  The head brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, Garrett Oliver, has hosted the event over the past few years.  I can still remember the first tasting, when Garrett introduced the guests to a range of Italian craft beers.  In advance of that tasting, I decided that I would try a couple of Garrett's beers.  While I could have tried any of Brooklyn's year around offerings, I specifically chose the bombers (22 ounce bottles) because I wanted to try the special beers.  The first one I tried was the Local 1. 

The Local 1 is a Belgian-inspired Golden Strong Ale.  Garrett and the brewers at Brooklyn use some special ingredients to make this beer, including two-row pilsner malt from Bamberg Germany, plus first pressing Demerara cane sugar from Mauritius.  The brewers also use German Hallertau Perle and Styrian Golding hops, with their own special Belgian yeast strain.  When all of these ingredients come together, and the brewers work their magic, the result is a beer with multiple awards.

The Local 1 pours a nice golden-orange color, placing itself comfortably within the Golden Strong Ale style.  The beer is also comfortably insulated by a very thick layer of foam from the carbonation of the beer.  Once that foam begins to reside, the aromas clearly make themselves present.  Aromas of bananas and cloves are first to greet the nose, followed by hints of the sugar and some mild citrus.  As for the flavor, the beer exemplifies what one would expect from a Belgian Golden Strong Ale ... flavors of banana and other tropical fruit. Maybe some pineapple or even a little kiwi.  This may be the result of the Demerara sugar. There are other citrus flavors, such as lemon and lemon peel, with a little orange as well.  The flavors of this beer are exactly what Garrett Oliver would describe as a "strong saison."  A very good "strong saison."

When it comes to pairing this dish, Brooklyn Brewery simply suggests drinking this beer as an aperitif or enjoying it with your favorite dishes.  If you do not have any favorite dishes, the brewers suggest one ... pasta with lobster, chorizo and peas.  This suggestion illustrates the versatility of the beer when it comes to pairing ... it goes, not only with pasta, but also seafood (lobster), pork (chorizo) and vegetables (peas).

I found this beer at a local grocery store.  It sells for about $12.99 a bottle.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dundicut-Rubbed Sirloin Steak

As a follower of the craft beer movement, one of the trends is for brewers to produce Pale Ales or Imperial Pale Ales that are brewed with only one hop.  The idea is to showcase that hop, revealing its effect on the aroma and taste of the beer.  I decided apply this trend to cooking, and make rubs that showcase a particular chile or pepper.  The first rub that I made was a mixture featuring the Dundicut pepper.

The Dundicut is a small, round, dark-red chile that is grown primarily in the Tharparkar region of the Sindh province in Pakistan.  In fact, some say it is the national chile of Pakistan.  According to Wikipedia, the chile shares some characteristics with the Scotch Bonnet pepper, although the Dundicut has much fewer Scoville Heat Units than the Scotch Bonnet.  This means that the Dundicut is not as hot and spicy.  However, one should not be fooled, the Dundicut still packs anywhere from 30,000 to 65,000 Scoville Heat Units, which is far more than the jalapeno or serrano peppers.  

For this particular rub, I used three Dundicut pods.  (Obviously, if you would like reduce the heat of the rub, you can use 1 or two pods.)  To fill out the rub, I used not only traditional rub ingredients (onion powder, garlic powder, and salt) but I added a nod to Pakistani cuisine by the use of cardamom peppers.  In particular I used black cardamom and green cardamom, both of which are used in Pakistani dishes and spice mixes (like garam masala).

Finally, one caveat.  This is the first time that I made this recipe, and, as such, it is a work in progress.  The rub is very spicy and I would suggest using less than three Dundicut pods unless you have a high tolerance for spicy foods.  As I work on this recipe, I will post any changes or refinements.  So, check back every once in a while.     

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-4

1 grass-fed sirloin steak
3 dried Dundicut peppers, ground
2 black cardamom pods, ground
4 green cardamom pods, ground
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of sea salt
Vegetable oil

1.  Prepare the rub and the steak.  Combine the peppers, cardamom, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt.  Mix well.  Drizzle vegetable oil over all sides of the sirloin steak.  Apply the rub to each side of the steak.  Let the steak sit for a few minutes.  

2.  Cook the steak.  Preheat the broiler.  Broil the steak for about six to eight minutes.  Flip the steak and broil for six to eight minutes more until the steak reaches your desired doneness.


Given the intense heat and spice of the rub, I would not recommend this dish be paired with wine.   Pairing spicy foods with wine is hard enough, but when the level of heat is toward the top of the charts, it is not worth the endeavor.  Instead, a nice, cool beer would be in order.  A lighter beer, such as a pilsner or a pale ale would probably work best with this dish.  


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Big Dinner in Little Washington

It seems every year that I outdo myself.  I try to plan an amazing culinary experiences for my beautiful Angel and myself.  The first such experience was a poolside dinner at Bartollota, an amazing seafood restaurant at the Wynn in Las Vegas.  That was an amazing dinner, the highlight of which was the whole branzino that had been flown in from Italy within the past day.  I did not think that I could arrange a better experience. A couple of years later, I arranged for a dinner at Picasso, a restaurant in the Bellagio, another casino in Las Vegas.  We had a table right next to the famous dancing fountains, which provided the entertainment as we enjoyed an amazing, multi-course meal.  I did not think that I could arrange for an experience that could top that meal.  But I did.

Clare asked me to make arrangements for our babymoon, a weekend where we could just enjoy ourselves in advance of the birth of our baby boy.  Although little Baby Bolek is not due until April, I have been working on making our little baby a gourmand, by preparing tasty dishes for Clare and by going out for great dinners.  I also wanted to have a truly special weekend.  So, what did I do?  I booked us a weekend at the Inn at Little Washington.  And, of course, I made reservations for a meal at the restaurant.


The initial offering from the Chef was a duo of pork belly and a play on chips and dip.  The pork belly was served with an apple jelly.  The pork belly was cooked perfectly, with a crunchy outside that gave way to tender sweet meat.  The play on chips and dip was a homemade potato chip "stuffed" with a chive sour cream and topped with some caviar.  It was an interesting play on the traditional chips and dip and, as expected, very delicious.

The next offering from the Chef was a White Bean Soup with Virginia ham.  It was served with a shooter and was accompanied by a chive "puff."  (Of course, it was not described to us that way.)  The soup was amazing.  I was particularly taken by the texture of the white bean soup, which was infused with the smokey and sweet taste of the ham. 


My First Course: The Lemon-Line Lobster Largesse: Chilled Maine Lobster with Caramelized Endive and Citrus-Sake Gelée.  Three words in this dish initially caught my attention ... "Chilled Maine Lobster."  Clare and I spent a week last June in Bar Harbor, Maine.  During our vacation, we had the opportunity to take a trip aboard a working lobster boat.  That experience provided me with a new appreciation of the work that goes into catching lobsters.  Six months later, Chef O'Connell provided me with a new appreciation of how one could enjoy that very special ingredient.  The lobster was perfectly cooked, with each bite bursting with sweetness.  This dish brought back memories of every lobster dish that I enjoyed during my stay in Bar Harbor.  As I finished the dish, three other words helped to create new memories ... "citrus-sake gelée." The flavors of the gelée or jelly complemented the lobster perfectly. 

Clare's First Course: Beet Trinity: Three Iterations of the Garden's Beet Harvest with Caromont Farm Chevre, Beet Sorbet and Orange Essence.  As we sat at our table, Clare admitted, "I don't like beets."  This dish, however, completely changed her view of the much-maligned root vegetable.  For me, the most interesting aspect of this dish is the beet sorbet.  The combination of beet and sorbet is, quite frankly, genius.  The pairing of the beet's with the sweetness of a sorbet is probably the best way to win over even the most skeptical of eaters.


My Second Course: A Marriage of Hot and Cold Foie Gras with Sauternes Gelée and Plum Preserves.  I do not ordinarily eat foie gras, because I am conscious of the debate behind the practice of gavage, i.e., force feeding the geese and ducks to increase the size of their livers.  However, as some chefs have pointed out, the conditions under which these geese and ducks are raised are far better than the conditions of cows, pigs and chickens on farms.  (By the way, that is why I do my best to buy meat from sources where the animals are free to roam and are fed properly.)  In any event, I do order foie gras on special occasions. I have to say that this particular "marriage" represents probably the best preparation of foie gras that I have ever experienced.  The cold foie gras was very delicious.  The pairing of the foie gras with the gelée and preserves were very interesting and delicious.   The hot foie gras was also very delicious, even decadent.  I purposely took my time to eat the hot foie gras, so that I could enjoy the dish for as long as possible. 

Clare's Second Course: Aged Gouda Macaroni and Virginia Ham.  You know a dish is going to be very good when the first words out of the diner's mouth are, "I don't want to eat it because it looks so beautiful."  Indeed, Clare took a good look at this dish; and, why not, it is a culinary work of art.  The components -- cheese, macaroni, ham, frisee, chives and every other ingredient -- are perfectly placed and cooked.  I could see my wife's dilemma, although it was short lived.  She enjoyed every bit of this course.


My Third Course: Curry Dusted Veal Sweetbreads with Gala Apples, Virginia Country Ham and Pappardelle Pasta.  This dish shall remain nameless in Clare's presence, because she does not like sweetbreads.  Most people do not eat this ingredient.  However, like foie gras, I order this dish on special occasions.  And, like the marriage of hot and cold foie gras, I have to say that it is the best preparation of veal sweetbreads that I have ever had.  I mean the BEST preparation of sweetbreads.  The dusting of curry spice on the outside of the sweetbreads provided a nice flavor to the dish and made its way into every bite of the dish.  The reason why I say that this is the best preparation of the dish is because it was cooked perfectly.  The outside was seared and crisp, while the inside was juicy and full of flavor.  One last note, the pairing of the apple puree with the sweetbreads was very good.  I would not have thought of apples and sweetbreads going together, but it worked.  The apples provided a sweetness, which completed the spice from the curry and emphasized the sweetness of the sweetbreads.   As they say, it was -- hands down -- one of the best dishes that I have enjoyed in 2012, and, perhaps, since I started this blog.

Clare's Third Course: Tortelli of Spinach with Virginia Oyster Mushrooms and Bambino Eggplant Puree.  Clare continued to choose the artistic dishes.  Every component in this dish was perfectly placed.  The chefs did such a great job, because this dish catches your attention and holds onto it.  Apart from appearance, the tortelli were perfectly shaped and cooked.  The spinach filling, paired with the mushrooms and eggplant created a triumvirate of ingredients that worked perfectly together.


My Final Course: Chateau Latour Blanche, Sauternes, France (2006).  For those who know me, they know I love my desserts in liquid form.  In this case, I chose a very interesting and tasty drink in the form of of a Sauternes. This particular drink had a double personality ... one one hand, there was a bitterness, such as the bitterness from a Granny Smith apple, but, on the other hand, there was a sweetness that comes from the sugar in the grapes.  In the end, this may not have been the best pairing for a dessert, but it is definitely a good sipping digestive.  

Clare's Final Course: Grandmother's Warm Local Gala Apple Tart with Buttermilk Ice Cream.  Clare's choice for the dessert provided the kitchen with an opportunity to express their congratulations and best wishes for the reason why we were dining at the Inn at Little Washington ... Baby Bolek.  And, I cannot express how grateful we were for the kitchen's sentiments. We were also very grateful for the opportunity to taste an amazing dessert (this coming from someone who is not very interested in desserts).  The tart was perfectly baked.  Each bite provided a taste of some perfectly baked pastry, along with the most delicious apples that I have tasted in some time.  This dessert was so good that I almost ate the best wishes and congratulations.  (I was hoping that it was fond or something else that was edible.)  I did not do that because, by the time we finished the tart, I was too full to continue eating.

After having enjoyed one of the best meals of our lives, we had the additional honor of a brief tour of the kitchen at the Little Inn of Washington.  As we walked into the kitchen, we were greeted by the chef, Patrick O'Connell.  Chef O'Connell welcomed us into the kitchen and thanked us for dining at the Inn.  We were then given a brief tour of the kitchen, which was designed by Chef O'Connell.  Both Clare and I were particularly impressed with the center island, which includes the American-made Vulcan stoves and refrigerated compartments. 

In the end, I have to admit that the weekend was truly a life-changing event when it comes to my cooking and this blog.  Chef O'Connell's focus on technique led me to reflect upon how I have approached my own cooking.  I realized that I need to pay much more attention to my techniques if I want to become a better cook, let alone a better chef.  I hope that I am able to achieve this goal. Only time will tell ...


Friday, December 14, 2012

Vegetarian Curry

Every once in a while, I come across a recipe about which I am skeptical. This recipe was one of them.  I found the recipe in one of my pregnancy books when I was looking for a dish to make for my beautiful Angel, Clare.  I read through the ingredient list -- asparagus, carrots, red bell pepper, tofu, zucchini, etc. -- and it did not seem to appetizing to me.  Still, I know that Clare likes those ingredients, except for zucchini, she has never been a big fan of that ingredient.  So, I decided to make this recipe, despite the use of zucchini.

Clare's dislike would not be a problem for this recipe, because I did not intend to buy any zucchini.  Instead, we had a cucumber that had been sitting around our kitchen for a day or two and I wanted to use that ingredient.  Clare is also not a big fan of cucumbers and, generally speaking, cucumbers do not always make the best substitutes for zucchini.  I did not want to throw the cucumber away, so I added to this recipe as a substitute.  In the end, I have to say that the substitution of the zucchini with the cucumber did not matter. 
More importantly, I have to admit that, despite my initial skepticism, this recipe turned out very well.  This is a healthy dish, which I made even healthier by using brown rice instead of plain white rice. I think that what made this dish good for me was the choice in curry powders.  I used a tablespoon of sweet curry powder and a teaspoon of Penzey's Maharajah Curry Powder.  All of this exposed a secret about the carnivore in me ... cook a bunch of vegetables in a curry and I will eat them ... along with the tofu.

Recipe from Eating for Pregnancy at 206-207
Serves 4

2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 tablespoons of minced or grated fresh ginger, or to taste
1 garlic clove
1 cup sliced baby carrots or shredded regular carrots
1/2 red bell pepper, quartered and thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini, washed, halved lengthwise and 
     into thinly sliced
12-16 ounces of asparagus, washed, tough ends trimmed and 
     cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 15-ounce package of extra-firm tofu, drained, cut into 1/2 inch
     cubes and blotted dry with paper towels
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of milk curry powder, or to taste
1 14-ounce can of light or regular coconut milk
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon of quick dissolving flour, to desired consistency
Juice of 1 lime or to taste
Salt, to taste

1.  Saute the vegetables.  In a large non-stick skillet or large walk, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil over medium high heat.  Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the carrots, bell pepper, zucchini, and asparagus and/ saute for 3 minutes.  Transfer the cooked vegetables to a serving dish and cover with foil.  Set aside. 

2.  Saute the tofu  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of canola oil to the skillet or wok and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the tofu, scallions and curry powder and saute for 3 minutes.  Add the coconut milk and cook for 3 minutes, or until hot.  Sprinkle in the quick dissolving flour and stir to mix.  Add the reserved vegetables and mix gently, then stir in the cilantro and lime juice.  Adjust the seasoning.

3.  Plate the dish.  Transfer the curry to a serving bowl and serve immediately with brown rice (made according to the instructions on the package).


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Nera

It seems that nearly every region of Italy now has an emerging craft brewer, one who is brewing a larger array of beers that are becoming more available. Emilia-Romagna has Birrificio del Ducato, which brews beers such as Nuova Mattina and Via Emilia.  Piedmont has Birra Baladin, which brews beers like Super Baladin and Wayan.  And, as I have recently learned, Umbria has Birra Tenuta Collesi.

I first encountered Birra Tenuta Collesi at the International Beer Fest.  There were a few Collesi beers available to sample.  I tried the Ambiata, which is Collesi's amber beer.  I thought about trying the Nera, the stout; however, I remembered that my Dad had bought me a bottle, which had been sitting in the basement.  I decided that the Nera would wait for another day, so that I could do a review of the beer.

The day eventually came (although it would take a lot longer to complete the review). I decided to open the Nera, which the brewer describes as an unpasteurized stout that is naturally fermented in the bottle. Others have labeled this beer as a Belgian Dark Strong Ale.  Although a stout and a Belgian Dark Strong Ale are two different styles, I decided to review this beer against the guidelines of both.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, a Belgian Dark Strong Ale are usually a deep amber to dark brown, because the "dark" usually  refers to being more deeply colored than a golden ale.  The Nera is much darker than one would expect for a Belgian Ale, and, its color more closely resembles the typical color of a stout, like a Guinness Stout.

As for the aroma, the brewers suggest that there is a "complex aroma of roasted coffee, barley, cereal, liquorice and rhubarb."   A Belgian Dark Strong Ale has aromatic elements that focus more on the malts, with caramel, toast or bready aromas.  The Beer Judge Certification Program observes that a Belgian Dark Strong Ale does not have a dark, roast coffee aroma.  However, a stout often has such an aroma.

Finally, the Belgian Dark Strong Ale has flavor elements that mirror the aromatic elements, with malt flavors predominating over hop flavors.  Once again, a stout has roast coffee flavors, which one would expect from a beer that is described by the brewers as having a "[s]oft creamy and lingering mouth feel, velvety and a smooth foam looking like a cappucino." 

In the end, the Imper Ale Nera more closely resembles a stout than a Belgian Dark Strong Ale.  Still, one could say that the Nera is a good example of an Italian Belgian-style stout and it is definitely worth a try.  This particular bottle was purchased at a beverage store outside of Chicago, Illinois. 


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Around the World in 80 Dishes (Special): Tibet

As part of my Around the World in 80 Dishes culinary adventure, I decided that I would prepare four special challenges.  Each challenge would focus on a cuisine of a culture that does not have its own, formally recognized country. These challenges will also appear as part of my Beyond Borders project.

The first special challenge takes me to "Bod," which translates to "Tibet" or the "Tibetan Plateau."  That plateau is a vast stretch of land that has an average elevation in excess of 14,500 feet that is surrounded by even higher mountain ranges.  Several rivers cut through the plateau, including the Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, Ganges and Mekong Rivers. 

This geography has a definite impact upon agriculture.  Subsistence farming is the predominant form of agriculture, with Tibetans cultivating the few crops that can grow at that elevation.  The principal crop is barley, which, unlike wheat or rice, can fare well at higher altitudes.  The barley is ground into a flour to make a dough called tsampa, which is used to make bread.  The Tibetans also raise yaks, goats and sheep, which are an important part of their meat-eating tradition.  The eating of meat is necessary for the Tibetans, because the meat provides an important source of protein and fat that is not only useful, but necessary for life on the high plateau.

This meat-eating tradition also presents a dilemma, which has been documented Julia Moskin in an article published by the New York Times.  The majority of Tibetans practice Buddhism and abhor the taking of life ... any life.  This presents a problem when it comes to their cuisine, because it is full of yak, goat, and mutton dishes.  The "unofficial" dish is called Sha Momo or "Meat Momo," which is a dumpling made with a minced yak meat mixture.  While the unofficial dish may be a carnivore's delight, the Sha Momo represents a dilemma.  Nevertheless, the Tibetans have resolved that conflict.  Known as the "karmic load," Tibetans recognize that the killing of one yak is the same as killing one fish.  However, a yak feeds many more people than a fish.  Thus, if a creature must perish so that people can eat, Tibetans choose the yak.  Thus, Tibetans are able to minimize the "karmic load" by feeding many more people through the killing of many less creatures.


Turning to the matter at hand, I decided that, for this special culinary challenge, I would make the "unofficial dish" of Tibet, Sha Momo. This is the first time that I made dumplings of this kind.  I have previously made Hushuur, as part of my challenge to make a main course from Mongolia.  Hushuur are a kind of "dumpling," shaped into half-moons and deep-fried.  Huushur are larger than Sha Momo and, looking back on the challenge, my Hushuur looked more like calzones when compared to the smaller, more refined Sha Momos.  And, I have to admit, the task seemed daunting.

Every Tibetan family has their own way to make momos; however, there are some general guidelines.  First, Sha Momos generally come in two shapes: round and the half moon.  I chose to make the round dumplings.  Second, the filling for Sha Momos obviously includes meat.  While I did not have any ground yak meat, I did substitute grass-fed, ground beef.  Third, momos can be prepared in different ways ... for a soup, steamed, or fried.  I decided to steam the momos.  With the parameters set, I moved on to making the momos from scratch....

 Recipe adapted from Yowangdu and National Public Radio
Makes 24 large dumplings or 32 medium dumplings

Ingredients (for the dough):
2 cups of unbleached flour or white all purpose flour
3/4 cup of just boiled water

Ingredients (for the filling):
3/4 pound ground beef (preferably chuck), coarsely chopped to loosen
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/3 cup chopped Chinese chives or scallions (white and green parts)
2-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced and crushed into a paste
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (or substitute black peppercorns),
     toasted in a dry skillet for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant,
     then crushed with a mortar and pestle
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 tablespoons water


The dough after it has been kneaded.
1.  Make the dough.  Put the flour in the bowl and make a well in the center. Add 3/4 of a cup of hot water in a steady stream and use a wooden spoon to stir the flour. The goal is to evenly moisten the flour; and, it is okay to pause to stir the flour or to add water.  After the water has been added, knead the dough in the bowl to work out any lumps. If the dough does not come together easily, add water by the teaspoon. 

2.  Knead the dough.  After kneading the dough in the bowl, move the dough to a work surface.  Flour that only if it is necessary, and then use the flour sparingly. Continue to knead the dough with the heel of your hand for about 2 minutes. The result should be somewhat smooth and elastic.  Press on the dough and it should slowly bounce back, with a light impression of your finger remaining. Place the dough in a zip-top plastic bag and seal tightly closed, expelling excess air. Set aside to rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours. The dough will steam up the plastic bag and become soft, which makes it easy to work with the wrappers. 

The filling before the liquid is added.
3.  Make the filling.  Combine the beef, onion, chives (or scallions), ginger, and garlic in a bowl. Stir and lightly mash the ingredients together with a fork or spatula.  In a separate bowl, stir together the salt, Sichuan peppercorns, oil, and water.  Pour the liquid mixture over the meat mixture and then stir with the fork or spatula to blend well. There should not be any visible large chunks of meat. To develop the flavors, cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes. The recipe makes about 2 cups of filling. (I had extra filling after I completed making the momos.)

4.  Make the dough wrappers.  Remove the dough from the bag. Put the dough on a lightly floured work surface and cut it in half. Put half back in the bag, squeezing out the air and sealing the bag to prevent drying.

Cutting the pieces for the wrappers.
Roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick log, and then cut it into the number of pieces required by the recipe. To cut even pieces, quarter the log first; the tapered end pieces should be cut a little longer than the rest. Weigh each piece of dough to be super precise, if you like. If your dough pieces are oval shaped, stand each one on a cut end and use your fingers to gently squeeze it into a round. The resulting squat cylinder resembles a scallop. This bit of advance work makes it easier to form a nice circle in the remaining steps.  (The forming of each piece into a round is not necessary, but you have some additional work when it comes to flattening the piece into a thin circle.)

To prevent the dough from sticking and to flatten it a bit, take each piece of dough and press one of the cut ends in flour, then flip it over and do the same on the other end; the dough will be sticky.

A small pan works well when flatting the pieces.
Next, flatten each piece of dough into a thin circle that is about 1/8 inch thick, either with rolling pin or with a heavy, flat-bottomed object.  Put the floured disk between the plastic squares and press down with the rolling pin or a heavy object to produce a circle about 1/8-inch thick. You may have to press more than once. Gently peel back the plastic from the wrapper.  Set aside the dough circle.  Repeat this process with the remaining dough pieces, setting each one to the side of the work area as you finish it. It is okay to overlap the wrappers slightly, but I tried to avoid any overlap of the dough circles because the dough was still a little sticky.

To finish the wrappers, take a wrapper and place it on the work surface, flouring the surface only as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Imagine a quarter-size circle in the center. This is what the Tibetans call the "belly" of the wrapper. the goal is to create a wrapper that is larger than its current size but retains a thick belly. This ensures an even distribution of dough after the wrapper's edge has been gathered and closed around the filling.

It is hard to see the "belly."
To keep a thick belly, use the rolling pin to apply pressure on the outer 1/2- to 3/4-inch border of the wrapper, as follows. Try to roll the rolling pin with the flat palm of one hand while using the other hand to turn the wrapper in the opposite direction. For example, as your right palm works the rolling pin in short, downward strokes from the center toward your body, the fingers of your left hand turn the disk counterclockwise about one-quarter of a turn between each stroke. Keep the thumb of the rotating hand near the center of the wrapper to guide the rolling pin and turn the wrapper.

If the wrapper sticks to the work surface or rolling pin, pause to dust the wrapper with flour and then continue. If you cannot get a wrapper thin enough on the first try, set it aside to relax for about 1 minute, and then roll again. Should the wrapper tear or be hopelessly misshapen, roll up the dough, let it rest for a few minutes, then press it again and roll it out. Resembling a flat fried egg, the finished wrapper does not need to be a perfect circle. Frilly edges are fine. The finished diameter of the wrapper depends on the dumpling. Wrappers are moderately thick and suitable for boiled, steamed, pan-fried, and deep-fried morsels.

As you work, line up the finished wrappers on your work surface; if you need extra space, use a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and dusted with flour. A bit of overlapping is fine, but avoid stacking the wrappers. When a batch of wrappers is formed, fill them before making wrappers out of the other portion of dough, or the wrappers may stick together as they wait for you. Alternatively, I filled the wrappers as I finished them, which provided more room on the work surface. 

The filling.
5.   Fill the wrappers.  Before assembling the dumplings, line steamer trays and/or a baking sheet with parchment paper. (If you are making the dumplings in advance, or plan to freeze them, lightly dust the paper with flour to avoid sticking.)

For each dumpling, hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand. Scoop up about 1 tablespoon of filling with a bamboo dumpling spatula, dinner knife, or fork and position it in the center of the wrapper, pressing and shaping it into a mound and keeping about 1/2 to 3/4-inch wrapper clear on all sides. Use your fingers to pleat and pinch the edge together to enclose the filling and form a closed satchel, or simply fold over to form a half-moon.

In the alternative, you can place the dough circle on the work surface and spoon a tablespoon of the filling into the middle of the circle.  You want the filling to sit on the "belly" of the dumpling.  You can then use your fingers to pull the sides up, pleat and pinch the edges of the momo together to form the satchel (or  fold the dough over to create the half-moon).

If you are steaming right away, place each finished dumpling in a steamer tray, sealed side up, and 1 inch away from the edge if you are using metal steamers. Repeat with the remaining wrappers, placing them in the steamer about 1/2 inch apart. If you don't have enough space on your steamer trays to steam all the dumplings at once, or if you are not steaming them right away, place the waiting ones on the prepared baking sheet, spaced a good 1/2 inch apart. 

Ready to steam.

6.  Steam the momos.  Steam the dumplings over boiling water for about 8 minutes, or until they have puffed slightly and become somewhat translucent. Remove each tray and place it atop a serving plate.


One of the sauces or condiments that are served with Momos is called Sepen, which is a Tibetan hot sauce made from dried red chile peppers.  I tried to determine which chiles are used in Tibetan cuisine; however, apart from stories about the use of spicy chiles, I was unable to find the exact chiles.  I decided to use dried Sanaam chiles, which are grown and cultivated in nearby India.  Sanaam chiles have about 40,000 Scoville Heat Units. These chiles are definitely spicy, which falls within the description of the chiles used to make Sepen. If you do not like spicy foods, choose a pepper that has less Scoville Heat Units, like a guajillo, Anaheim or serrano chile. 

Recipe adapted from Lonsang Wongdu and
available at the New York Times

1 cup whole dried small red chile peppers
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
     (optional, you can substitute black peppercorns)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro stems and leaves
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger

1.  Rehydrate the peppers.  If possible, soak chiles overnight in plenty of cold water. If time is short, cover chiles with boiling water and soak for 20 minutes. Drain and discard soaking liquid. 

2.  Blend the ingredients.  If using peppercorns, coarsely grind in a mortar or spice grinder. In a blender or mortar, combine all the ingredients with 2 tablespoons of water and grind until smooth (the seeds of the chiles will remain whole). The finished sauce should be as thick as ketchup; thin with water as needed.


Finally, to round out the meal, I decided that I would make a beverage to enjoy either with the Momos or afterwards.  After doing a little research, I chose a recipe for Po Cha or Tibetan Butter Tea.  This recipe is basically a black tea with a little butter and milk.  This recipe is similar to the Suutei Tsai or Mongolian Milk Tea that I made as part of my challenge to prepare a main course from Mongolia. 

Ordinarily, I am someone who does not like milk or anything in my tea.  However, I have to admit that the addition of the butter and milk to this tea was actually good. 

Recipe from Recipes Wiki
Serves 4

5 to 6 cups of water
2 bags of black tea
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of milk or 1 teaspoon of milk powder

1.  Prepare the water.  Boil the water, then turn down the fire.  Add two bags of tea in the water and boil again for a couple of minutes.  Take the tea bags out.

2.  Prepare the tea.  Pour the tea, salt, butter and milk into a blender.  Blend the mixture for two or three minutes.  Serve immediately.

*     *     *

In the end, my challenge to prepare a Tibetan meal was a success.  I was able to prepare the Sha Momo, and, they were very delicious.  I have to admit that I deviated a little from the recipe, especially when it came to assembling the momos, because I found it easier to prepare the momos placing them on the flat surface rather than stuffing and sealing them in my hands.  I also think I could have rolled out the skins a little more because the sides on a few were perhaps a little too thick. Still, for a rookie, I think I did a great job.

As for the rest of the meal, it was also an outstanding success.  The Sepen was a great condiment for the Sha Momo, as the heat from the chilies enhanced the flavor of the meat, garlic, and ginger flavors in the filling of the dumpling.  The Po Cha offered a smooth, milky escape from the heat of the Sepen.  It is the perfect beverage for the meal because, after cooling the heat from the chiles, the Po Cha allows the diner to start the process all over again.  (I should add that I found a recipe for a Tibetan rice beer, but, I did not have enough time to make it. That will have to wait for another day and another post.)

Notwithstanding my own personal critiques, I still think I successfully completed the challenge.  I now turn my attention to the next chapter of my culinary adventures, beginning with my 21st challenge, which will require me to make a main course from the cuisine of .... 


Friday, December 7, 2012

Around the World in 80 Dishes: The Specials

As you may know, I am in the midst of a personal culinary challenge that I have named "Around the World in 80 Dishes."  The challenge is to make 80 main courses from 80 different countries.  (By the time I am done, I will have prepared a main course from over 40% of the 195 countries around the world.)   I recently completed my 20th challenge, which involved the preparation of a tasty carpetbag steak ... a New York Strip stuffed with fresh oysters ... that is a main course served in Australia.

Over the course of those challenges, I benefited from many new experiences.  For example, I got to pretend that I was part of the Germandat de Escullaires for a day, when I prepared Escudella, the national dish of Andorra.  The dish is prepared in the streets and served to the public on every St. Anthony's Day (January 17).  I also had the opportunity to cook with offal for the first time, when I made Khalyat Alkadba wal Galoob, or sauteed lamb hearts and livers, which is served as a main dish in Libya.  Speaking of unusual ingredients, I worked with pig trotters -- an ingredient that I never liked as a kid -- when I made Kangchu Maroo, a delicious pigs' feet curry served in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, also known as Bhutan.  I could go on, but I think you get the drift.  To this point, I look back with amazement at all that I have accomplished over my first 20 challenges and I look forward to the remaining 60 challenges.

However, I have also been reflecting upon my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge.  To this point, every challenge has been based on a country's cuisine.  There are many more cuisines than countries.  Many of these cuisines, like their associated ethnicities, do not have their own countries.  The ethnicities may be minorities in a country.  They may be split between two or more countries.  I realized that, as I continue my personal culinary challenge, I will never have the chance to learn about these ethnic groups or the opportunity to prepare a meal reflective of their cuisine or culture. 

For this reason, I have decided to do four "special challenges."  The focus of these special challenges will be on the culture and cuisine of an ethnicity that does not have its own, formally-recognized country and/or would not otherwise be part of the challenge to prepare 80 dishes from 80 different countries.  Each such special will take place after I have completed twenty challenges.

That means the first special will be coming very soon. 

So, stay tuned and ... 


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Beer for Keeping

One of the great things about collaboration beers is that you can buy a beer from a brewery that you love -- like New Belgium -- and learn about breweries that you did not even know about  -- like Brewery Vivant.  I have reviewed a few great New Belgium beers, such as the Grand Cru Abbey Ale and the Le Fleur Misseur? Ale.  Those beers made me a big fan of New Belgium and I always keep an eye out for their beers.  

That is how I found the Bière de Garde, which is a collaboration between New Belgium and Brewery Vivant.  Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Brewery Vivant draws its inspiration from the small farmhouses in Northern France and Southern Belgium.  They have transcribed that inspiration into beers such as the Farm Hand Farmhouse Ale and the Solitude Abbey Style Ale.  

For this particular collaboration, the brewers at New Belgium and Brewery Vivant chose to brew a Bière de Garde.  This style, which translates into "beer which has been kept or lagered," originated in Northern France in regions such as Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Artois and Picardie.  Farmhouses would brew a Bière de Garde in the spring and cellar the beer so that they could enjoy it during the summer.  This was a far better way to enjoy beer than trying to brew during those hotter months, when the heat added a sense of unpredictability to the fermentation of the yeast.

There are three variations of the Bière de Garde style.  According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, there is the brown (brune), blond (blonde) and amber (ambrée) styles.  The New Belgium/Brewery Vivant Bière de Garde fits neatly within the blonde style, with a nice yellow or gold in color.  The brewers produced this beer with pale, Munich and C-120 malts, as well as Target and Sorachi hops.  The brewers also used orange peel in the production of the beer. 

The brewers describe the aroma as being "[f]ruity orange and lemon peel, lots of spicy phenolic yeast flavors (clove, peppercorn), fresh herbal tea, fennel, some tropical fruit notes, cellar-like notes."  I could definitely sense the orange, as well as the lemon peel (which most likely came from the Sorachi hops, which do a great job adding citrus aromas and flavors to beer). There were some faint clove and spice flavors in the aroma.  As for the taste, the brewers suggest sweet fruit, citrus tart and mineral.  I definitely got the orange citrus flavors, which were clearly prominent in the light, dry and crisp body of the beer, as well as in its finish.

The Bière de Garde bottle may be a little suggestive of the ideal pairing for this beer.  Draft Magazine suggests that a Bière de Garde style beer can be paired with roast chicken or roast duck, as well as a vegetable omelet or corn bread.  The brewers at New Belgium suggest a pineapple soup or mixed paella. 

This beer is definitely worth a try, if not just to sample a beer from the Bière de Garde style.  This beer caught my eye at a local grocery store, where it sold for about $12.99 a bottle.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Djej Mechoui (Moroccan Grilled Chicken)

My culinary adventures have given me the opportunity to try new recipes and cooking techniques.  One of these new found experiences involves grilling whole chickens.  I have taught myself how to spatch-cock (or butterfly) the whole chicken and then learned how to use different rubs to create some amazing dinners.   

The rub recipes have provided me with a small window into different cuisines.  For example, the recipe for Pollo a las Brasas con Cebollitas -- with its use of ancho chile, oregano, cinnamon, garlic and citrus juice -- provides me with an insight as to how cooks at roadside stands in Mexico prepare their chicken.  By contrast, the recipe for Chicken Hawayil -- with a dry rub consisting of cumin, caraway, cardamom, saffron, cloves, coriander and turmeric -- illustrates the greater range of spices that may be available to cooks in the Yemen.  

Recently, I had the opportunity to prepare a grilled chicken recipe from a country that sort of sits at the midway point between Mexico and the Yemen ... Morocco.   The recipe is Djej Mechoui.  The word "Mechoui" is Arabic for "roast on a fire" and it describes a popular, North African grilled meat dish.  According to Wisegeek, there are two traditional ways to prepare a "Mechoui."  In Algeria, it involves the roasting of a whole lamb or sheep over a fire.  In Morocco, it involves roasting the lamb or sheep in the ground in a manner similar to a Polynesian pig roast.   Either way, the meat is heavily spiced before it is roasted.  

The use of spices differs greatly from the other recipes that I have tried.  Rather than using a dry rub, or a combination of dry ingredients with citrus juice, the Djej Mechoui uses a spice butter.  The spices are a combination of fresh ingredients (parsley, cilantro, garlic and scallions) and dried ingredients (sweet paprika, hot paprika, and cumin) that are blended into the butter.  The butter is then applied to both the skin and meat of the chicken just before the meat is placed on the grill. 
Finally, just a couple of technical notes.  For this recipe, I used a whole, free-range chicken that was fed a natural diet.  After all, I suspect (and hope) that most Moroccans (as well as Mexicans and Yemenis for that matter) are not getting their chickens from industrialized, mass-producing poultry farms.  In addition, as I did not have an open fire available to roast a chicken, I used my gas grill.  The result still produced a very delicious, tender and juicy chicken.

Recipe adapted from Saveur
Serves 4

3 scallions, white ends only, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 1⁄2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 pinch hot paprika
1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄4 cup butter, soft
1 3 pound chicken (or 4 poussins or 2 small chickens)

1. Make the spice butter.  Crush the scallions, garlic, cilantro, parsley, salt, sweet paprika, hot paprika, and cumin with a mortar and pestle. Blend in butter.

2. Marinate the chicken.  Wash poussins or chickens; split them down the back and flatten; dry well; and rub inside and out with butter paste. Let stand at least 1 hour.

3. Grill the chicken.  Preheat the grill, then cook chicken skin side up. Turn after 2 minutes and baste with any extra paste. Continue to turn and baste until skin is crisp and flesh is firm.

One last note ... I served this Djej Mechoui with a Moroccan Raw Carrot Salad.  This Moroccan-inspired meal was amazing.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Angel's Share

So, as the story goes, "[w]ay down in Kentucky and across the pond in Scotland, distillers age their whiskeys for many years in oak barrels. Over time, some whiskey is lost to evaporation. They refer to this loss of spirits as 'The Angel’s Share.' Each time a barrel is filled, a measure of this liquid seeps into the oak and is lost forever."  The story is actually true.  Distillers and winemakers traditionally age whiskeys and wines in oak barrels.  According to Wisegeek, when those barrels are stored at 60% humidity or higher for long periods of time, some of the liquid will permeate and evaporate through the staves of the barrels.  This leads to a reduction in the alcohol content and it allows the flavors of the whiskey or wine to develop.  

For the brewers at Port Brewing, the story serves as an inspiration for a brandywine that they describe as "a barrel aged burgundy colored ale infused with copious amounts of dark caramel malt to emphasize the vanilla and oak flavors found in freshly emptied bourbon or brandy barrels. Each batch spends no less than 12 months aging in the oak."

The Angel's Share pours pitch black, far from any angelic color.  Little to no carbonation is present, resulting in little foam as the beer is poured into the glass. 

The year-long aging of the beer is clearly present in the aroma and the taste of the Angel's Share.  It is very boozy, with elements of the wood present in the background.  There are also aromas of raisins caramel and vanilla.  As for the taste, the liquor -- whether it is whiskey or bourbon (given I do not drink hard liquor, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference in a beer) -- is first in line to greet the drinker.  It is also the last to leave, hanging on through the finish.  Other flavors are present for the party, such as alcohol-infused raisins, caramel and perhaps a little toffee.

This beer is relatively hard to find and it was given to me as a gift by my father.  I have not seen it on the shelves at any stores and I do not know how much it costs.  Still, if you happen to see a bottle, you should pick one up.  It is worth a try.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Moroccan Raw Carrot Salad

According to one source, carrots originated in Afghanistan or Iran, where there is still a wide variety of wild carrots growing today.  Initially, people cultivated carrots for their leaves and seeds, not their taproots.  Eventually, people realized that those roots are edible and, as with many things, the planting and cultivation of carrots spread around the world.  The references to carrots in Europe can be found as early as the 11th and 12th centuries, when people like Ibn al'Awwam, an Arab Andalusian agriculturist, wrote about red and yellow carrots in his treatise, Kitab al-Filaha, which is considered to be an important medieval work in the field of agriculture.

This raw carrot salad recipe is inspired by the cuisine of peoples who reside just south of Andalusia ... in Morocco. I made this recipe as part of a dinner that I prepared for Clare's parents during a recent visit. The main dish was Djej Mechoui, a whole grilled chicken marinated in a Moroccan spice rub.  I also needed a side dish or sald.  I perused several cooking websites looking for Moroccan side dishes.  I came across a recipe for a raw carrot salad, which is kind of like a combination of a side dish and a salad. 

This use of raw carrots intrigued me.  Personally, I am not a big fan of the taste of a raw carrot and, if I can avoid eating them, then I do.  However, the use of spices (cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, pepper and allspice), along with the citrus juice, transformed the raw carrots in this dish.  They provided a range of flavors that mask the flavor of the raw carrot, making the root vegetable more palatable.   In the end, I really liked this salad.

Recipe from Bon Appetit
Serves 6 to 8

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped 
1 pound of carrots, peeled, coarsely grated
4 cups mixed baby greens
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced

1.  Make the dressing.  Combine the first seven ingredients (cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cayenne, allspice and cloves) in a non-reactive bowl.  Whisk in the olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice and mint.

2.  Add the carrots and greens.   Add the carrots and greens.  Toss the ingredients.

3.  Plate the dish.  Plate the carrots and greens.  Garnish with the onions.