Friday, March 29, 2013

Agnello al Fiorentino

Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a standard of Florentine cooking. Traditionally, the steak is a t-bone or porterhouse steak from either the Chianina or Maremma breed of cattle.  Most recipes call for each steak to be at least two pounds. Those recipes also call for a rub consisting of black pepper, salt, rosemary and thyme. 

At least for me, it is perhaps the best way to grill a porterhouse steak.  It can also be the best way to grill any meat.  I put that to the test recently when I bought some lamb t-bones.  These t-bones were miniature in size, weighing about 1/3 of pound or more.

Although the lamb t-bones were good enough on their own, I decided to make a simple mushroom sauce.  The reason for the sauce is that I wanted to incorporate mushrooms into the dish.  I suppose I could have just sauteed the mushrooms and then topped the t-bones with them. However, I wanted to try my hand at a basic sauce.  A very basic sauce ... stock, butter, garlic, oregano and, of course mushrooms. I think it worked out well for something to do on a whim.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the lamb):
4 lamb steaks
1 tablespoon of rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of thyme, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon of salt
1/2 tablespoon of ground pepper
1/4 tablespoon of crushed red pepper
1/4 tablespoon of dried oregano
1/2 cup of olive oil
Ingredients (for the sauce)
8 ounces of portabello mushrooms, sliced
1/4 tablespoon of dried oregano
3 tablespoons of butter
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1/4 cup beef stock
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

1.  Marinate the lamb steaks.  Combine the rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, salt, ground pepper, crushed red pepper, oregano and oil in a bowl or a zip lock bag.  Mix the ingredients.  Add the lamb steaks and make sure all of the steaks are covered with the marinade.  Cover and refrigerate for about one-half hour.

2.  Grill the lamb steaks.  Heat a grill to medium high heat (about 400 degrees Fahrenheit).  Clean and oil the grates.  Add the lamb steaks.  Cook for about four minutes, turn ninety degrees.  Cook for four minutes more.  Flip and cook for four minutes.  Turn ninety degrees and cook for four minutes.  Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.

3.  Make the sauce.  Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and saute for about six to eight minutes, until the mushrooms have released their moisture.  Stir or shake the pan occasionally to prevent the mushrooms from burning.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the beef stock and 1 tablespoon of butter.  Season with salt and pepper.  After the butter has melted, add another tablespoon of butter.  Stir until the butter is melted and add the final tablespoon of butter.  Once it has melted, remove from heat.

4.  Plate the dish.  Place 2 lamb steaks on the plate.  Spoon some of the mushrooms over the steaks and then some of the sauce around the steaks.

Although the sauce worked well, I don't know that I would use it every time I make these lamb t-bones.  If I do use it again, I may try improving the sauce.  One way would be to  sear the lamb t-bones in the skillet before adding the mushrooms, and then using the stock to deglaze the pan.  The lamb t-bones could be finished under the broiler. This is the great thing about cooking, there are always way to improve what you make. 


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bourbon Oak Smoked Ribeye with Rogue Blue Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Bell Pepper Salad

A few years ago, I got a stovetop smoker for a gift.  I lived in an apartment at the time.  Although living on a high floor had its advantages, the major drawback was that I could not own, let alone use, a real smoker.  I was very happy and excited to use the smoker. I bought several containers of "wood chips," which are really more like wood shavings or wood dust.  Still, I had all the necessary woods ... oak, alder, pecan, cherry, apple, and, of course, bourbon oak.  

I used the stovetop smoker several times while I lived in the apartment; however, once I moved to a house and got my own yard, I got a bullet-style smoker.  I began using that to smoke meats and the stovetop smoker began to sit on the shelf.  (It also did not help that the one time I did use it in my new home, I set off the smoke alarm.) 

While I really like to use my bullet smoker, it has its limits.  It is inefficient and unwieldly when it comes to smoking just a small piece of meat, like a steak.  This is where the stovetop smoker still serves a purpose.   I can use it to impart a slight smoke flavor to a small piece of meat, which I can then just finish under the broiler or in the oven. 

Recently, I decided to use the stovetop smoker just to smoke a ribeye.  I pulled out the Bourbon Oak chips, got the stovetop smoker working and used it to provide that steak with a slight smoked flavor.  I also made a small salad of roasted onions and peppers and a side of mashed potatoes with Rogue blue cheese.  Everything was delicious, although the mashed potatoes needed a little more liquid to make them a little creamier.  I usually eyeball the amount of milk and butter, but I figured out how much I used and just increased the amount in the recipe.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-4

1 pound, grass-fed ribeye
1 green bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into big pieces
1/8 pound of Rogue Blue Cheese, cut or broken into pieces
1 tablespoon of butter
1/4 cup of skim milk
Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper 

Cameron's Stovetop Smoker
Cameron's Bourbon Oak Chips

1.  Prepare the mashed potatoes.  Fill a small pot half way with water and add the potatoes.  Turn heat to high and boil the potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes or until they can be easily pierced with a fork.  Drain the potatoes, add the butter, half of the cheese and milk.  Using a hand masher, mash the potatoes until they are the desired consistency.  Add the remainder of the cheese and stir it into the potatoes.

2.  Prepare the bell peppers.  While the potatoes are boiling, use the elements of your gas stove to roast the bell peppers.  Turn the bell peppers as each side blackens until the peppers are charred on all sides.  Set aside for five minutes.  Once the bell peppers have cooled, run them under cold water, using your fingers to remove all of the blackened skin.  Dry off the bell peppers and thinly slice them.

3.  Prepare the ribeye.  Liberally salt and pepper the steak.  Heat a pan over high heat.  When the pan is really hot, sear the steak for a few minutes on each side.  Remove the steak from the heat.    Follow the directions on the stovetop smoker and smoke the ribeye for about ten minutes or until it is done to your desired temperature.  (I like my steaks between medium rare and medium.)  Remove the steak from the smoker and let it rest for five minutes. 


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Its all about the Alchemy Hour ...

Along the beaches of California, surfers have a term for that period of time when they can enjoy the best that a swell has to offer ... the "Alchemy Hour."  The origin of the phrase is unknown, but one could surmise that it is the combination of elements to transform regular waves into those surface gravity waves that provide the best surfing.

Great Lakes Brewing Company has borrowed the term "Alchemy Hour" for its Double India Pale Ale.  The brewery claims that it chose the name to commemorate those who surf the Great Lakes.  That hardy lot has to work a little harder than their brethren who surf the Pacific Ocean's waves.  (Swells are not as swell on the Great Lakes and the reasons are better left for something other than a beer review.)   The GLBC brewers note that, on the Great Lakes, "our surfers have to work a little harder to find the perfect swell, waking at dawn and camping out on icy beaches in freezing temperatures.  Crazy?  Yes.  Extreme? Definitely, But we crafted our Double IPA for the bold ones."   

The choice of words often provides hidden clues or suggestions.  Take, for example, "crafted."  Alchemy is the medieval practice of transmuting one thing into another, relying upon the properties of materials to craft something truly special.  For centuries, people used alchemy in an effort to turn base metals into gold or other precious metals.  Those people failed.  Perhaps they were trying to create the wrong kind of gold.  After all, the end product need not carry the chemical symbol "Au."    
Gold could be something else.  It could be liquid gold, like beer.  In this case, the "alchemy" practiced by the brewers produced a Double India Pale Ale that pours pours a burnt copper or orange color, several shades off from what one would ordinarily consider the color of gold.

Color aside, the brewers were able to use the properties of the all natural ingredients -- Harrington 2 Row Base Malt, Caramel 45 malt, and honey malt, as well as Mosaic, nugget and cascade hops -- to produce a beer that is definitely golden in both aroma and flavor.  The beer as the aromas of citrus, like fresh grapefruit

However, the "alchemy" practiced by the brewers at Great Lakes Brewing Company produced  the end product does not need Pours a burnt copper or orange color.  Aromas of citrus, like grapefruit.  These aromas are from the use of the Mosaic hops, which provide floral, citrus and fruity aromas to the beer.  The citrus tones carry over to the taste of the beer, providing the bitter bite one expects from a hopped-up India Pale Ale.  There was also a little pine flavor in the beer, perhaps offered by the nugget hops.  While this citrus and pine bitterness was fairly strong in the beer, it was nevertheless wrapped up in a surprising sweetness, brought out by the use of the honey malts.

The brewers at the GLBC suggest that the Alchemy Hour Double IPA pairs well with smoked beef brisket, grilled lamb, sharp and rich cheeses, and sweet desserts.

Great Lakes Brewing Company definitely found liquid gold with the Alchemy Hour Double IPA.  As for myself, I found this beer at a local grocery store, where it sold for about $10.99 a four-pack.  This is a limited production beer.  If you see it, you should buy it.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pork Larb

Transport yourself to Southeast Asia where you find yourself near the border of northeast Thailand and Laos.  Hunger grips your stomach, the clench tightening as the thought of food travels through your brain.  You enter a village and head immediately to the market.  The market just consists of just a few vendors.  However, there is one stall around which the local people gather.  You politely work your way in to see a vendor cooking a dish of minced meat, nutmeg/black pepper/chile spice blend and fresh herbs.  The aromas are so enticing that you almost miss the fact that the vendor is adding slices of pork liver and pork heart, along with a little pork blood.  As the vendor finished the dish for individual patrons, adding rice and topping it with fried garlic and pork cracklings.  You turn to a local standing next to you and ask what is this dish.  (Remember, you are not actually there, so a translator is not required.)  The local responds, "it is Laab."

Laab is a popular dish throughout Southeast Asia.  The story describes how the Tai Koen prepare this dish in Northeast Thailand.  If you were in Burma (Myanmar), the Shan people prepare Laab with lightly fried minced pork, along with shallots, lemongrass, galangal, sesame seeds, and a roasted chile paste.

I learned about these different variations of Laab in an article published by Naomi Duguid in Saveur.  The article included a recipe by Hong Thaimee of Ngam Restaurant in New York City.  This recipe does not require pork livers or pork blood.  Instead, it is a recreation of a classic Laab that does recreate many of the aromas and flavors one would expect is you were eating this dish in Southeast Asia.  This is definitely a great dish, which I will make again. 

Recipe from Saveur
Serves 2-4

⅓ cup canola oil
3 tbsp. mashed garlic
4 red Thai chiles, stemmed and minced
10 oz. ground pork
1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
2 tbsp. minced mint, plus more to garnish
1 tbsp. minced scallions, plus more to garnish
1 tbsp. minced cilantro, plus more to garnish
2 tsp. fish sauce
Thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, shallots, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes to garnish

1.  Cook the garlic and peppers.  Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and chiles, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. 

2.  Cook the pork and spices.  Add pork, chile flakes, five-spice, nutmeg, salt, pepper, coriander, and cardamom, and cook, stirring, until pork is browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in mint, scallions, cilantro, and fish sauce, and cook until pork is done, about 4 minutes.

3. Finish the dish. Transfer to a large serving bowl, and top with scallions, cilantro, kaffir leaves, lemongrass, shallots, mint, cilantro, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Serve at room temperature.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Quest for El Dorado

There are many stories throughout history about the "gilded one."  Back in the 17th century, one author, Juan Rodríguez Freyle wrote in El Camero about how the "gilded one" emerged from a cave at Lake Guatavita (in what is now Colombia) covered in gold dust.  This was a special ceremony, which was part of the ascension of the gilded one to become the leader of the Muisca people.  To the Spanish conquistadors, the "gilded one" was known as El Dorado.  The conquistadors believed that Lake Guatavita was full of gold and, at one point, they drained the lake to reveal its riches.  Unable or unwilling to drain the lake completely, the Spaniards were only able to find some gold coins along the edge.

For centuries thereafter, the name El Dorado became synonymous with a place where there was abundant wealth.  However, wealth can be more than the number of gold ducats in your possession.  Indeed, it does not even need to be associated with the chemical symbol Au.  In the context of craft beer, the El Dorado  is that beer with the perfect accumulation of aromas and tastes.  It is that beer that will motivate people to assume the roles of modern day conquistadors, plodding through unknown beer stores, grocery stores and other locales searching out that very special beer.
I was one of those beer conquistadors.  Walking through a newly discovered beer store, I came across El Dorado.  This beer is one of the latest, limited releases by Flying Dog, and it is brewed using only a single hop, aptly named the El Dorado. According to the brewers, the El Dorado hop was first bred between 20 and 25 years ago by a United States Department of Agriculture research program.  The USDA program cultivated the hops for eventual use by Anheuser-Busch. However, Anheuser-Busch eventually decided to abandon the hop.  Now, A sole grower in Moxee Valley, a northern district of the famed Yakima Valley, kept the variety in the ground over the years and in 2010, harvested a mere 1.5 acres.  Those cones made their way to Frederick, Maryland, where Flying Dog used them to produce this beer.

As the name suggests, Flying Dog used only the El Dorado hops to produce this beer. However, they also used Rye, Cara-Pils and Biscuit malts, along with an American ale yeast during the brewing process. 

The El Dorado pours a bright gold or orange color, with only a thin, quick receding foam.   The aroma is full of citrus, such as grapefruit, tangerines and perhaps a little lemon.  There is even a little pepper or spice around the edges.  The taste of the beer mirrors the grapefruit aromas, which provides some bitterness, along with some grassy or herbal notes.  The most surprising aspect of the El Dorado is the sweetness that is found in the taste of the beer.  That sweetness numbs the bitterness, especially during the finish of the beer.

The brewers at Flying Dog suggest that this beer can be paired with a range of ingredients or dishes.  Pineapples and star fruit.  Thai or Mexican dishes.  This is just reflective of Imperial Pale Ales, which are fairly easy to pair with foods. I paired this beer with a lamb t-bones, grilled in the Fiorentina style, with mashed potatoes and a basic mushroom sauce.  The pairing worked very well. 

I found this six pack at a local beer and wine store.  It sold for about $15.00 for a six-pack.  Of course, I guess gold is kind of expensive....


For more about the legend of El Dorado, check out the National Geographic Society.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Penne Rigate with Asparagus-Pistachio Pesto

One of the most interesting chefs and television personalities is Andrew Zimmern.  I am a big fan of his television shows, especially Bizarre Foods.  Andrew has a very interesting and inspiring personal history.  He moved to Minnesota in the 1990s to receive treatment for chemical dependency and alcoholism.  After he finished the treatment program, he found a job at a French restaurant called Café Un Deux Trois.  Although Andrew washed dishes and bussed tables, he closely watched the chef, who had spent a few years learning under Chef Bouley in New York City.  Andrew watched the chef closely, and, when a line cook called in sick, Andrew took the job as a line cook.  After a few weeks, Andrew climbed the ranks and took over the kitchen.

I have been wanting to make some of Andrew's recipes for quite a while.  Recently, I came across a recipe for Rigatoni with Asparagus-Pistachio Pesto.  This recipe dates back to Café Un Deux Trois.  Andrew recalls that the the old chef at the restaurant claimed to have gotten the recipe from Chef Bouley.  Whether or not that is true, Andrew notes that the recipe is delicious.

And, Andrew is right.  This recipe is very delicious.  I made two changes to his recipe.  First, I substituted rigatoni with penne rigate.  Really, this dish could be prepared with any pasta, although I think rigatoni and penne rigate, as well as fusilli or orcchiette, would be the best pasta for this dish. Second, I used regular Parmesan cheese rather than Parmigiano Reggiano because I was making this dish for my beautiful wife, Clare.  Given she is pregnant, unpasteurized cheeses -- like Parmigiano Reggiano -- are off the table.  However, regular Parmesan is pasteurized and it works as a good substitute. 

Adapted from recipe by Andrew Zimmern and available at Food & Wine
Serves 4-6

1/4 cup of pine nuts
1 1/2 pounds of asparagus, cut into 1 inch lengths
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium shallot, chopped
1/2 cup packed basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of honey
2 teaspoons of thyme, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon zest, finely grated
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus more for tossing
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound of Penne Rigate
1 cup of vegetable broth
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/4 cup unsalted roasted pistachios, very finely chopped
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving

1.  Toast the pine nuts.  Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the pine nuts in a pie plate and toast for about 3 minutes, until golden brown.

2.  Begin preparing the pesto.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine the asparagus with the carrots and shallot and process until finely chopped. Scrape the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Stir in the basil, garlic, honey, thyme, lemon zest, cumin and the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring once, until the vegetables are soft and just starting to brown. Season with salt and pepper.

3.  Cook the pasta.  Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a baking sheet and toss with olive oil.

4.  Finish the pesto and the dish.   In a very large skillet, combine the cooked vegetables with the chicken stock and butter and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 4 minutes. Add the pasta, pine nuts, pistachios and the reserved 1/2 cup of pasta water and cook, tossing, until the sauce is thick and the pasta is coated. Stir in the parsley and chopped bacon and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta to bowls and serve, passing the grated cheese at the table. 


Friday, March 8, 2013

The Bornhem

The phrase "abbey ale" or "abbey-style ale" is meant to invoke a specific image.  One of trappist monks working in the brewery attached to a monastery, producing beer for both the soul and the stomach.  Of course, it is just an image.  Trappist beers come with a specific label indicating that it is an "Authentic Trappist Product."  To have that label, the beer must satisfy some rather specific requirements adopted in 1992, including one in which the beer is produced entirely within the walls of the monastery.  If the beer cannot meet that requirement, then it cannot be labeled as an authentic Trappist product.

So goes the story of the Bornem.  Originally, the beer was brewed by monks at the St. Bernard Abbey in the Belgian town of Bornem.  However, during the French Revolution, the monks fled to England.  They returned to monastery after the revolution was over, but their numbers dwindled.  Eventually, it reached the point that the monks lacked the manpower to brew the Bornem beers.  Thereafter, they licensed Brouwerij Van Steenberge to produce the beers.  In so doing, however, the monks lost the ability to label their beers as a trappist product.  Instead, the Bornem beers, like the Tripel (or "Triple"), became "Abbey Ales."

The Bornhem Tripel pours a golden color, with a thick cloud of foam.  That cloud quickly recedes, leaving much smaller puffy clouds gently resting on the surface of the beer.  The aromatic elements of this beer have the characteristic spiciness of a tripel, suggesting cloves, bananas and even a little bubble gum.  There is little to no hop aromas, which is to be expected given that a tripel is produced with three times as much malts as an ordinary beer.  As for the taste, once again the Bornem displays the classic attributes of a tripel ... bananas with a light malty or bready flavor, as well as some hints of the Belgian yeast.  There is some spice, such as a hint of pepper in the background, but nothing that even rises to the level of the other elements in the beer. Finally, there is a hint of booziness in the taste of the beer.  After all, the Bornem Tripel has an ABV of 9%.

When it comes to pairing the Bornem with food, the most common suggestion is to pair the tripel with a variety of cheeses.  Indeed, this beer will work well with most hard cheeses, except those that incorporate whole seeds (like cumin seeds), as well as soft and blue cheeses.  Another common suggestion is to enjoy this beer as a digestif after a nice meal.  

I was given this bottle by my father, so I don't know how much it costs.  I have to say that I have not seen it in any stores.  But, if you should happen to run across it, it might be worth a try.  


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Mauritius

I have been working on my ongoing, personal culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes.  However, as I worked on a couple of particular challenges, a surprise challenge seemed to emerge out of nowhere.  It was a dot in amongst an ocean of ingredients.  A package of duck breasts.  My eyes fixated on that package, and, I began to wonder what I could make with it.  As soon as I got to a computer, I began to review various recipes that used duck breasts.  It was then that I came across for a recipe of Mauritius Duck Curry.  That recipe gave rise to a challenge.  I would make a main course from the country of Mauritius. 

Much like those duck breasts, the Republic of Mauritius is a dot or dots in the larger Indian Ocean. The country consists of a set of islands, including Mauritius, Agaléga, Rodrigues, and Saint Brandon.  Mauritius was first charted by Arab sailors, although it was Portuguese explorers, perhaps Diogo Fernandes Pereira, who established the first base on the island of Mauritius.  At that time, the Portuguese encountered the local inhabitants ... the dodo bird. The Portuguese later abandoned the islands, only to have the Dutch who landed and later settled the island.  (The Dutch gave the country its name, Mauritius.) The Dutch settlements did not survive, but they left sugar cane, domestic animals and deer.

After the Dutch abandoned the island, it was the French who settled in and established a long-lasting settlement and renamed the islands the "Isle de France." The French established Port Louis, the capital, and used it as a naval base to raid British shipping.  Ultimately, the French lost the islands to the British in 1810 as a result of the British victory in the Napoleonic war.  The British allowed the residents to keep their land, their French language and their laws.  This probably gave rise to the Mauritian Creole (Kreol Morisien), a French-based language spoken by the populace, even though English is the official language.

It is at this point the focus shifts to the culture and cuisine.  Mauritius has a very diverse population.  At first, there were the Africans, Creoles and Europeans.  During the 19th century, Indians began to emigrate to Mauritius from the subcontinent, bringing their culinary traditions with them.  Toward the end of that century, the Chinese began to migrate to Mauritius.

Each of these populations have left their mark on the Mauritian cuisine. A variety of dishes may grace the tables of Mauritians, whether at home, on the street or in a restaurant.  These dishes include Indian curries, European braised dishes, and Chinese stir frys. Such a range of culinary influences creates a dilemma for my personal culinary challenge.  The question becomes what which influence should serve as my starting point.  For this challenge, the choice of a duck curry made this decision rather easy.  I would be exploring the Indian influence on Mauritian cuisine. 


Indians migrated to Mauritius from both North and South India, which means that there is a wide range of influences just within the Indian cuisine in Mauritius.  As followers of my blog know, I try to make more than just the main course.  I usually try to make a first course, side dish and/or a beverage.  On this occasion, I decided to make a first course of Chana Masala. 

Chana -- or chole -- are more commonly known as chickpeas.  This masala is a very popular dish in the Punjab region of India, as well as in Guajarat and Rajahstan.  I found the recipe on the Mijo Recipes website.   The one substitution that I made was to use canned chickpeas, rather than dried chickpeas.  This cut down on the preparation time, although it also meant that I would not have the reserved liquid that is called for in Step 3.  I had some vegetable stock in the refrigerator, so I used that in place of the reserved liquid.  This substitution worked out very well. 

Recipe adapted from Mijo Recipes
Serves 4-6

2-3 cups of chana/chole/chickpeas (if using dried, soaked overnight or at least 5 hours)
2 2/3 tablespoons of butter
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 tablespoon garlic-ginger paste (or 4 cloves garlic and 2 cm ginger, grated)
1-2 red chiles, sliced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
2 medium tomatoes, chopped to a paste (or made into a paste with a blender)
1 tablespoon of cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup of low sodium vegetable stock or broth (if using canned chickpeas)

1.  Prepare the chole.  Soak the chole in water overnight or for at least 5 hours. Wash and boil them until well cooked. Take one chole and if you can mash it with your fingers, then it’s done. Drain the chole and reserve the liquid.

2.  Begin to prepare the masala.  Heat a non-stick pot over medium heat.  When warm, add the butter and allow it to melt.  Add the cumin seeds and let them fry for a few minutes.  Add the chopped onions and fry until most of the water evaporates.  Add ginger-garlic, fry until fragrant. Lower your heat, add turmeric powder, coriander powder, garam masala powder, salt and 1 tbsp water. Mix until you get a nice paste and cook until fragrant. The low heat and adding some water prevents the spices from burning.

3.  Continue to prepare the masala.  Put heat to medium. Add red chillies, chopped tomatoes and cook until the mixture reduces to about half in quantity. The mixture will become a bit thicker.  Add the chole/chickpeas, and add half-cup of the reserved liquid.  Cook for a further 10 minutes covered.

4.  Finish the dish.  Mash up some of the chickpeas and add water until the mixture reaches your desired consistency.  Add chopped coriander leaves.  Mix and serve.

This dish is very good.  I liked this recipe because it allows the cook to adjust the consistency of the masala to his or her own liking. Personally, I prefer the masala on the dry side.  This meant that I did not add any water at the end of the cooking.


When I selected the challenge to make a main course from Mauritius, I did not expect that it would come with a lesson about food security.  However, I should have expected it.  Mauritius is a series of islands, which means that there is not a lot of land to grow crops or raise livestock.  The country imports about 75% of its food, while only producing 25% locally.  Food also accounts for approximately one-third of the expenses incurred by a Mauritian family.   Taken together, these facts reveal the basic problem in the context of food security: the vulnerability to increases in food prices.  For the people of Mauritius, they not only face higher increases in the cost of basic food, but also increased costs attendant to the importation of that food. These increases in food and transportation costs translate into an even larger portion of an average family's expenses being used to purchase the food they need to survive.

Given this real threat of food insecurity, the Mauritian government has undertaken various initiatives to obtain food "independence," which means self-sufficiency in the production of dairy, vegetables, and meat.  This provides a good transition to those duck breasts.  One of the government's initiatives is to increase the production and consumption of ducks.  Private companies brought stocks of Pekin and Muscovy ducks to Mauritius.  However, with some assistance, the Mauritian government established a "Duck Unit," which included the construction of a hatchery in Reduit and a farm in Albion.  The government's objectives include the development of high yielding meat strains through breeding, to increase the number of hatchlings and to further research duck nutrition.

As the Mauritian government promotes the production and consumption of ducks, chefs and cooks have risen to the challenge by using their creativity to develop dishes that feature Mauritian ducks.  One such chef is Jocelyn Riviere, who was born in Mauritius but who heads kitchens in Australian restaurants.  Chef Riviere created a recipe for Mauritian Duck Curry, which serves as the main dish for my challenge.

This is a very interesting recipe and I wished I could have followed it to the letter. Unfortunately, I had to make a couple of changes due to the availability of ingredients.  First, the original recipe calls for the use of a whole duck, but I wanted to cook with duck breasts and, in any event, the store where I bought the duck did not have whole ducks available.  So, I used duck breasts.  Second, the recipe calls for the use of stalks of young curry leaves.  Once again, the store did not have any curry leaves and I did not have the time to stop at the stores where I knew that ingredient would be available.  So, I made the dish without the curry leaves, but I left them in the recipe.  Finally, the recipe calls for the use of bird eye chilies.  These chiles are also known as "piri-piri."  I did not have any whole bird eye chiles, but I did have ground piri-piri.  So, I substituted ground chiles for whole ones.  This substitution greatly increased the heat of the dish, but, it is consistent with the fact that Mauritians love spicy foods.  (After all, the influences of African, Indian and Chinese cuisines provides the perfect conditions for spicy dishes.)  With all of those changes, I proceeded to the challenge:

Recipe adapted from SBS Food
Serves 2-4

1 whole duck cut into sauté pieces or four duck breasts
Vegetable oil
3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
6-8 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1-2 birds eye chilies (or 1/4 teaspoon of ground piri-piri pepper)
4 tablespoons of curry powder, mixed with water to make a wet paste
2 medium onions, finely chopped
10 stalks of fresh young curry leaves
Half a bunch of washed coriander, coarsely chopped
4 medium sized ripe tomatoes, pulp removed and diced coarsely

1.  Make the garlic/ginger/chile paste.  In a mortar and pestle crush ginger, garlic and chilli with a pinch of salt to form a paste. 

2.  Prepare the duck.  Remove all the excess fat and skin that hangs from the sides or ends of the duck, leaving only the skin that sits on top of the meat. Cut the duck into 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and 4-breast quarter and the rest into same size pieces. Place in a bowl, season well with salt and fresh ground white pepper and toss. If you are using duck breasts, just season them liberally with salt and ground pepper.  

3.  Brown the duck.  Heat a large heavy sauté pan on medium to high heat. When it is hot, put in as many duck pieces as will fit easily, skin side down. Quickly brown the duck on both sides. Set the browned pieces aside. Continue to brown all the duck pieces in the same way. (Do not burn the bottom of the pan) Reduce to medium heat. 

4.  Saute the onions.  To the same hot pan, which should have enough duck fat for frying, add the onion and sauté until light brown. Add the garlic, chile and ginger paste. Sauté and cook for about 2 minutes, then add the curry leaves and curry powder mix, stirring and cooking over medium-low heat for another 2 minutes until the paste bubbles and cooks out. 

5.  Make the curry.  Add one-half cup of water, the cooked duck pieces and any juices from the bowl.  Mix well and add another cup of water to bring the liquid level to half way up the ingredients. Check seasoning.   Bring to the boil then cover and simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour until meat is tender (almost falling of the bone). Stir gently every 20 minutes or so during the cooking period, turning the duck pieces over now and then. 

6.  Finish the curry.  Remove lid and add chopped tomato. Allow the tomato to break down into the sauce, gently turning up the heat to reduce. Check the seasoning and, just before serving, add the chopped cilantro. 

*          *          *

When asked to give advice to home cooks, Chef Riviere recommended that they be "well organized and season everything before cooking (especially with freshly ground pepper)."  "More importantly," he added, "remember that it takes a few tries to get it perfect."  Those words are sage advice.  I have to say that my first attempt at Chana Masala and Mauritian Duck Curry was a good start.  The masala was very good and I was able to taste the various spices in the dish.  The duck curry was a little reminiscent of the Kerala Duck Curry that I made a few weeks ago.  If I had to chose between the two types of curry -- Mauritian or Keralan, I think I would choose the Mauritian Duck Curry.  I also plan on following Chef Riviere's advice by making the duck curry again.  I will update this post with any changes based upon my future efforts.  

Now, it is time to return to my previously scheduled challenges, and, until that time ...


For more about Mauritius, check out Wikipedia

Monday, March 4, 2013

Chile Rubbed Salmon with Tomatillo, Jalapeno Pepper and Lime Juice

As I continued preparing a wonderful Valentine's dinner for my beautiful Angel, Clare, I had to think of a main course.  Clare loves salmon and, due to her pregnancy, she has not been able to eat as much of it as she would like.  All of the pregnancy guidelines say that it is important to eat certain fish.  Salmon is one of those fish, provided that it is wild salmon rather than farmed salmon.  There are many issues with respect to farmed salmon, which are better left for another post.  Fortunately, I have a lot of access to wild sockeye salmon.  So, I purchased two six ounce fillets and began to work on the recipe.

I had planned on following the same approach to planning this course that I used when I made my Roasted Root Vegetable Soup.  I planned on choosing ingredients that would complement each other, as determined by The Flavor Bible.  However, as I perused the section on Salmon, I came across a dish prepared by Zarela Martinez for her restaurant.  The dish was "Salmon Rubbed with Ground Red Chile and Lime and Pan Seared.  Served with a Tangy, Spicy, Tomatillo, Jalapeno and Lime Juice Sauce.  The dish caught my attention, and, I decided to make it.  The only problem is that I did not have a recipe.

So this recipe is my first effort to create Martinez's dish.  I made estimates of the amount of each ingredients for the salmon and the sauce.  For the salmon, I used ground Hatch chiles for the rub, but ground ancho chile and even cayenne pepper could be used.  For the sauce, I used a couple tomatillos with some onion, shallot and garlic to help add flavors and body to the sauce.  I did not add any more spices or herbs (other than salt and pepper) to keep the sauce rather simple. Finally, I decided to pair this dish with some saffron rice, which is just ordinary rice with a pinch of saffron added during the boiling stage.  

Overall, I think this dish worked out very well.  The sauce may need a little more work, especially with respect to consistency.  (The consistency of sauces continues to be an area that I need to develop.)  The flavor was there and it worked very well with the not only the salmon, but also the rice. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2
2 six-ounce sockeye salmon fillets
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil or canola oil
3 tomatillos, de-husked, and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
2 cups of rice, made according to instructions
2 limes, juiced
1 pinch of saffron
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Cilantro, chopped

1.  Prepare the rice.  Prepare the rice according to the the instructions.  Before you begin to boil the water, add a pinch of saffron to the water.  Then continue as directed by the instructions.  

2. Prepare the sauce.  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet.  Add the onions and saute until soft, about four to five minutes.  Add the shallot, garlic and oregano, saute for two minutes more.  Add the jalapeno pepper and saute for about three more minutes.   Season with a couple grinds of salt and pepper.  Add the tomatillos and continue to saute for about five to eight minutes, until the tomatillos begin to soften.   Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the ingredients to a blender.  Blend the ingredients until they are a liquid.  Tranfer the ingredients to a pot, season again with salt and pepper.  Cover and set aside. 

3.  Saute the salmon.  Heat the remaining oil in a pan.  Saute the salmon, skin side up, for about four minutes.  Flip the salmon and saute for about four minutes more or until done.  


Friday, March 1, 2013

Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

I always talk about wanting to make special meals for my beautiful Angel, Clare; but, for various reasons, I do not get to do that as often as I want.  For example, I planned a three course meal for New Years Eve, but, I was unable to do so because I was very much under the weather.  We have both been very busy at work and with preparing for Baby Bolek, which further limits the opportunities.  However, when Valentine's Day came along, I decided that I would prepare that special, three-course dinner for her.  Each course would be a Chef Bolek original.  

I also decided to make it a challenge.  I would decide on a primary ingredient, and then choose anywhere from three to five additional ingredients (excluding things like oils, spices, etc.).  To ensure that the ingredients complemented each other, I consulted the Flavor Bible, which my parents got me as a gift.   I have used the Flavor Bible in the past, and, the meals turned out very well. 

For the soup, I decided that the primary ingredient would be leeks.  After all, they are in season right now.  I then decided to use potatoes, carrots, and an onion.  As I began preparing this dish, I decided that I would separate the carrots from the rest of the dish.  I initially planned on swirling the pureed carrots into the leek/onion/potato soup.  However, in recognition of Valentine's day, I tried to pipe the carrots onto the soup in the shape of a heart.  I need to work on my piping skills, but the heart turned out fairly well.

Overall, the soup turned out well.  If I would have done anything different, I would have added some herbs or spices, such as thyme, coriander, turmeric or cumin.  The herbs and spices are not necessary, and, the soup was a delicious and creative way to start the dinner.  

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

4 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 Russet potato, peeled and cut into small 2 inch pieces
4-6 carrots, peeled, and cut in large pieces
2-3 cups of vegetable broth
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon of kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
Grapeseed oil

1. Roast the vegetables.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the leeks, onions, potato and carrots in a bowl.  Add the grapeseed oil and toss until the vegetables are covered. Spread out the vegetables on a baking sheet and roast the vegetables in the oven, about 30 to 45 minutes.  

2.  Puree the vegetables.  Add 1 cup of vegetable broth to a blender.  Add all of the vegetables except the carrots.  Blend until the vegetables are a liquid, adding another cup of vegetable broth during the blending.  Transfer to a pot.  You can add additional vegetable broth to reach the desired consistency.  Clean the blender and repeat the process with the carrots, but use 1/2 cup of water and add 1/2 cup of water during the blending.  Pour the carrot into a separate pot and add additional water to reach the desired consistency if needed.

3.  Finish the dish.  Heat both pots over low heat to warm the soups.  Pour the root vegetable soup into a bowl.  Drizzle the carrot soup as swirls or shapes over the soup.