Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Stalking Hops

"We're a couple of hop stalkers here."  So said Fat Head's brewer, Matt Cole, to Rick Armon of Ohio's Breweries.  Cole described his trips out west, at least twice a year to the State of Washington.  The principal purpose of these trips is to scout hops.  Cole reminisced about one trip, "We were out in a really late harvest in Yakima one year and we were driving around and chasing around some of the hop trucks to follow them back to the harms."  Stalking hops that would ultimately be used in beers such as the Hop Stalker, a Fresh Hop IPA.

According to Armon, the Fresh Hop IPA comes from the fact that the hops are in a kettle approximately 48 hours after they have been picked.  "Fresh hop" beers are apparently in vogue, with a lot of brewers snatching hops practically straight off the farm in order to brew various types of IPA beers.  However, it takes a true hop stalker, like Matt Cole, to produce one of the best beers that, in a style that he truly owns, packs one of the higher IBUs of any "fresh hop" beers. (At this point, I should disclose that Fat Head's is one of my favorite brewers, if that wasn't obvious by now.)

The Hop Stalker pours a copper color, with a thin foam across the surface of the beer.  The aroma of this beer is straightforward ... pine and more pine.  Those are the notes that one would expect from a beer that has 80 IBUs.  It is also what hopheads and fans of Matt Cole's beers come to expect when he brews any kind of pale ale.  

The taste of this beer provides an excellent example of how the hop stalker can get the best out of those little cones.  The Hop Stalker Fresh Hop IPA is very bitter, with strong pine and resin notes.  Those elements wrap themselves around your tongue stretching the hop experience to its natural limits, which should please anyone who is a hop head like myself.  The alcohol of this 7% ABV beer becomes a little more present as you drink it, but it can never overtake the central focus of this beer -- the hops.

Although this beer is available in cans, it is most likely sold out by the time this post goes to air.  If it becomes available again, it can be bought at the Fat Head's restaurants or tap room, which is where my Dad found this beer.

According to the Craft Beer Restaurant, a fresh hop beer pairs well with pork belly or leg of lamb, because the fresh nature of the beer contrasts well with these rich pieces of meat.  The beer can complement an endive and arugula salad or a casserole of brussel sprouts, mushroom and "floral cheese."  I'll never be able to verify that last one, because a casserole with brussel sprouts just seems too unappetizing.  I'll just have the beer.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Grilled Opah, Garlic Shrimp, and Avocado-Mango Salsa

I stood at the seafood counter of a grocery store staring at four letters.  That is right, four letters, which comprised one word. That one word gave raise to a whole lot of thoughts.   The four letters - O ... P ... A ... H.  That word -- Opah -- is an amazing and interesting fish that I had only heard of but which I never seen either whole or fileted.  Now, I had it within my grasp and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to cook with this amazing fish.

I am not the only one to feel lucky when I set my sight upon an Opah.  These deep water fishes are sometime bycatch on tuna boats.   For a tuna fisherman, to catch an Opah brings good luck.  The fisherman never sold the Opah, perhaps because they believed that would tarnish the good luck.  Instead, they would give it away, giving those who would ordinarily never come across the fish the opportunity to learn about it and cook with it. 

The Opah in all of its glory.
Very little is known about this oddly shaped fish.  What is known is that these fish appear to live their entire lives in the open ocean.  Opah do not swim in schools; instead, they choose to swim around tuna and billfish.  The Opah stands out from the slimmer and sleeker fish.  The round, silver bodies are highlighted by reddish-orange hues and fins.  It should be noted that those round bodies are rather large, with the average weight being approximately 100 pounds.

According to Hawaiian Seafood, an opah has three types of flesh, each with a different color. Behind the head and along the backbone is an attractive orange colored flesh. Toward the belly, the flesh pales to a pink color. The fish's cheeks yield dark red flesh. These types of flesh all cook to a white color. Opah is a rich source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium. It also provides about 1800 mg of omega-3’s (DHA and EPA) per 4 ounce serving of fresh fish.

As I stood at that seafood counter, I was most likely looking at the belly flesh, as it was rather pale in color.  The opah flesh is very meaty, almost tuna like appearance.  This bodes well for the use of rubs or other flavors, but I decided to keep it simple.  Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I decided to make a salsa that could top the fish.  Recipes suggested an avocado-mango salsa, which I decided to use as a guide for the salsa in this recipe.  I also garnished the fish with a few shrimp marinated with garlic and other spices.  

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4
Ingredients (for the Opah):
1 pound of Opah
1 pound of asparagus
1/2 lemon juiced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup of olive oil

Ingredients (for the Garlic Shrimp):
1 pound of 16-20 count shrimp, deveined, but with shells
1/2 lemon juiced
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup of olive oil

Ingredients (for the Avocado-Mango Salsa):
1 mango, pitted, peeled and diced
1 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 lime juiced
1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
Sea sealt
Freshly ground black pepper

1.  Prepare the shrimp and asparagus.  Add the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder, and crushed red pepper in a ziploc bag..  Add the shrimp and marinate for 10 minutes.  Add the olive oil, lemon juice and asparagus to another ziploc bag.  Season the shrimp and the asparagus with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

2.  Prepare the salsa.  Combine all of the ingredients for the salsa in a non-reactive bowl.  Gently stir to mix the ingredients.  Set aside in the refrigerator.  

3.  Grill the opah, shrimp and asparagus.  Heat the grill on high.  Skewer the shrimp on wooden skewers.  Oil the grates.  When the grill is ready, add the opah, shrimp and asparagus.  The opah should be grilled until just cooked through, about 3 to 6 minutes per side.  The shrimp should be grilled until just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side.  And the asparagus should be grilled for about 2 to 3 minutes per side.  

4.  Plate the dish.  Place the asparagus in the middle of the plate.  Place the Opah on top of the asparagus and spread the shrimp around the Opah. Spoon the salsa over the Opah and the shrimp.  


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Torii Mor Pinot Noir (2008)

As much as I love pinot noir wines, it is the one varietal that I perhaps drink the least.  The reason is not due to a lack of wines, as any grocery store, wine store or any store is usually stocked with a lot of different pinot noir wines. Yet, I walk by all of them.  Or, I should say almost all of them.  When it comes to pinot noir wines, I am very selective.  The reason is that, as I have written about a couple of times on this blog, pinot noir wines embody some of the greatest memories of my life ... namely, my honeymoon with my beautiful Angel in the Willamette Valley.  

I have reviewed many of the wines from vineyards and winemakers that we visited during our vacation, including Prive Vineyards, Sokol Blosser, Bergstrom, and Stoller.  One vineyard that we did not visit and whose wines we did not taste, is Torii Mor.  This winery was established by Dr. Donald Olson in 1993, and, it has increased its production from about 1,000 cases at its start to more than 15,000 cases now.

I bought a bottle from one of those cases of Torii Mor Pinot Noir wine and set it aside for us to enjoy.  The bottle sat in our wine rack for quite a while until we opened it.  The wine poured a dark red, almost earthy crimson color.  As the pinot noir opened, there were notes of cherries, raspberries and some minerality.  These are the elements that I come to expect and enjoy from pinot noir wines.   They are also the elements that set aside an Oregon pinot noir from its Californian and French relatives.  

As for the taste, the Torii Mor wine proudly displays round, ripe cherries in the forefront.  There is a little darkness to these cherries, but it is very interesting and very good.  There is some slate and earthiness in the background, which lingers long after the cherries have passed.  

The earthiness of this wine allows for it to be paired with more than what one would traditionally pair pinot noir wines.  I would even pair this dish with some red meat, perhaps a grilled steak or even some lamb.  The nice thing about Oregon Pinot Noir wines is their ability to pair with somewhat more substantial dishes.  

I have seen Torii Mor wines in wine stores and grocery stores with large wine selections. I don't recall what the price of the wine, but it was probably in the mid $20 range.  


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Around the World in 80 Dishes: India

It has been well over a year since I completed a dinner for my personal culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes. The last challenge was to prepare Mauritian Duck Curry, along with Chana Masala, dishes from the island country of Mauritius.   The cuisine of Mauritius is heavily influenced by immigrants, especially those from India.  For the next challenge, I'll will travel from Mauritius to India.

The timing could not be better.  I undertook and completed this challenge during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, an important festival for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.  Diwali unfolds over five days, with the third day being celebrated as the main festival or "Festival of Lights." The lights were originally clay lamps, lit for reasons that vary with the celebrants.  For example, lighting lamps represents the victory of knowledge of ignorance.  Darkness represents ignorance, as well as wickedness, violence, anger, bigotry, injustice and suffering.  The lighting of lamps allows light to overcome darkness, which is not only a metaphor for knowledge overcoming ignorance, but also illustrates how light reveals the beauty that surrounds us.

Of course, the Diwali celebration involves far more than lighting of clay or electric lamps.  Families decorate their houses, set off firecrackers and, of course, partake in a feast of food.  The feast of food that I prepared included two main courses and a side dish, all of which are part of this culinary challenge.

While I made two main courses, only one can satisfy the challenge.  That dish is Rogan Josh, an aromatic and very tasty lamb stew or curry.  The dish originated in Persia, which gave the red curry its name.  According to Wikipedia, Rogan means "clarified butter" or "fat" in Persian, while Josh basically means to heat or boil in an intense or passionate way.  The dish was introduced to the subcontinent by the Mughal Empire, where it became very popular in the Kashmir region. 

The Kashmiri version features braised lamb chunks cooked with a gravy based on browned onions or shallots, yogurt, garlic, ginger and aromatic spices, such as cloves, bay leaves, cardamom and cinnamon. The red color of Rogan Josh traditionally comes from liberal amounts of dried, de-seeded Kashmiri chilies.  These chiles are more akin to paprika than the cayenne chiles used by Indian cuisine.  

Personally, I love Rogan Josh and this dish has been on my "to do list" for some time. This version is a simplified curry based upon a recipe by Vikram Sunderam, the chef and owner of the very popular Washington, D.C. restaurant Rasika.

Recipe from Food and Wine
Serves 4

1/4 cup canola oil
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 inch pieces
Kosher salt
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons, minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 14 ounce can tomato puree
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 cups water
1 teaspoon garam masala
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Basmati rice and warm naan for serving.

1.  Brown the lamb.  In a large, enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil. Season the lamb with salt and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is browned, about 12 minutes; using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate.

2.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Add the onions to the casserole and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, 4 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, curry, turmeric, cayenne and bay leaves and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato, yogurt and water; bring to a boil. Season with salt.

3.  Simmer the stew.  Return the lamb and any juices to the casserole. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until the lamb is very tender, 1 hour. Stir in the garam masala; cook for 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice and naan.


Although the Rogan  Josh satisfies the culinary challenge, I try to make some other dishes, whether appetizers, side dishes or desserts as part of the Around the World in 80 Dishes.  Since I have not done a challenge in awhile, I decided to do another main or side dish.  This dish -- Daal Saag -- features yellow split lentils and spinach.  I have to admit that I do not cook very much with lentils, so this presented a whole different type of challenge.

Recipe from Merilees Parker and
Available on the BBC's Food Website
Serves 4

8 ounces of yellow split lentils (moong dal)
3 1/2 cups of water
2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida or fennel seeds
2 tablespoons of fresh ginger, grated
2 green chiles, de-seeded and chopped
8 curry leaves
3 1/2 ounces of spinach
2 spring onions, trimmed and chopped

1.  Prepare the lentils.  Put the daal in a heavy based saucepan, pour in the water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about 1 hour until the lentils are really soft.

2.  Heat the spices.  Heat oil in a large pan.  Add the mustard seeds, turmeric, cumin, asafoetida or fennel sides, ginger, chilies and curry leaves.  Fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

3.  Add the daal.  When the daal is cooked, add to the pan and stir in spinach and spring onions.  Heat for an additional two minutes.  Season and then serve.

Whenever you make a curry, whether Rogan Josh or Daal Saag, you should always have a pullao, or rice.  This particular rice dish includes carrots, potatoes and green beans. 

Recipe from Merilees Parker and
Available on the BBC's Food Website
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the garam masala):
1 tablespoon of cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1 teaspoon black cumin seeds (or regular cumin seeds)
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1/3 whole nutmeg
1 medium stick of cinnamon, broken into pieces

Ingredients (for the pullao):
Basmati rice, measured to the 1 pint level (2 cups)
Thumb piece of fresh ginger, grated
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 hot green chile, finely chopped
1/4 pound of potatoes, peeled and cut into dice
1/4 carrot, peeled, cut into dice
1 1/2 ounces of green beans, cut into segments
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pint water

1.  Prepare the garam masala.  Put all of the spices in a clean coffee grinder or other spice grinder and grind as finely as possible. Store in a tightly lidded jar, away from heat and sunlight. This makes about three tablespoons.

2.  Prepare the rice. Wash the rice in several changes of water then drain. Put the rice in a bowl, cover with water and leave to soak for 30 minutes, then drain again.

3.  Heat the spices.  Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan (with a tight-fitting lid) set over a medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the mustard seeds.  As soon as they begin to pop - a matter of seconds - add the chilli, potato, carrot and green beans and stir. Add the turmeric and garam masala and stir for one minute.  Add the ginger and saute, stirring, for another minute.

4.  Add the rice and other ingredients.  Drain the rice and add it to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir the rice very gently to mix it into the other ingredients and coat it with the oil and spices. Cook this way for two minutes.  Add the 570ml/1 pint water and the salt and bring to the boil. Cover the pan with a very tight-fitting lid (if you don't have a very tight-fitting lid then cover the pan with foil then a lid) then turn the heat to very low and cook for 25 minutes. After this time try a grain of rice to see if it's cooked - cook for a few more minutes if necessary.

5.  Finish the dish.  Once it's cooked you can leave it with the lid on and the heat turned off for up to half an hour before serving. Or serve at once on a serving plate.

*     *     *

I have to say that I completed the challenge successfully.  The Rogan Josh was amazing and I can understand why it is a very popular dish in India.  I also learned that I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to making large amounts of rice.  The pullao was good, but I have difficulties getting the right texture with the rice.  I can do it in small batches.  However, when cooking for large crowds, it is a little more difficult, at least for me. The one thing is that I still have over fifty challenges to go.  I am sure that there will be many more opportunities to make rice.  

Until next time ...


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Wine Club - A Diwali Inspired Dinner

It has been a little while since we hosted our last wine dinner.  The last dinner was back in April, America in Miniature, when we took a culinary tour around the State of Maryland.  As we prepare for our next wine dinner, the big question was (as it always is), what should be the theme?  The first thing that came to my mind was a celebration.  I checked the calendar (and, of course, the Internet), and I came across a website that listed all of the international festivals in the month of October.  After some more research, I decided upon a theme that should be perfect for the Wine Club ... a Diwali inspired dinner.

Initially, this theme offers an opportunity to learn a little more about Diwali, an important festival for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.  Diwali unfolds over five days, with the third day being celebrated as the main festival or "Festival of Lights." The lights were originally clay lamps, lit for reasons that vary with the celebrants.  For example, lighting lamps represents the victory of knowledge of ignorance.  Darkness represents ignorance, as well as wickedness, violence, anger, bigotry, injustice and suffering.  The lighting of lamps allows light to overcome darkness, which is not only a metaphor for knowledge overcoming ignorance, but also illustrates how light reveals the beauty that surrounds us. 

Of course, the Diwali celebration involves far more than lighting of clay or electric lamps.  Families decorate their houses, set off firecrackers and, of course, partake in a feast of food.  For this wine club, the feast will be a three course meal, with appetizers, two main courses (served together) and a dessert.

Onion and Sweet Potato Bhajji

The first course will feature a duo of Onion Bhajji and Sweet Potato Bhajji.  A bhaji is a type of pakora or fritter that is a common street food in Maharashtra.  And, from what I have read, bhajji are also commonly served as part of Hindu festivals, such as Dwali.  I hope to have a couple of chutneys to serve with the bhajji; however, due to a lack of time, those may not be homemade. 

Rogan Josh, Daal Saag, and Vegetable Pulao

The main course features two dishes - Rogan Josh and Daal Saag -- served with a vegetable pulao or rice dish.  The dishes accommodate meat eaters, as the Rogan Josh is a traditional lamb dish that, although of Persian origin, is a staple of Kashmiri cuisine.  They also accommodate vegetarians, as Daal Saag, which is a lentil dish that includes spinach.  And, for omnivores, you can have booth. 

Goan Coconut Pancakes

The last course will be Goan Coconut Pancakes, which will have a stuffing of coconuts, raisin, cardamom and nutmeg.  The pancakes will be served with a little vanilla ice cream.

See you soon!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Green Chile Turkey Burgers

Lately, it has been difficult finding the time (and, quite frankly, the desire) to cook.  The past few months have been some very busy times in the Chef Bolek household.  While I continue to cook, the opportunities have been far less in number than I would like.  Sometimes, we are just too tired or it is just too late to make dinner, especially with a little toddler running circles around us.  

All of these challenges have led to an evolution of sorts in terms of my cooking.  Rather than looking for complicated recipes by which to challenge my skills, my focus has turned to simpler recipes.   Recipes that can be completed in 1/2 to 1 hour. These are not recipes that would pave my way onto shows such as Master Chef, but they are ones that fill our stomachs with some good and tasty food.  

Take, for example, a recipe for Green Chile Burgers that I found on Saveur's website. The recipe initially caught my eye because of the use of green New Mexico or Hatch chiles, which happen to be among my favorite chiles.  However, it is the fact that this is an easily and quick recipe that led to the making of these burgers.  The bulk of the preparation time spent on creating a very delicious chile sauce, which includes the roasting of the peppers and the combination of the ingredients.  In the end, you have some great burgers.

Finally, I decided to make one big change to the recipe.  Rather than use beef, I decided to make these burgers with turkey.  I wanted a leaner option, but I ensured there would still be sufficient flavor and moisture by using ground turkey thighs.  The thighs have a higher fat content that serves both purposes well.  There you have it ... Green Chile Turkey Burgers.  

Recipe adapted from Saveur
Serves 4

2 pounds of ground turkey (preferably thigh meat)
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon of Hatch chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of ketchup
4 cloves roasted garlic, mashed to a paste
2 tablespoons of canola oil
6 roasted Hatch chiles, peeled, stemmed, seeded and chopped
4 slices of cheddar cheese
4 slices of Swiss cheese
4 brioche buns, split and toasted

1.  Make the burgers.  In a bowl, combine the ground turkey, 1 tablespoon of chile powder, cumin, salt and pepper.  Form into four 8 ounce patties and chill in a refrigerator.

2.  Make the chile sauce. Whisk remaining chile powder, mayonnaise, ketchup, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Refrigerate the sauce until needed.

3. Cook the burgers.  Heat oil in 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat; work in 2 batches.  Cook patties, turning once until a thick crust develops on both sides, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Top each with 1/4 of the roasted chiles, and 1 slice of each cheese.  Cover with lid to melt cheese.  To serve, place 1 patty on each bottom bun and spread the top buns with some of the sauce.  Cover burgers with the top bun and serve immediately.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Malabar Mussels

When one thinks of strength, the first thing that comes to mind is muscles.  However, for many women in the southern Indian state of Kerala, it is mussels that give them strength.  Green mussels or perna viridis, to be exact. Back in the 1990s, local villages along the Indian Ocean coastline began to start farming mussels as a way to make a living.  Mussel farming exploded in the region and, overall, India rose to become one of the largest producers of green mussels in the world.  

The most important thing about mussel farming in Kerala, at least to me, is found in a study by V. Kripa and K.S. Mohamed.  Their study is entitled "Green Mussel, Perna Viridis, Farming in Kerala, India - Technology Diffusion Process and Socioeconomic Impacts" (2008).   As Kripa and Mohamed report, there were three types of ownership when it came to mussel farms.  There were individual ownership and family ownership, both of which are self-explanatory.  And, there was "self-help group" ownership or SHG ownership.  There were only about 17 to 20 SHG mussel farms, all of which were located in one district (the Kasgorod district) of Kerala  

The SHG mussel farms are the key to empowering women.  As both Kripa and Mohamed found, "[t]he biggest outcome of mussel farming in Kerala was the empowerment of women with 87% of the SHG farms owned by women." The SHG is a formal organization, with officers and group meetings.  This organization makes it easier for women to obtain financial assistance and support from local banks and the government. Those 17 to 20 SHG mussel farms have enabled as many as 2,000 women to become active in an economic activity, which enables them to better support themselves and their families.  The SHGs not only help to alleviate poverty, but they also empower women not only in the economic workplace, but also when it comes to decision-making in their homes.

This recipe demonstrates what can be made with those green mussels, as well as blue and black mussels that are traditionally found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  It incorporates a wide range of ingredients, especially in the Malabar Masala.  (One note: don't let the fact that you can't find some of the masala ingredients -- like the curry leaf powder -- stop you from making the dish.  The masala will still be great.)  Along with the masala, the combination of fresh chiles, ginger, garlic, and red onions also provide an interesting array of range of tastes and flavors.  The sauce was so good that I decided to serve the dish with some rice, which could help to soak up some of the sauce.  I hated to see that sauce go to waste.   

Adapted from Smita Chandra's recipe published by Saveur
Serves 2-4

Ingredients (for the mussels):
3 tablespoons of canola oil
6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 small green Thai chiles or 1 serrano, thinly sliced
1 two-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of Malabar Masala (recipe below)
3 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 14 ounce can of coconut milk
Kosher salt, to taste
2 1/2 pounds of mussels, debearded, rinsed and scrubbed
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
Cooked white rice, for serving (optional)

Ingredients (for the Malabar Masala):
1/4 cup of coriander seeds
2 tablespoons of cumin seeds
2 tablespoons of fennel seeds
1 tablespoon of green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon of whole cloves
1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
2 star anise
2 sticks of cinnamon
2 tablespoons of dessicated coconut
2 tablespoons of dried fenugreek leaves
1 tablespoon of crushed red chile flakes
1/3 cup of curry leaf powder
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1.  Prepare the Malabar Masala.  Heat a 10 inch skillet over medium high heat.  Cook coriander, cumin, fennel, cardamom, cloves, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, peppercorns, star anise, and cinnamon sticks until fragrant and toasted, about 3-4 minutes.  Add coconut, fenugreek leaves and chile flakes, cook until the coconut is golden, 2 minutes.  Let cool and then transfer to a spice grinder along with curry leaf powder, ginger, and turmeric.  Grind into a powder and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.  

2.  Prepare the base.  Heat oil in a 6 quart saucepan over medium high heat.  Cook garlic, chiles, ginger, and onion until golden, about 4 to 6 minutes.  Add masala and tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes begin to break down, about 5 to 7 minutes. 

3.  Cook the mussels.  Add coconut milk, salt, and 1/4 cup of water and bring to a boil.  Add the mussels.  Cook covered, occasionally shaking pan until all mussels are opened, about 5 minutes.  Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Malabar Fish Fry

If there was ever a meal that could be considered to be universal, one that could cross boundaries or even oceans, it should be a fish fry.  Cultures around the global make a meal -- indeed, an event -- out of frying abundant, cheap local fish.  Back in the Midwest, where I was born and raised, a fish fry was almost a weekly event.  Numerous restaurants would advertise "all-you-can-eat" fried fish.  Customers could double down on the fried experience by getting their fried fish with french fries.  Cue the All in the Family theme, "those were the days."

I still have fond memories of going with my family to a local restaurant for a fish fry.  I would stuff my self with all the fish I could eat.  It was most often fried perch or fried catfish, thickly battered and deep fried.  I would devour fillet after fillet of deep-fried, heavily battered fish.  This was long before I knew about there were good or bad kinds of cholesterol, saturated or unsaturated fats.   When I was a kid, my focus was singularly on the fish.

Halfway around the world, I am sure there were children having the same enjoyable experience.   Take, for example, children in the Indian state of Kerala.  One of the boundaries of Kerala in the north is a long coastline, known as the Malabar Coast.  All along that thin coastline, there are cities with people who depend upon the ocean for their meals.  The abundant supply of seafood makes a fish fry a logical meal for many families.  The fish would be those native to the waters, such as bullseye or sardines, most likely whatever the fishermen brought back in their boats on that particular day. .

I recently came across a recipe for a Malabar Fish Fry and knew that it was something that I had to make. Rather than battered fish, this simple fish fry recipe features a rub consisting of turmeric, chiles, garlic and ginger.  The only issue that I faced  was the fish.  Bullseye are no where to be found where I live.  Sardines are a hit or miss.  The recipe suggests salmon, shrimp or snapper, but I decided to go another route.  I chose catfish, one of the fishes from my childhood fish fry courses, for two reasons.  The first is that the thickness of the fillets stands up well to frying.  Second, catfish is cheaper than snapper or salmon.

Finally, I thought the combination of red chile powder and turmeric would be spicy, but not overbearing or inedible.  The heat was perfectly fine for me; however, my beautiful Angel found the rub to be too spicy for her to eat.  This was only the second time that I made a dish that was too spicy for Clare.  (Interestingly, the other dish was another Indian-inspired dish, my Soft Shell Curry, Goan-Style.)  Although I really wanted to make something for my beautiful Angel, it just meant that I had seconds.   Just like when I was a kid.

Recipe adapted from Saveur
Serves 2

1 pound of catfish fillets
1 1/2 tablespoons of red chile powder (such as cayenne)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
1 one-inch piece of ginger, peeled and mashed into a paste
Kosher salt, to taste
1/4 cup of coconut or canola oil

1.  Prepare the fish.  Rinse fish and pat dry using paper towels.  Mix chile powder, turmeric, garlic, ginger, salt and 2 tablespoons of water in a bowl to make a paste.  Rub over fish and let the fish sit for 10 minutes.

2.  Cook the fish.  Heat oil in a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium high.  Cook fish, flipping once, until crisp and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Gadino Cellars Viognier (2011)

Back in 2011, the Virginia Wine Board declared Viognier to be the state grape of Virginia.  At first blush, it seems like a shrewd (or, perhaps, not so shrewd) marketing campaign.  Viognier is for Virginia.  You can just hear the slogans.  "VYOHN yay" is for "ver GIN ya."  One can see the billboards along Interstate 95 and Interstate 81, with outlines of the State of Virginia filled with grape vines and bottle of wine.    

However, the association of Viognier and Virginia goes beyond common letters in their name.  Many Virginian vineyards and winemakers have successfully cultivated this grape to produce some very good wines.  One area of Vigonier activity is the Monticello AVA (American Viticultural Area).  The AVA gets its name from Thomas Jefferson's home, which is located within the region.  The AVA stretches across the central Piedmont in Virginia, including most of the Albemarle, Greene, Nelson and Orange counties.  

One winemaker, Gadino Cellars, takes Viognier grapes from the Monticello AVA to produce a single varietal wine at their family operated winery.  The grapes for their wine are grown at Gene Sulliva's South River Vineyard located at 900 feet elevation on gentle slops of the Blue Ridge near Stanardsville, VA, which is located in Greene County.  My beautiful Angel and I bought a bottle of the Viognier when we visited Gadino Cellars' tasting room.

The Viognier poured a very light straw color, with a faint golden hue.  The winemakers describe the aromatic elements of this wine to include honeysuckle, which I think is generally true.  I got some tropical fruit in the aroma as well, but some of the more commonly noted aromas -- such as apricot, orange blossom, pear -- were not very strong or present in the aroma of this wine.  

However, some of those elements were present in the taste.  I could clearly detect flavors of pear and even a little peach in the taste of the Gadino Cellars Viognier.   The winemakers suggest that there is tropical fruit and spice in the taste, and, I can say there was a hint "spice" in the taste of the wine.  Overall, this is a very good Viognier and it demonstrates the potential of the varietal in Virginia.

When it comes to pairing, the winemakers suggest that their Viognier can be paired with turkey, roast chicken and shellfish.  All of these are intriguing pairings, especially the turkey.  I could definitely see this wine being served on Thanksgiving day along with a very large, stuffed turkey.  Of course, the 2011 vintage is long gone and it will have to be bottles from the 2012 vintage.

We found this bottle at the tasting room in Washington, Virginia.  It sells for $22.00 a bottle.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Grilled Steak with Sauce Vierge

Back in the 1980s, there was this chef.  Actually, there were a lot of chefs back in the 1980s, but there was this one chef.  He was born in southwestern France, but, he lived and cooked in Paris.  He also wrote cookbooks.  As the 1980s unfolded, this chef popularized a sauce.  That was quite a feat for a country whose cuisine is known for its sauces.  However, those sauces were stock based sauces.  This particular sauce is a fresh sauce, with fresh ingredients, like olive oil oil, lemon juice, tomatoes and basil.  It was to be used in shellfish dishes and pasta dishes, the type that would be particularly welcoming to a fresh sauce.

That chef was Michel Guérard and the sauce that he made popular goes by the name of Sauce Vierge or, literally translated, "Virgin Sauce."  (Don't ask me why it is called by that name, that question is best left for Chef Guérard.)  I had come across a recipe for sauce vierge and placed it on my short list of recipes to make.  The recipe sat on that list for a long time.  A very long time. 

At long last, I made the recipe for sauce vierge.  As I did my research, I realized that the sauce I was making bore little resemblance to Chef Guérard's recipes.  Sure, the olive oil is still there.  But the basil, lemon juice and tomato are long gone. 

The reason is that the term -- sauce vierge -- has come to represent a variety of Mediterranean sauces, many of which go by other names.  Names like "green sauce," "sauce aux herbes" and "sauce verte."  These sauces are generally a combination of olive oil, various herbs, mustard, capers, olives and other aromatics.

The particular recipe that I found and used had two things that appealed to me. First, the recipe included an additional ingredient for the sauce... a jalapeño pepper.  The pepper provided the sauce with a good, but overpowering, kick.  Second, it called for using this sauce on a grilled steak.  Although the recipe called for the use of a sirloin steak, which is a decent cut for use with sauces.  (Flank steaks or flat iron steaks are definitely better for sauces.)  I decided that I would use my favorite cut, a bone-in ribeye.  

The recipe definitely worked very well.  In fact, it worked so well, that I will definitely try it on seafood or pasta dishes.  However, depending upon the fish or pasta, I might leave out the pepper.  The kick works well with beef or other meat, but it may be a little to much for fish.

Recipe from Saveur
Serves 4

1/4 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon of capers
12 large green olives pitted and roughly chopped
6 oil-packed anchovy filets, drained and finely chopped
4 cornichons, roughly chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, stemmed and finely chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of dijon mustard
Kosher salt and 
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 thick top sirloin or ribeye steaks (about 2 lbs.)
1.  Prepare the Sauce Vierge. On a cutting board, pile together the parsley, capers, olives, anchovies, cornichons, shallots, garlic, and jalapeño. With a large knife, finely chop and scrape the ingredients to combine.  Transfer the parsley mixture to a large bowl and stir in 6 tbsp. of the olive oil and the mustard with a fork to make a thick and chunky sauce. You can drizzle in more olive oil for a thinner consistency, but I think the sauce is better if it is thick and chunky. Season with salt and pepper. Set the sauce aside at room temperature to let rest for 30 minutes, to allow the flavors to mingle.

2.  Grill the Steaks. Build a hot charcoal fire in a grill or heat a gas grill to high heat. Rub steaks with the remaining olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill steaks, turning once, until lightly browned and medium rare, about 2–3 minutes per side. Transfer steaks to a platter and let rest for 3 minutes. Stir the sauce, because it will begin to separate slightly as it sits and spoon it over the steaks. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Spiced Sablefish over Pearl Couscous

Life can be hard, if you are a fish.   It is bad enough that you could end up being someone's lunch while you are looking for your own lunch.  If you are unfortunate enough to be tricked into going after someone's bait and you are caught, then you have to endure the indignity of being called different names.  Take, for example, the sablefish.   Or is it "black cod."   It is really bad if you happen to get snagged by a British fisherman (or fisherwoman), because they might call you by four different names ... "black cod," "bluefish," "candlefish," or "coal cod."  (Don't get me started about what actual bluefish might think about a sablefish being called a bluefish.)  Canadian fishermen (or fisherwomen) are almost as bad, calling you "coalfish," "beshow" or "skilfish."  Really, "beshow" or "skillfish"?  At what point does it appear that people are just making up names for you?  And, what if your real name was just Hal?  Or Nancy? 

If you were a sablefish, you might just ignore the multitude of other names by which you are called.  I accept that people may call me Kevin, Ken, or Eric (long story, perhaps as long as the story behind a sablefish being called beshow).  If only sablefish could think as we do.  What would they think about the fact that the people who will soon eat them can't even settle on a name.

For me, there is a lot about the sablefish that I don't know.  I have never seen one in the wild and, until recently, I never cooked the fish.  Yet, as I stood at the seafood counter of my local grocery store, I stared at the long fillets of sablefish.  I sensed a sort of challenge developing in my mind.  It was not only about how about I would prepare the fillets, but what I could learn about the fish itself.  

Let's start with the basics.  The sablefish is a deep sea fish that inhabits primarily the northern Pacific Ocean.  Their diet appears to be varied, ranging from other fish -- such as pollock, herring, capelin and Pacific cod -- to squid and jellyfish.  They eat and eat, for a very long time.  Some sablefish have been reported to have lived for as long as 94 years.  Given the potentially long lifespan of this fish, sustainability is important.  Fortunately, the fishing of sablefish is highly regulated, helping to maintain the populations so that more people like me can be introduced to this amazing creature.

The most surprising thing about this fish is the flesh.  The fish is known for its rich, buttery flesh.  Comparisons are often drawn to Chilean sea bass (also known as the Patagonian toothfish).  The meat is soft and mild.  After being cooked, it flakes very easily.  With these attributes, it is easy to see why sablefish is popular with chefs and restaurants.  

It should also be popular with health-conscious eaters.  While fillets of sablefish may have a high fat content, it is the good stuff ... Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, almost as much as wild salmon.  Sablefish are also low in the bad stuff, such as toxins and mercury.  It would seem to be the ideal fish.  The only question is how to prepare it.

I decided to use a spice rub.  Rich, mild and buttery flesh meant that I could add some flavor on outside while the large flaky meat would still enable one to taste the fish itself.  The spice mixture takes a page or two out of recipes from North Africa.  The combination of coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, paprika and cumin really appeals to me.  It packs a lot of flavor without a lot of heat.   I decided that the fish would be best served over pearl couscous, something that could complement the texture of the fish.  Overall, this dish was delicious and I have become a fan of sablefish.  Now, only if the store would stock it again....

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 3-4

1 pound of sablefish fish, cut into even sized portions
1 cup of pearl couscous
1/2 orange bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 large tomato, seeded, peeled and finely diced
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil 
1 cup of water

1.  Prepare the fish fillets.   Add the coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, paprika, ginger, allspice and salt in a small bowl.  Stir to combine all of the rub ingredients.  Apply the rub to all sides of the fish, cover, and place in the refrigerator.

2.  Prepare the couscous.  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium high heat.  Add the bell pepper and tomato, saute until the pepper is soft, about five minutes.  Add the couscous and toss.  Add the water, bring to a boil and then cover.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the couscous until the liquid is absorbed.  Add additional water if the couscous is not cooked.

3.  Cook the fish.  Heat the broiler.  Cook the fish under the broiler for about eight minutes or until the fish reaches about 145 degrees Fahrenheit.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lone Star Ribeye

In some respects, more is better, at least in my opinion.  If I find a marinade or rub recipe, I will often look at the number of ingredients.  There are certainly some great recipes that incorporate only two or three ingredients.  A steak that is marinated in oil, garlic and sea salt will definitely be a tasty dinner.

However, I look for recipes that may incorporate six or more ingredients.  Those recipes can present much more of a challenge.  Each ingredient has to take in account all of the other ingredients.  You have to take into account the flavors, the "intensity" and proportions.  A rub with three ingredients is fairly easy to develop and manage.  A rub with nine or ten ingredients becomes much harder.  The goal is to make sure each ingredient can be ascertained as much in the final product.  If one is not careful, then he or she can "lose" an ingredient in the mix.  In that case, it is as if you never used it in the first place.  A spice mix of six ingredients may only taste like there were three.  The whole effort results in a loss.

Recently, I found a recipe for a "Lone Star" rub on a blog called "Grogs4Blogs."  Along with the recipe, there was a very good discussion of what makes for a good dry rub.  A good rub, just like a good wet marinade, can be reduced to a very simple and straightforward equation, which was described by Adam Perry Long, the author of Serious Barbecue.  The equation is as follows: Color Base + Salt + Sugar + Flavor + Heat.  

The ingredients of the Lone Star rub can be organized according to this equation.  The color base is paprika, which serves as a common base for many rubs used in grilling and smoking.  The salt and sugar are self-explanatory.  The flavor comes from the use of onion powder, garlic powder, cumin and cinnamon.  Onion and garlic powder are about as common of flavor elements as paprika is a color base.  Cumin is also used frequently in spice mixes. By contrast, cinnamon is much less common in spice mixes, especially those destined to be applied to large steaks that will end upon the grill.  Yet, the sweet and "spice" of the cinnamon was clearly detectable in both the rub and the finished product.  Finally, the heat was the chile spice.  The recipe did not identify any particular chile, which I usually take to mean that generic "Mexican chile" or "chile" spice you find in the spice section of most grocery stores.  When I made this recipe, I decided to use some ground New Mexican hatch chiles, which provided just enough heat to balance the flavor elements in the rub.

Although I found the recipe on the Grogs4Blogs website, the blogger relied upon a rub recipe from Jamie Purviance, who is a chef and cookbook writer.  Chef Purviance has his own website,which is associated with Weber Grills. 

I managed to find a couple of other websites that had Chef Purviance's Lone Star rub.  Those recipes tracked the one on Grogs4Blogs with one exception.  The other recipes included dried majoram.  This raised a question in my mind.  Why did the blogger at Grogs4Blogs leave out one of the ingredients in the mix.  Majoram is used in many herb and spice mixes such as Herbes aux Provence and Za'atar. It pairs well with onions and garlic, and other herbs like rosemary.  However, majoram does not pair as well with the other flavor and heat ingredients of the Lone Star rub, such as chile, cumin and cinnamon.  That may have been the reason why it was left out of the recipe.  

In any event, the next time I try this recipe, I might just add back in that 1/2 teaspoon of dried majoram to see if it adds to the flavor of the rub or just gets lost in the mix.

Adapted from recipe published by Grogs4Blogs
Serves 4

2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 dry-aged, bone-in rib eyes, 12 to 16 ounces and 1 2/3 inches thick
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 limes, cut into wedges (optional)

1.  Prepare the steaks.   Combine all of the rub ingredients.  Brush the steaks with the olive oil and then apply the rub to all sides of the steak, massaging the rub into the meat.  Allow the steaks to stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before grilling.
2.  Grill or cook the steaks.   Heat the grill on high or the heat the broiler in the oven.  Grill or broil the steak for about six minutes and then flip the steak.  Grill or broil for about 4 minutes more.  

3.  Finish the dish.  Remove the steaks from the grill or broiler and tent with foil.  Let the steaks rest for five minutes and serve with the lime wedges.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Kebab-e Kubideh

Kubideh or Koobideh.  The word is defined as a ground meat kebab (usually beef, but could be lamb) with the characteristic dimples that run down its length. For some, Kebab e-Kubideh (or Kebab e-Koobideh) is the signature kebab of Persian cuisine.  That says a lot.  Persian cuisine is well known for its kebabs.  Many of those kebabs, like  Kebab-e Jojeh (chicken) or Kebab-e Chenjeh (lamb) grace the menus of Persian restaurants across the United States (and this blog).   There are many, many more kebabs prepared by cooks and chefs in Iran, like Kebab Torsh, which originates in the Gilan province in northeastern Iran.  That kebab is made with sirloin meat marinated in a paste made with crushed walnuts, pomegranate juice, parsley olive oil and garlic.  To me, all of those kebabs could equally be the signature kebab of Persian cuisine. Yet, the title appears to have already been given to Kebab e-Kubideh.

At first glance, one could question whether the Kubideh deserves such status. After all, the preparation of today's Kubideh hardly resembles the methods used to create its predecessors.  The traditional preparation of the kebab was something like a mathematical equation: wooden mallet + meat + black stone = Kebab-e Kubideh.  In other words, a cook used a wood mallet to smash meat on a flat stone.  More precisely, a black, flat stone.  I admit that I have not been in many kitchens in Persian restaurants or in Persian homes, but I think I can say that the preparation of Kebab-e Kubideh today -- at least outside of Iran -- does not involve wooden mallets or flat, black stones.  How do I know that?  One answer may lie in the fact that, at least in the United States, neither Williams & Sonoma nor Sur La Table has sought to entice foodie cooks and chefs with Kubideh mallets or Kubideh stones.  (I should say, at least not yet.)  Another answer may in the fact that every recipe for Kebab-e Kubideh on the Internet calls for the use of ground meat.  80/20 or 85/15, ground beef.  This makes me 100% certain that -- once again, at least outside of Iran -- most Kubideh is not prepared in the traditional way.

I will freely admit that I join the ranks of those who prepare Kubideh without wooden mallets or flat, black stones.  However, I did purchase a set of flat, metal skewers.  One can prepare Kubideh without the wooden mallet and without the stone.  The flat metal skewers are indispensable.  The flatter, the better.  Flat skewers serve two purposes.  First, they help when it comes to shaping the kebabs in advance of the grilling.  Second, they provide more strength and support when it comes to flipping the kebabs during the grilling.  I purchased a set of flat kebabs on Amazon and prepared myself for my first attempt at making Kebab-e Kubideh.

That attempt was fairly difficult.  I struggled to the kebabs to remain on the skewers before grilling. One reason may be that I did not work the ground meat enough during the preparation.  I was working off of a video (the link is provided below) and the video did not specify how long one should work the meat.  In the end, I decided that I would place the kebabs in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes in advance of grilling.  This helped to make the kebabs firmer (without freezing them) to aid in the grilling process.  However, my difficulties can still be seen in the picture, as the kebabs are of differing length without clear, well defined dimples. 

I debated whether to post this recipe, because the end product did not resemble what I have eaten countless times in Persian restaurants.  I decided that, for the fact that I do not cook in Persian restaurants (and with its flaws it nevertheless represents a solid, good faith effort to create the dish), I would post this dish.  Hopefully, as I continue to make Kebab-e Kubideh, I will be able to replace the pictures with better looking kebabs. 

Recipe from Aashpazi
Serves 8

2 small onions
3 pounds lean beef (80/20 or 85/15)
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sumac
1/4 teaspoon saffron

1.  Grate the onions.  Grate the onions using the fine side of a grater.  Pour off the excess water.  

2.  Prepare the meat mixture.  Place the meat in a large working bowl with the grated onions.  Work the onions into the meat.  Add salt and black pepper.  Work the salt, pepper, and turmeric into the mixture.  Add the sumac and work that into the mixture and continue to work the mixture.  Rehydrate the saffron with boiling water in a small vessel, covered, for about 10 minutes.  Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of the rehydrated saffron to the meat mixture and work it into the meat.  Cover the mixture and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.

3.  Prepare the kebabs.  Use flat metal skewers to make the kebabs.  Grab a handful of the meat mixture and begin to form the kebab around the flat metal skewer.  Do not cover the entire skewer, leaving both ends of the skewer open.  Pinch the edges of the kebabs.  Using your index and middle fingers, make ridges along the top and bottom lengths of the kebab.

4.  Grill the kebabs.  Heat a grill over high heat.  Place the kebabs over the grill.  Cook for a few minutes and then turn the kebabs.  Continue to cook for a few minutes and turn onto their sides. Continue to cook for about 1 minute more and turn to the other side for another minute.  Repeat this process until the kebabs are slightly charred and cooked throughout.