Sunday, March 29, 2015

Steak Marchand de Vin

French cooks believe that good meat deserves a sauce.  These words were written by Anne Willan, the author of one of my favorite French cookbooks, The Country Cooking of France.  Anne Willan is a member of the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame.  She received that honor for her cookbooks, which have focused on French Cuisine.  She wrote those books with the goal of helping home cooks, like myself, learn the techniques and recipes used by French cooks and chefs.

One of these recipes is called "Steak Marchand de Vin," also known as "Winemaker's Steak."  A "Marchand de Vin," is a quick jus or sauce made with wine and fresh herbs.  In this case, the sauce is made after pan frying a steak.  Willan says that any cut of steak can be used in this recipe, from a filet to T-bone or entrecote.  With all of the fond in the pan, a cook uses wine to deglaze the pan and incorporate those flavors into what becomes the sauce.   As the wine reduces, with the alcohol evaporating, along with some of the liquid, the pan is removed from the heat and fresh herbs are added.  The end result is a very simple sauce that is full of flavor.

One last note, as any chef or cook will tell you, you cook with a wine you want to drink.  For this recipe, I used a Saumur Champigny, a wine from the Loire region of France.  The wine worked very well with this recipe, because of its ripe cherry and cranberry elements.  If you can't find that wine, look for a Côtes du Rhône or another red wine from France, especially if you want to keep with the French inspiration.   If you are looking for other inspirations, many consider a Carmenere from Chile.  Those wines often have a spice or pepper element to them that could provide another layer of flavor to the sauce.

Recipe from Anne Willan, The Country Cooking of France, p. 135
Serves 4

4 steaks, cut 3/4 inch thick (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 tablespoons of butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 cup of full bodied red wine
Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs of fresh tarragon, chopped
3 to 4 fresh chives blades, chopped
3 or 4 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped

1.  Brown the steaks.  Season the steaks on both sides with salt and pepper.  Melt half of the butter in a frying pan over high heat until it stops foaming.  Add the steaks and fry until well browned 2 to 3 minutes.  Turn them, lower the heat slightly, and continue frying until brown and cooked to your taste, 2 to 3 minutes for rare steak, 3 to 5 minutes if you prefer it more done.  Lift out the steaks and set on warmed plates, keep warm.

2.  Make the wine sauce.  Pour all of 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and return to high heat.  Add the shallots and garlic and saute until soft, about 2 minutes.  Add the wine and boil rapidly until reduced by half.  Take from the heat and whisk in the remaining butter in small pieces.  Stir in the herbs, taste, and adjust the heat.  Spoon the sauce over the steaks and serve at once.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saumur Champigny (2011)

Saumur Champigny.  According to some, the name is derived from Latin, campus igni, or "fields of fire." Those "fields" are nestled in the Loire Valley of France, between the cities of Angers and Tours.  The terrain in this region is a low plateau of tuffeau, which is a yellow, sandy and porous metamorphic rock that is ideal for the cultivation of grapes in this appellation.

The principal grape grown in the Saumur appellation is Cabernet Franc, although Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d'Aunis (a rare varietal) are also cultivated there.  The wine - Saumur - is made from Cabernet Franc grapes.  Indeed, the rules require that at least 90% of the grapes used to make Saumur wine must be Cabernet Franc, allowing for the use of the Cabernet Sauvignon or, more rarely, the Pineau d'Aunis grapes. Those Saumur wines of the highest quality are given the designation of "Champigny."

The Saumur Champigny pours a garnet to crimson red color.  The aroma of this wine provides hint of some cherry and other ripe berries.  However, what makes this wine remarkable is its mouthfeel and taste.  On the one hand, the Saumur Champigny has what seems like a relatively light body.  This lightness is somewhat deceiving, because the taste of the wine is full of ripe cherry and even a little cranberry.  These elements suggest a darker, bolder wine.  There is also a minerality to the wine, along with well balanced tannins.  The result is a full bodied wine with a deceptive lightness, encased in tannins that frame the entire experience.  

All of these features would seem to suggest more Cabernet Sauvignon than Cabernet Franc. Nevertheless, the rules of the appellation clearly say that it is much more Cabernet Franc than Cabernet Sauvignon in the production of this wine.  For this reason, I find the Saumur Champigny to be a very interesting and enjoyable wine.

When  it comes to pairing, the Saurmur Champigny is best paired with grilled or roasted beef or poultry.  I paired this wine with a Steak Marchand de Vin and the pairing was perfect.  The wine also pairs well with roasted chicken or fig-stuffed rabbit.  (I need to find a recipe for that rabbit, because it sounds interesting).

As for the wine, I purchased a bottle a couple of years ago from Le Bistro du Beaujolais, which is my favorite French restaurant. The owner recommended the wine and I have to say that he was right.  I can't recall what I paid for the wine, but if you see a bottle, it is definitely worth trying.  


Monday, March 9, 2015

Chipotle-Garlic Roasted Turkey Thighs with Roasted Potatoes and Turkey Crackling

It has been a while since I tried to create my own recipes, or a recipe that I would deem worthy of being published on this blog. To be sure, I am not a professional chef.  I cannot expect that I will create dishes at a level of many of the chefs that I follow through social media.   That is not really the objective of this blog.  Instead, this blog is about my journey through food.  It is about learning new things about ingredients, cooking techniques, cuisines and much, much more.  

Yet, there are times when I return to things I know and love.  I know how to roast a turkey thigh.  I love the combination of Mexican inspired ingredients, such as chipotle peppers, garlic, cumin, and adobo, in a rub.   That is how this recipe for Chipotle-Garlic Roasted Turkey Thighs developed.  I purchased a couple of bone-in, skin-on turkey thighs and returned home to rifle through my spice drawer to get together all of ingredients for the rub.   

Once I gathered all of the ingredients, I stopped and looked at the thighs, focusing upon the skin.  I could prepare these thighs with the skin, hoping that the skin would crisp up by the time the thighs themselves were cooked.  That had not always happened in the past.  Or, I should say, the skin has not always been as crisp as I would have liked it.    I was halted, at least for the moment.  The question was what to do with the skin.

The answer came in one word.  Crackling.  I have passed bags of pork crackling on the shelves of my local grocery store.  I thought to myself, "why can't I make turkey crackling."  Apparently, that thought had crossed the minds of many others.  There are many different recipes for turkey crackling.  However, they all say the same thing -- stretch the skin out on a non-stick pan or baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and bake until brown and crispy at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit in the oven.

As one question was answered, another arose.  What to do with the crackling?  One obvious answer was simply to eat it.  I decided that I would break it up and add it to the potatoes that would be roasted with the turkey thighs.   Once that decision was made, the recipe was set and the cooking commenced ....

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

2 turkey thighs, with skin and bones
2-3 large garlic cloves, diced finely
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1/2 teaspoon toasted, granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon adobo powder
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 pound of red skinned potatoes
1 onion, peeled and quartered

1.  Make crackling.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Remove turkey skin from thighs.  Spread skin on baking sheet and salt generously.  Bake the skin for 30 minutes until brown and crispy.  Remove from the oven and place turkey skin on a plate.  Set aside.

2.  Prepare marinade.  De-bone thighs.  Combine garlic, chipotle powder, granulated onion, Kosher salt, dried oregano and adobo powder.  Apply marinade to turkey thighs.  Place thighs in the refrigerator to marinate for 1 to 2 hours.

3.  Boil the potatoes.   Clean the potatoes. Slice the potatoes in half.  Bring a pot of water to boiling.  Add the potatoes and boil until almost tender, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside for the moment.

4.  Roast the turkey thighs.  Increase the temperature of the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the turkey thighs in a roasting pan with the onions and potatoes.  Roast for 15 minutes and then lower the temperature to 375 degrees.  Continue roasting until the temperature of the turkey is 165 degrees Fahrenheit, about 35 to 40 minutes.   

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Trail Head

Few beers are brewed with a purpose but the Fat Head's Trail Head Pale Ale is one of them. The purpose is clearly set forth on the can: get your can off the couch, find a Trail Head, and give back some good vibes.  A "trailhead" is, as the word suggests, the head of a trail.  There is more to the word than its obvious meaning.  A trail head is not simply the beginning of a trail.  It is the start of an adventure through the wonder that is Mother Nature. 

The Trail Head Pale Ale is dedicated to the adventures that one can enjoy in the Cleveland Metro Parks.  The Metro Parks are a ring of connected nature preserves encompassing more than 21,000 acres.  That ring is also known as the "Emerald Necklace," providing a deep green that contrasted with the brownish image of a once-proud steel town that became part of the Rust Belt.  The necklace is invaluable to local residents, offering an escape where people could hike, boat, fish and observe all sorts of nature.

The Metro Parks
I know the Metro Parks well.  Having grown up outside of Cleveland, I have memories of riding my bike with my father along the trails.  I also have memories of fishing in Baldwin Lake with my grandfather.  Even after I left the Cleveland area, I would still return to visit family and friends. Inevitably, I would find myself in those parks, walking the trails, taking pictures and enjoying the beauty that is nature.

The head brewer of Fat Head's brewery, Matt Cole, is also familiar with those trails. He brewed the Trail Head Pale Ale and a portion of the sales of every pint and growler goes to help maintain the 270 miles of trails of the Metro Parks.  Just as I visit the Metro Parks, I also visit Fat Heads.  I've had this beer on a few occasions.  However, Fat Head's now bottles and cans its beers, which allows me to take some home to enjoy ... and, of course, write a beer review.  

Matt Cole and the other brewers at Fat Head's brew this beer with a variety of ingredients.  The hop list is four-fold: Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe and Amarillo.  Each hop has a reputation for its aroma or taste; but together, the hops provide a chorus of pine, citrus, and tropical fruit.  The malt list is also four-fold: pale, Munich, Crystal and Carapils.  The end product is an American Pale Ale with a 6.3 ABV and 55 IBU.

The Trail Head pours a dark orange, copper color, with a thin cloud of foam that floats on the surface of the beer.  As the beer sits in the glass, the aromas of lemon and other citrus, wrapped with pine needles greets the nose.  The taste of the pale ale gives hints of each of the hops used in the brewing process.  The citrus notes are well developed and complemented by piney notes that follow.  With each sip, there is a pleasant bitterness that accompanies the beer.  That bitterness gently grasps the edges of the tongue, holding through the finish.  This is a pale ale for hop heads, and, it is definitely a great beer.  

As with any American Pale Ale, the Trail Head pairs well with shellfish dishes, such as Sauteed Shrimp with Shrimp Hummus or Grilled Soft Shell Crabs.  The pale ale also pairs well with any grilled or roasted meats, such as a grilled porterhouse or grilled ribeye.

The Trail Head is available for sale at the Fat Head's restaurants or tap room.  It might also be available at grocery stores in the Cleveland area, but I could not say that for certain.  If you happen to come across a six pack, it is definitely worth the price.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Shrimp Stew from Puglia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recipe from Mario Batali, America Farm to Table, pg. 167
Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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