February 9, 2014 Green Tea Creme Brulee

DSC_4464a

We ushered in the year of the horse with our usual Chinese New Year dinner. This year’s celebration was considerably smaller than previous years in the number of guests but not in the number of courses. For the conclusion of our meal, I like to take a non traditional approach with dessert, incorporating Chinese flavors into dishes familiar to Western palates.

In my readings I have learned that the Chinese do not usually have desserts at the end of a typical meal, opting for fresh fruit if anything at all. Sweets are often enough enjoyed at tea time, often sweetened and candied fruits made into sweet soups and cakes. Exotic Chinese desserts for special occasions like birds nest soup double boiled in coconut milk or glutinous rice and wheat soup would be a bit esoteric and even too sweet for Western palates. So I like to keep it simple, spicy ginger cookies in the shape of the celebrated animal of the year, ice cream and sorbets featuring everything from red beans to tangerines.

This year I decided on a rich and satisfying green tea crème brûlée.  Crème brûlée, translated “burnt cream” is a rich custard topped with a layer of caramelized sugar. A custard is a combination of eggs or egg yolks and milk or cream baked gently until it sets. Sweet custards, crème brûlée or crème caramel, custard based ice creams and pots de creme contain sugar. Custards can be savory as well, like quiches, that combine cream or milk and eggs with cheese.

Crème brûlée can be baked in small individual dishes or in one low sided round or oval dish. A large surface area is desirable to maximize the caramelized sugar crunch that contrasts so well with the creamy custard underneath. The basic custard can be a blank canvas to showcase other flavors. Typically the custard is flavored with a vanilla bean but to give it an Eastern flair I infused it with green tea as well. I chose a gunpowder green that imparts a slightly smoky flavor. Infusing tea bags in warmed cream for about a half hour gave me the flavor I was looking for.

Crème brûlée is baked in a bain marie or water bath. The custards are placed in a larger pan that is filled halfway up the sides of the dish or dishes with very hot tap water. This protects the crème brûlée  from the direct heat of the oven. A tea towel in the bottom of the pan gives more stability and individual ramekins are less likely to dance around. Since oven heat can be notoriously inconsistent from one area to the next, the bain marie helps distribute the heat more evenly so that each custard cooks at the same rate.

Clear a generous spot on your countertop right next to the oven with potholders at the ready. It can be quite a feat removing the baking pan half filled with water and the custards. When the crème brûlée is done it should be removed immediately from the bain marie, a good pair of tongs make this easy, place on a wire rack and cooled for about a half hour at room temperature and refrigerated, preferably overnight.  Covered with plastic wrap they can sit in your refrigerator for several days, a bonus to the busy cook.

When you are ready to serve the dessert, prepare the sugar glaze.  I prefer turbinado or Demerara sugar to sprinkle on the crème brûlée. They are both minimally refined sugars and their large crystals are easier to spread and give it an extra crunch. Sprinkle a light layer of sugar evenly over the top. We started originally with the smaller propane torch sold in kitchen stores but have found the larger propane torch does the job in a lot less time. Place the finished desserts back in the refrigerator to chill for about a half hour.

The Chinese believe that dietary balance is achieved through moderation. One should leave the table satisfied, not satiated. Green tea creme brulee is a dessert that does this quite nicely.

DSC_4450a

I find it easiest to pour the hot tap water from a very narrow sprout, like a watering can, done slowly the water won’t slosh onto the crème brûlée.

Green Tea Crème Brûlée

Serves eight

Ingredients

  • 4 c heavy cream, chilled
  • 2/3 c granulated sugar
  • pinch table salt
  • 10 tea bags- I used Numi Gunpowder Green
  • 12 large egg yolks
  • 1t  vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 8 – 12 teaspoons turbinado sugar or Demerara sugar
Directions
  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300° F.
  2. Combine 2 cups cream, sugar, and salt in medium saucepan; add tea bags and bring mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that sugar dissolves. Take pan off heat and let steep 30 minutes to infuse flavors.
  3. While the tea bags are steeping, place kitchen towel in bottom of large baking dish or roasting pan and arrange eight 4- to 5-ounce ramekins (or shallow fluted dishes) on towel.
  4. After cream has steeped, remove tea bags and squeeze bags with tongs or press into mesh strainer to extract all liquid. Stir tea liquid and remaining 2 cups cream into steeped cream to cool down mixture. Whisk yolks and vanilla extract in large bowl until broken up and combined. Whisk about 1 cup cream mixture into yolks until loosened and combined; repeat with another 1 cup cream. Add remaining cream and whisk until evenly colored and thoroughly combined. Strain through fine-mesh strainer into 2-quart measuring cup,  discard solids in strainer. Pour or ladle mixture into ramekins, dividing it evenly among them.
  5. Carefully place baking dish with ramekins on oven rack; pour very hot tap water into dish, taking care not to splash water into ramekins, until water reaches halfway up the height of ramekins. Bake until centers of custards are just barely set and are no longer sloshy and digital instant-read thermometer inserted in centers registers 170°F to 175°F degrees, 30 to 35 minutes (25 to 30 minutes for shallow fluted dishes). Begin checking temperature about 5 minutes before recommended time.
  6. Transfer ramekins to wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Set ramekins on rimmed baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 4 days.
  7. Uncover ramekins; if condensation has collected on custards, place paper towel on surface to soak up moisture. Sprinkle each with about 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar (1 1/2 teaspoons for shallow fluted dishes); tilt and tap ramekin for even coverage. Ignite torch and caramelize sugar. Refrigerate ramekins, uncovered, to re-chill, 30 to 45 minutes (but no longer); serve.
DSC_1033a

Sometimes I do “minis”. Just a taste when I am serving more than one dessert at this large meal.

February 4, 2014 Borlotti Bean Soup

DSC_4440a

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday and we woke this morning to what weather forecasters are calling our eleventh snow “event” of the season, so it’s safe to say that winter isn’t going away anytime soon. At least we can settle in by a warm fire and enjoy the fruits of last fall’s harvest of borlotti beans in a simple, warming soup.

Borlotti beans are an Italian heirloom variety and a beautiful addition to the garden.  Also known as cranberry and the very non-exotic sounding French horticultural beans, the inedible pods are off white in color with cranberry markings, resembling the crimson speckled beans they hold inside.   Ours take center stage in the garden, climbing up and around the tall frame of an old outdoor shelter.

We harvest some fresh in the fall, but usually wait for the pods to dry out and turn brown so the beans can be stored for the winter. After the beans are harvested I shuck them from their pods and lay them on a tray, making sure not to crowd them. As they start to dry, I shake the tray to move the beans around. It may take several weeks for the beans to dry out completely. I store mine in clean quart sized canning jars in a cool pantry. Make certain they are dry before you store them. It takes only one bean that isn’t sufficiently dry to make the entire jar moldy,and your labor would be for nothing! You can substitute dried or canned canellini beans for the borlottis in this recipe.

To use the beans I soak the quantity I need overnight to cover with cool water. I have found that the dried beans almost triple in size, so if I need three cups, I would soak one cup. Sadly,the beans lose their speckles when cooked and turn a light beige color. The flavor does not disappoint however, Borlotti beans are creamy in texture with a delicious nutty flavor. They are good in stews, casseroles and this very simple soup made with fridge and pantry ingredients.

DSC_4437a

Borlotti Bean Soup

Serves 4-6

  • 1 1/2 c dried Borlotti beans, picked over, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, about 1 1/2 cups, finely chopped
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4-6 slices Canadian bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 quart bag, or the canned equivalent, chopped roasted tomatoes
  • 1 quart of homemade chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
  • 1t dried oregano
  • 1t dried thyme
  • 5c roughly chopped kale
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Water, as needed, to thin out soup.
SDSC_6624b

Fresh borlotti beans in the pod.

DSC_4447a

 

 

Directions

  1. Soak dried beans in cool water to cover generously. Let sit overnight, at least eight hours, loosely covered. Drain and thoroughly rinse the beans.
  2. In a large heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium high heat, heat 2T olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender, 4-6 minutes.
  3. Add Canadian bacon to the pan and cook until lightly browned, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  4. Add beans, chopped tomatoes, stock and dried herbs and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat to a simmer with the lid slightly ajar and cook for 30 minutes.
  6. Add chopped kale to pot and cook an additional 20 minutes, or until kale is sufficiently wilted.
  7. If soup is too thick, thin out with more stock or water. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper.
  8. You can serve immediately, but it even gets better the second day.

 

SDSC_6781b

SDSC_6772b

Too bad they lose their spotted appearance when cooked!

January 25, 2014 Chicken Salad with Grapes and Pecans

DSC_4428aIn almost 25 years as a caterer,  Chicken salad with grapes and pecans was a perennial favorite. Whether served in pate a choux puffs on a buffet, on a croissant as a luncheon favorite or in daintily cut tea sandwiches this salad has always been a taste combination that everyone enjoys.

I have no claims for inventing this version of chicken salad, though I have never used a recipe and tweaked it over the years to make it my own. The most important part of the recipe is making sure that the cooked chicken is still moist and juicy. All the mayonnaise in the world won’t cover up dried out chicken breasts. Since I prefer using all white meat, split, bone-in chicken breasts from Bell and Evans are my usual choice but have on occasion used boneless skinless chicken breasts. Just remember the boneless breasts will take less time to cook.

An instant read thermometer is essential here, you are looking for an internal temperature of 160°F in the thickest part of the breast. I like to cook my chicken in convection mode on a wire rack above a parchment or foil lined baking sheet to allow air to circulate so the chicken cooks evenly. Allow the chicken to fully cool before shredding, remembering to shred with the grain.  Pressed for time? Use the meat from an already cooked supermarket rotisserie chicken.

About a cup of finely diced celery has always seemed to be the right proportion to the 5 to 6 cups of chicken. Cutting grapes in half makes for easier eating. It’s like finding a whole cherry tomato in your salad. Do you risk having it burst all over you and the people seated near by when you bite into it or do you stab it with your steely (or plastic) knife to avoid embarrassment? Red or green grapes? Whatever variety looks better the day you are making the salad. Taste a grape before you buy,( trust me, no one is watching), to be sure they are sweet enough.Homemade mayonnaise is always a nice touch but Hellmann’s has always been fine with me.  I use just enough mayonnaise to lightly coat all ingredients. If I have the luxury of time, I refrigerate the salad overnight and add any additional mayonnnaise and the pecans at the last minute to maximize crunch.

Chopped nuts are a less expensive way to buy them, usually in a medium chop which is perfect for the salad. If you choose to toast the nuts, preheat oven to 350°F and spread nuts evenly on a shallow baking sheet. Toast 5-7 minutes, checking halfway through cooking time to give the sheet a little shake and rotate. Walnuts, almonds and cashews are all good substitutes for the pecans. You could also add thinly sliced apple but that would be something I would add right before serving the salad.

I enjoy serving this chicken salad, as I did at a friend’s daughter’s wedding shower, on a bed of bibb lettuce. A basket of freshly baked rolls accompanied the salad for those who wanted to make a sandwich. I love the combination of flavors in this salad, tender juicy chicken, sweet-tart grapes, crunchy pecan and creamy mayonnaise. They make a chicken salad that is hard to beat.

DSC_4424a

 

Chicken Salad with Grapes and Pecans

Makes 6 cups

Ingredients

  • 3-4 Split chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1c celery in small dice
  • 1c pecan pieces
  • 1c seedless grapes (red or green) sliced in half
  • 1 to 1 1/4c  homemade or Hellmann’s mayonnaise

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and place a wire rack on the sheet. Place chicken on the wire rack, spacing evenly to allow air to circulate.  Brush chicken breasts lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Roast chicken until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 160°F. If the breasts you are cooking are different in size, start checking the smallest at about the half hour mark.
  3. Remove chicken from oven and let sit until cool enough to handle. Remove the skin and pick the chicken off the bones. Tear or chop chicken into 3/4 inch pieces. You will have 4-5 cups of chicken.
  4. In a large bowl, combine chicken, chopped celery and grapes. Add mayonnaise, starting with about 2/3 cup and toss lightly. There should be enough mayonnaise to coat everything lightly.
  5. Add pecans and toss ingredients again, adding more mayonnaise as needed. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

 

January 19, 2014 Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

DSC_4413a

The assignment was for a “pick-up” dessert for the wedding shower I was co-hosting with three other friends. Looking for something easy to handle, My mind went first to bar cookies; brownies, blondies, maybe something using a little dulce de leche. Then in the cookbooks and magazines I was looking at I saw it, macaroons, nothing fancy for certain, but a cookie I had been meaning to try.

Macaroons had their ancient roots in amaretti, traditional almond meringue cookies  made from almonds, egg whites and sugar. Possibly originating in an Italian monastery, the name is derived from the Italian “ammacare” meaning to crush or beat, referring to the main ingredient of amaretti, ground almonds.

Tradition says that macaroons arrived in France by way of two Benedictine nuns seeking asylum during the French Revolution. The nuns, referred to as the “Macaroon Sisters” paid for their housing, baking and selling the confection.

Since the leavening in these cookies comes from egg whites, not flour, they were adopted by Italian Jewish bakers as a Passover sweet. The move in later years to shredded coconut was either the product of adventurous bakers or possibly because the almond cookies were often too delicate to transport and coconut made for a sturdier cookie.

The French translation of macaroon is macaron. The macaron is an entirely different cookie with essentially the same basic ingredients. The macarons we have come to be familiar with in the last few years are the multicolored darlings of the Parisian pastry shop. They are an elegant cookie, with a crisp smooth meringue exterior and a filling sandwiched between the layers. Macarons can be filled with jam, fruit curd, ganache or any variation of buttercream.

This recipe is a very easy to make coconut macaroon. The sweetness of the shredded coconut is balanced with the slightly tart dried cranberries and almonds. Like most macaroons, they are gluten free. Though the recipe called for the cookies to be shaped into pyramids, I scooped them out into balls and flattened the bottom. I drizzled bittersweet chocolate over the top, I think they look like little berets. You could also dip the bottoms in chocolate for a neater presentation. The one problem I had with the recipe is a continuation of the ever shrinking package size. The recipe calls for 3 cups or 8 ounces of sweetened shredded coconut. The standard package of that size now is 7 ounce or 2 2/3rds cups. You can decide if you need to buy another bag, I didn’t.  Variations are endless. A tropical version using chopped dried papaya and macadamia nuts drizzled with white chocolate sounds like a delicious possibility to me.

DSC_4403a

Cookies ready to bake on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Makes about two dozen medium sized macaroons

Ingredients

  • 3 c (lightly packed) sweetened shredded coconut
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 3/4 c egg whites (about 6 large)
  • 1/3c sweetened, dried cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 1/4c sliced almonds
  • 1 3/4 t vanilla extract
  • 1/4 t almond extract
  • 9 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 T heavy whipping cream

 

Directions

  1. Mix first 5 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture appears somewhat pasty, stirring constantly, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. Mix in 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Spread out coconut mixture on large baking sheet. Refrigerate until cold, about 45 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line another baking sheet with parchment. Press 1/4 cup coconut mixture into pyramid shape (about 1 1/2 inches high). Place on prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining coconut mixture. Bake cookies until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack and cool.
  4. Set cookies on rack over rimmed baking sheet. Stir chocolate and cream in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Mix in remaining 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Spoon glaze over cookies, covering almost completely and allowing chocolate to drip down sides. Refrigerate until glaze sets, at least 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer cookies to airtight container and keep refrigerated.)

DSC_4420a

January 9, 2014 Fridge and Pantry Turkey Chili

DSC_4387a

Warm and inviting, there’s nothing like a bowl of chili on a bitterly cold evening. What’s even better is when you can stay in your nice warm house and all the ingredients for that chili are at hand. Having a well stocked pantry doesn’t put you at the mercy of one more supermarket trip every time you follow a recipe or create a new dish on your own. Having basic ingredients on hand means you will be less likely to give up on cooking that night and order another mediocre take out dinner.

Your basic pantry will depend on your personal likes and dislikes. Love chili? Then you should have tomatoes, beans and some good chili powders on hand. Enjoy Asian food? Then your pantry should include soy sauce, oyster sauce, noodles, toasted sesame oil.

Keeping your pantry up to date is an ongoing task. Did you use the last bit of Dijon mustard? Immediately put it on your shopping list so you’re not surprised the next time you need it. When I was catering I had an endless source of materials to work with, now I try to be a bit more discriminating and choose the items we use most. I don’t keep much meat in the freezer, mostly ground turkey and pork tenderloins and try to use them within a month of purchase. Less chance for freezer burn or becoming that frosty mystery meat at the back of the shelf.

My three tiered lazy Susan (never liked that term) holds my spices that I attempt to keep in alphabetical order, not that they always stay that way. Having a varied supply of spices is a definite plus to impromptu cooking. Label everything you put in the freezer. You’re positive you’ll know what that brown sauce is in the container but two months later it will be an unidentified frozen object that is relegated to the garbage pail.

All I needed to do to prepare for this chili was to thaw out the low fat ground turkey and two bags of frozen roasted tomatoes. I am a Penzeys addict and am always looking for new spices and blends to add to my collection in addition to the basic items I purchase. I decided on adobo seasoning, a combination of onion, garlic, black pepper, Mexican oregano, cumin and cayenne pepper to season the ground turkey. When I added the tomatoes to the chili I added chili powder, chipotle chili powder and just a little unsweetened cocoa. Chipotle chili powder gives a deep smoky flavor and the cocoa powder adds a depth of flavor along with richness and a velvety texture. This chili turned out to be only moderately spicy, if you like it hotter, add more chili powder. Usually I would have added kidney beans to my chili but I only had black beans. Corn or another type of bean would be a good addition. Next time I’ll think ahead and presoak and cook the dried borlotto beans from our garden. A simple garnish of  cilantro, sour cream and cheddar to blend into the bowl and you are set for a warm satisfying bowl of chili.

DSC_4382a

Fridge and Pantry Turkey Chili

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1t finely chopped garlic
  • 1 1/4lb ground turkey (mine was low fat)
  • 1T Adobo seasoning
  • 1 28oz can chopped tomatoes (I use my frozen chopped tomatoes)
  • 1T Chili powder
  • 1T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1-2T Chipotle chile powder
  • 1T tomato paste
  • 1 can black beans

Directions

  1. In a medium Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes, add garlic and sauté one minute more.
  2. Loosely break apart the ground turkey and add it to the pot. Gently stir until slightly more separated and sprinkle the adobo seasoning over the meat. Saute the meat until it starts to turn brown, 5-6 minutes.
  3. Stir in the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, medium chile powder, chipotle chili powder and unsweetened cocoa powder. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low or low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce is slightly reduced and thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in the black beans and taste, adding more seasonings . Garnish with sour cream, and shredded Cheddar cheese, if you like.
Make Ahead Tips

The chili can be refrigerated for up to two days, if it lasts that long.

DSC_4384a

January 4, 2014 Swordfish with Tomato, Cucumber and Radish Relish

DSC_4354a

A new year and a time for new beginnings. No more lobster bisque with heavy cream, filet wrapped in bacon with blue cheese. Time to put those tempting chocolate caramels topped with sea salt and every imaginable variation of chocolate truffles away for awhile. It’s time to eat healthy again and lose those few extra holiday pounds. As of January 2nd we have embarked on a healthy eating plan. What it doesn’t mean is deprivation.

We both love fish and swordfish steaks are one of my favorites. Swordfish can weigh as much as 1000 pounds but usually average between 50 and 100 pounds. The “sword” accounts for one third of their length. Due to mismanagement and overfishing the swordfish population was dwindling at the end of the twentieth century. After more than a decade of responsible management, the United States swordfish population is thriving. Now the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Watch rates North Atlantic swordfish (harpoon and hand line caught) a “best choice”. They are fished all along the North Atlantic coast, from Newfoundland to coastal Florida, wherever and whenever the water is warm.

There is a consumption advisory for swordfish, due to elevated levels of mercury. From what I have read in the most recent literature the health benefits of swordfish outweigh the detriments for most people. Large ocean fish, like swordfish have higher concentrations of selenium, a trace mineral necessary to all functions of the body. Selenium bonds to the mercury in swordfish and prevents the body from absorbing mercury.

Fish markets buy sections of swordfish called wheels, the thickness of which are measured in knuckles. Each knuckle corresponds to one of the fish’s vertabrae. A wheel is either sliced into steaks or quartered into loins. Swordfish flesh is firm, lean and sweet.

As the title of the book says this recipe is fast, easy and fresh. I call this a relish and not a salsa, I know that salsa means sauce but the secondary connotation is that a salsa will have some heat. This recipe is not hot, though that is an option open to the cook. You could add some avocado, red onion, a little celery, a small fresh chili, the options and combinations are many. When I need raw tomatoes out of season I prefer Campari tomatoes. They are small but have the best flavor of any tomato I have tried. Remember never refrigerate any tomato. They lose flavor and quickly become mealy.

Our swordfish piece was on the thin side so all the cooking it needed was a few minutes on each side in a hot grill pan, you want the center of the steak to remain moist. If you can make it through the snow, grilling would be another cooking option. Refer to my previous swordfish post for cooking a thicker piece of swordfish using the Canadian Fisheries method.

DSC_4363a

 

Swordfish with Tomato, Fennel, Cucumber, and Radish Relish

Adapted from The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh

Serves 2

  • 2 6-to-7 ounce swordfish steaks
  • 3T olive oil
  • 2 t fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tomatoes or 5 Campari tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2c diced pickling cucumber or English hothouse cucumber
  • 1/2c finely diced fennel
  • 4 medium radishes, diced
  • 3 T chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. Spray grill pan with Pam and preheat grill pan to medium-high heat.
  2. Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, fennel, radishes and cilantro, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice in a small bowl. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Timing is always a function of the thickness of your fish. One inch thickness of fish equals 10 minutes cooking time. Measure first!
  4. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper and grill over a medium-high heat, our fish took  about 4 minutes per side, rotate fish half way through each cooking time to create a crosshatch pattern.
  5. Serve fish with relish.

DSC_4367a

January 1, 2014 Prime Rib

DSC_4341aA prime rib roast is a welcome centerpiece to the dinner table, a culinary highlight of the holiday season. Improper treatment of that piece of meat will waste your money, produce dry unappetizing meat  and leave you and your guests disappointed. So let’s go over the steps for  the perfect prime rib.

First things first, what makes a prime rib prime? The entire rib section of the animal, ribs six through twelve, is known by butchers as a primal cut. A prime rib roast can consist of anywhere from two to seven ribs. Many butchers will cut the prime rib, also known as a standing rib roast into two cuts. Ribs ten through twelve is the narrower end, also known as the loin end or the first cut. Ribs 6 through 9  is the chuck end or the second cut.

Prime rib does not mean that your roast is USDA prime. In fact, it probably isn’t, most prime meat is reserved for high end restaurants and upscale markets. The prime rib you will find at your supermarket will either be graded choice or select. The higher the grade of meat, the more marbling of fat. As always, fat equals flavor and that tenderizes the meat.

I purchase my bone-in roast with the bones cut off but tied back on the roast. Tying the roast makes for a more attractive presentation and keeps the outer flap of meat from overcooking. Bones off makes for easier carving, but the bones add flavor to the au jus that accompanies the roast. Enjoy the beef spare ribs as a chef’s treat the next day. Figure on about a pound of bone in meat per person if prime rib is your only entree.

Steak houses cook their prime rib low and slow in a 120°F degree oven to achieve consistently rosy meat from the center to the outer edges. Since no household oven I know of has a setting that low, we have been using the method for cooking prime rib from Cooks Illustrated magazine for many years with good results.

Now that you have that roast home, first step, up to four days before you cook the prime rib, liberally season the meat with salt. Let the meat sit uncovered in the refrigerator. Salting ahead allows the salt to penetrate the meat, break down some of the proteins and not just flavor the surface of the meat. The day you plan on cooking your roast, bring your roast out of the refrigerator several hours ahead so that the meat comes to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 200°F, place a rack in the lowest setting, of course you checked your oven ahead to be certain it can hold this large piece of meat.

To achieve the dark caramelized exterior that makes a fabulous prime rib Cooks Illustrated instructs you to sear all the edges of the meat in a pan on the stovetop before putting it in the oven. Effective but a little cumbersome and you dirty an extra pan. We used this method for years until we learned a tip from Thomas Keller in his cookbook, Ad Hoc. He browns the outside of his prime rib with a propane torch, not one of those little torches they sell in kitchen stores for crème brulee (yes I have one) a real propane torch. The torch gives you a way to control the flame and start a beautiful crust. Place the roast on a rack in pan you plan to cook it in.  Sear the meat until the fat begins to render and turn brown, The oven will continue to cook your meat and render the fat. The big torch works great also when you are serving crème brulee as well.

Season your meat with freshly ground pepper and place it in the preheated oven.  We start checking the internal temperature of the meat at the 2 1/2 hour point. Look for an internal temperature of 120°F for rare and 125°F for medium rare. It is very important to have a well calibrated thermometer, we rely on our thermapen instant read for accurate results. Meat cooked at higher temperatures will continue to cook and rise in temperature after they are removed from the oven. Since this recipe calls for cooking your roast at a low temperature, the rise in temperature of your roast when you remove it from the oven will be minimal.

Let your roast rest for about 20 minutes for the juices to redistribute. Transfer the meat and carve, serving with the juices. Have guests who don’t like pink meat? Quickly brown those slices in a sauté pan.

DSC_4318a

Prime rib after being aged in the refrigerator for five days.

 

Perfect Prime Rib

Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated, Nov/Dec 95 and Nov/Dec 11 and Ad Hoc

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 (7-pound) first-cut beef standing rib roast (3 bones), meat removed from bones, bones reserved
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 t vegetable oil

DSC_4327a

Instructions

  1.  Using sharp knife, cut slits in surface layer of fat, spaced 1 inch apart, in crosshatch pattern, being careful to cut down to, but not into, meat. Rub 2 tablespoons salt over entire roast and into slits. Place meat back on bones (to save space in refrigerator), transfer to large plate, and refrigerate, uncovered, at least 24 hours and up to 96 hours.

    2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just smoking. Sear sides and top of roast (reserving bone) until browned, 6 to 8 minutes total (do not sear side where roast was cut from bone). Alternately, place the roast fat side up on a rack in a roasting pan and sear the meat until the fat begins to render and turn gray. Place meat back on ribs, so bones fit where they were cut, and let cool for 10 minutes; tie meat to bones with 2 lengths of twine between ribs. Transfer roast, fat side up, to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and season with pepper. Roast until meat registers 110 degrees, 3 to 4 hours.

    3. Turn off oven; leave roast in oven, insert a temperature probe in the roast at this time and quickly close the oven door, minimalizing heat loss is crucial. Set your probe for about 120 degrees for rare or about 125 degrees for medium-rare, 30 to 75 minutes longer.

    4. Remove roast from oven (leave roast on baking sheet), tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for at least 20 minutes.

    5.  Transfer roast to carving board; cut twine and remove roast from ribs. Slice meat into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Season with coarse salt to taste, and serve.

    DSC_4331a


December 27, 2013 Crab Ravioli with Browned Butter and Sage Sauce

DSC_4335aA pasta course featuring ravioli is a part of both our Christmas eve and Christmas day dinners. The white wine pasta recipe from Bon Appetit is one that we have been using for almost 25 years now. Sometimes the filling is spinach and pine nuts, occasionally double mushroom and for this meal, a delicate crab meat.

Buy a good quality crab to let it’s natural sweetness shine through.Lump crab meat is not as expensive as jumbo lump and is fine to use since you will be combining it with creamy ricotta cheese. Be certain to pick over the crab, even the best brands that claim to be picked through will have small bits of shell in it. Better you find that piece of shell before your guest bites into it. I like to spread it out on a baking sheet and put it under a broiler for just a few seconds  Any pieces of shell will turn red and will be easy to pick out.

The pasta comes together quickly in the food processor and only needs a twenty minute rest. We used a ravioli mold to ensure even cuts and cut the pasta with a crimp pastry wheel.  As I mentioned in a previous post, pasta making takes a definite time committment, some patience and a nice long counter top to roll out the pasta. The pasta could be rolled out by hand and a biscuit cutter can take the place of the ravioli mold. Easier still, substitute spring roll wrappers which are thinner than won ton wrappers for the pasta.

The browned butter sage sauce was the perfect accompaniment to the pasta. Cooking the leaves in the butter gives them a little crunch.  We still have sage in the garden so I didn’t have to pay a fortune in a supermarket (like they would have fresh sage) for a few sad leaves.

Leftover ravioli can be frozen on baking sheets and transferred to freezer bags. Cook the ravioli right from the freezer for a delicious impromptu meal.

Crab Ravioli with Browned Butter and Sage Sauce

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese (8 ounces)
  • 1 cup lump crabmeat, (8 ounces)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

Directions

  1.  Mix together ricotta, crabmeat,  1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and the red-pepper flakes.

White Wine Pasta

Ingredients

  • 2 chilled large eggs
  • 1/4 c or more dry white wine
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2c or more unbleached all purpose flour

Directions

White Wine Pasta

  1. Combine eggs, 1/4c wine and salt in processor. With machine running add 2 cups flour through feed tube. Process until slightly sticky dough ball forms. If dough is very sticky, add more flour through feed tube 1 tablespoon at a time, incorporating each addition before adding the next. If dough is dry, add more wine through the feed tube 1 teaspoon at a time, incorporating each addition before adding next. Process dough for 20 seconds more.
  2. Knead dough on lightly floured surface until smooth elastic and no longer sticky, about 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic. Let rest at room temperature 20 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Rolling Dough and Forming Ravioli

  • All purpose flour
  • 1 egg,  beaten to blend

Directions

  1. Cover baking sheets with waxed paper. Cut dough into 4 pieces. Flatten 1 piece (keep remainder wrapped) and dust with flour. Turn pasta machine to widest setting and run dough through twice. Sprinkle with flour, fold in half and run dough through machine twice.
  2. Adjust machine to next narrower setting. Run dough through machine 5 times, folding in half and flouring before each run. Repeat narrowing rollers and running dough through machine 5 times at each setting until the dough is thin enough to see color of the skin on your hand through it; use less flour each time as dough loses stickiness (narrowest setting on machine with 6 settings, second to narrowest setting on machine with 8 settings).
  3. Arrange dough on floured work surface. Cut in half crosswise. Cover 1 piece with plastic. Brush remaining piece with egg. Top with 2 rows of 1/2 tablespoon mounds of filling, spacing 1 inch from the edges and 1 inch apart. Top with second dough sheet. Press with side of hand between mounds of filling down center, then crosswise, forcing out any trapped air. Cut between mounds to form large squares, using pasta cutting wheel or knife. Transfer ravioli to prepared baking sheets. Press edges of ravioli together to seal. Repeat rolling, filling and cutting with remaining dough pieces and filling. (Can be prepared ahead. cover with plastic wrap and refrigerated 1 day or freeze until solid. Transfer to freezer containers and freeze up to 1 month. Cook ravioli directly from refrigerator or freezer.)
DSC_4290a

Running the dough through the pasta machine.

DSC_4300a

DSC_4302a

DSC_4305aDSC_4283a

 

Cooking Ravioli

  • Preheat oven to lowest setting. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil ravioli until just tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to platter using a slotted spoon. Toss with a little olive oil. Cover with foil and keep warm in oven while preparing sauce.

Brown Butter Sage Sauce

Ingredients

  • 20 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/2c (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. pasta
  • 1/4c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

DSC_4333a

Directions

  1. Set aside 8 sage leaves for garnish and julienne the remaining leaves.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until it foams. Add the olive oil and the julienned sage leaves. cook, stirring, over medium heat until the butter is golden brown-do not burn it! Set aside and keep warm.
  3. Pour the butter mixture over the pasta, add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and toss gently. Garnish with whole sage leaves and serve at once.

DSC_4338a copy

 

December 17, 2013 Pork Chili Verde

DSC_4267a
We left the warmth and sunshine of a much needed vacation visiting dear friends in south Florida to return to the frigid temperatures and snow of Bucks County. It’s hard to believe that we are experiencing our third snowfall and winter is still about a week away. Cold temperatures call for warming dishes so chili is always a good choice. I wanted to try something a little different and watching television with mom gave me my inspiration. Guy Fieri, of Food Network and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives was preparing a pork chili with tomatillos. I froze quite a few bags of tomatillos from our fall harvest and wanted to see what they would add to the flavor of a warm bowl of chili.
Pork shoulder is the meat of choice in this recipe. It is a well marbled cut that benefits from slow cooking and because of it’s higher fat content is less likely to dry out.  Be sure to cook the pork in a single layer and don’t crowd the pan which will yield nicely browned cubes of meat. A crowded pan will result in steamed, not browned pork. Don’t be tempted to turn the pieces too quickly, if they stick, they are not ready to turn yet.A combination of fresh and dried chiles adds to the depth of flavor in the finished dish.
I used both fresh and dried poblano peppers . Fresh poblano peppers are very dark green in color and bring flavor more than overwhelming heat to the dish. Ancho chile is the dried version of the poblano. The heat of the ancho is mild to medium with a sweet smoky flavor reminiscent of raisins or figs. Fresh jalapeno peppers brings just enough heat to the dish. Since every pepper can be a little different, It’s wise to taste just a little bit of your fresh chili peppers before adding them to the dish. It’s always easier to add heat than try to tone it down.
Roasting tomatillos gives the chili a little smokiness along with citrusy kick.  The chili is thickened with masa harina, a dry powder made from corn and used to make corn tortillas. I made this a day before serving it, giving time for the flavors to blend. Leftovers? It would be a delicious filling for a pork taco.
DSC_4258a
Pork Chili Verde
Ingredients
  • 2 dried ancho peppers, stems removed
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1 fresh poblano pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pounds tomatillos, husks removed
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork butt, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoons dried oregano (I used Mexican oregano)
  • 1 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • scant 1/4 cup masa harina
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Freshly chopped cilantro,
  • For garnish: crispy tortilla strips, shredded cheese, chopped scallions, sour cream
Directions
  1. Begin by rehydrating the ancho chilis. Place them in a bowl with ¾ cup warm water and let sit for 20 minutes.
  2. Place the tomatillos on a sheet tray and place under broiler for 7-8 minutes until lightly charred all over. Set aside to cool, then roughly chop them up.
  3. Tear up the hydrated Ancho peppers into small pieces and reserve the water they were rehydrated in.
  4. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil, add the onion, ancho, poblano and jalapeno peppers, and garlic. Sauté until translucent but not brown. Remove from pan and set mixture aside.
  5. Season the pork with salt and pepper. Add to Dutch oven and cook over high heat until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add the onion-pepper mixture back to the pan with the pork. Mix thoroughly, then deglaze with the wine and vinegar. Cook the mixture for 5 minutes to reduce, then add the chicken stock, 2 cups water, oregano, cumin, bay leaf, tomatillos, torn ancho, 2 cups water and soaking water.  Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.
  6. Place a lid on the Dutch oven and simmer for 30 minutes. Whisk in the masa harina, which will thicken the chile. Simmer for 30 minutes more, or until sauce is thickened and pork is tender.
  7.  Finish with a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Serve in bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro, crispy tortilla strips, shredded cheese, and chopped scallions.

DSC_4261a

December 15, 2013 Green Beans with Parsley Pesto

DSC_4089a

Thanksgiving evening, the turkeys and the side dishes were out and we were ready to serve dinner buffet style from the kitchen. Then I noticed it, the double steamer basket and a small container next to it. I forgot, also read, “got too busy” to make the green bean dish I had prepped ahead. Not that we would miss it. After slurping down Chesapeake Bay oysters, butternut squash soup with cider cream, homemade breads, a salad of baby greens and spinach from Joe’s greenhouse, we were ready for the main event. Turkeys, roasted, grilled and smoked, roasted vegetables, yam casserole, stuffing, zucchini, no one would starve for certain. The green beans could wait for another day.

We grow both pole and bush style beans. Green beans, yellow or wax beans and purple beans are in abundance courtesy of the garden from July to early September. Green beans are not in season now so I bought the skinny “haricot verts” that would cook quickly in the steamer basket. Always looking for a new twist on the beans, a recipe from Food and Wine magazine would fit the bill. Green beans with parsley lemon pesto sounded like a great way to feature the beautiful flat leafed parsley still thriving in the greenhouse. Like most people, when you say pesto I immediately think basil. This is a recipe for winter months without basil and combines toasted pine nuts with parsley, garlic, lemon and olive oil. The dish comes together fairly easy, the pesto can be made a day ahead and then tossed with the steamed beans.

Pine nuts are the edible seed of a pine cone. Every pine tree produces seeds but less than a third of the varieties produce seeds that are large and flavorful enough to eat. To say pine nuts are expensive would be an understatement. I read that Italian pine nuts have been going for as much as 60 to 120 dollars a pound due to bug infestations and weather conditions. The small container of Italian pine nuts I purchased was weighed by the quarter pound, by the pound I estimated them to cost about thirty eight dollars. Even Chinese pine nuts have gone up in price. If you decide to purchase Italian pine nuts for any dish  just be sure they are out of harm’s way so they don’t become someone’s late night snack. Walnuts or almonds would be a more reasonably priced alternative and just as flavorful. The amount of pesto is enough for four pounds of green beans, I only cooked a pound of beans because we had quite a few side dishes. Leftover pesto could be tossed with pasta or used as a spread on a turkey sandwich.

DSC_6633a

 

Green Beans with Parsley Pesto

Serves 6-8 as part of a buffet

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb. green beans (I prefer using the thinner haricot verts)
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Directions

  1. In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat, tossing, until golden, about 5 minutes; transfer to a food processor and let cool completely.
  2. Add the parsley, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice to the food processor and pulse until the parsley is very finely chopped. With the machine on, gradually add the olive oil and process until the pesto is nearly smooth. Season with salt and pepper and scrape into a large bowl.
  3. Put a steamer basket in the bottom of a pot. Fill the pot with 1 inch of water, add salt and bring to a boil. Add the green beans, cover and steam until bright green and crisp-tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the beans and transfer to the large bowl. Toss with enough pesto to coat and season with salt and pepper; serve with lemon wedges.
Make Ahead The pesto can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before tossing with the beans.
DSC_5254aDSC_4079a