Friday, December 31, 2010

Wild Pacific Sockeye Salmon Gravlax

Last week I bought whole side of wild Pacific Sockeye salmon and decided to make gravlax for New Year snacks. I was surprised how this salmon differs from farmed Atlantic salmon in color, taste and texture. For cooking I prefer the Atlantic salmon but for Gravlax I like the Pacific better. I don’t think that it has even half of the oil that farmed salmon has and the color is deep rich red versus pink-red of Atlantic. Process for curing is exactly the same as in my Gravlax blog.
Notice the deep red color. I just trimmed the pictures but the color wasn’t modified.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Crêpes with Seafood and Mornay Sauce

Since I had a leftover of clams and shrimps from last night’s meal (Spaghettini con Vongole) I had to come up with some recipe that will utilize them. As I wrote in my Crêpe post, I came across my crêpe pans and idea for our dinner started to jell. After I made the crêpes all I had to do was make the seafood filling and Mornay sauce. The filling was a cinch; I just added some pink salmon to clams and chopped shrimps and reheated it in their own juices. Then it was on to Mornay sauce which is basically just a Béchamel sauce with cheese. I used Fontina and Gruyere cheese. Also, when I melted the butter for Béchamel I sautéed chopped shallots till soft then added the flour and when light roux was made I poured in the heated milk and chicken stock (no clam juice or fish stock on hand) in 1:1 ratio. When the sauce thickened I whisked in grated cheese until smooth. Salt, white pepper and freshly grated nutmeg seasoned the Mornay sauce.
Then it was to assembly and final prep. Assembly is very simple: put a tablespoon of filling in center front of crêpe, 2 tsp. of sauce on top and roll like taco. Place in buttered baking pan and when all crêpes are placed in pan, cover with aluminum foil and bake in 350°F for 15 – 20 minutes, basically just to reheat it. To serve, pour some sauce on preheated plate, place crêpes on top and then pour more sauce on top. Garnish with shrimps sliced along spine in half, sprinkle chopped parsley and enjoy. It is (was!) so good!
Start Béchamel with butter and shallots.
Add flour and make roux. Finish by adding milk and then cheese. 

Heat clams, pink salmon and shrimps. Now it is on to assembly. 
Place in buttered baking pan and when all crêpes are placed in pan, cover with aluminum foil and bake in 350°F for 15 – 20 minutes, basically just to reheat it.
Notice the arugula garnish on left side of plate. I grew it in my cold frame till first big snowstorm first week of December when it was harvested and stored, unwashed, in Ziploc bag in an unheated garage that had a constant temperature of about 5 °C. Four weeks and it is still as fresh as when it was picked! Incredible green.


Few days ago when I was reaching for my favorite stainless steel frying pan I spotted my French made 20cm black steel crêpe pans. I bought them while attending George Brown College (Chef School) back in 1978-79 and they are perfectly seasoned. I did use them a lot back in Toronto but haven’t touch them since moving here. Out came my school recipe for crêpes and it was just like if I made them on weekly basis. Again, the recipe has to be adjusted by pretty much everybody because every bag of flour has different moisture content and even milk differs. On top of it to tell you how long to cook the first and second side of crêpe batter is impossible because every frying or crêpe pan is different and so are the burners.
Basic recipe, makes about 24 crêpes (20cm diameter) :
3 eggs, large
2 cups 3.25% milk (or more)
1/2 t. salt
1-1/2 cup flour
Beat eggs, milk and salt until smooth. Add 2 cups of milk and beat, again until smooth. Test if the batter is light. It should have a little thicker consistency then 35% cream. Adjust accordingly (too thick, add milk; too thin, add flour).
The crêpe pan should be hot but not too hot. When you pour in batter it should just set but not bubble right away.
Perfect consistency.
My set up is ready: butter with brush and batter in a 30 ounce measuring cup.

Perfect (for me) crêpe pan temperature is 280°F and 290°F. I love my infrared thermometer.

This is largest burner on my stove at very low. Perfect setting.
Time to turn over: edges are free and small pinholes in center have formed.

Well cooked crêpe. 
My crêpes are ready for all sorts of fillings like seafood (clams, pink salmon and shrimps) in Mornay (cheese) sauce. That will be next post.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Spaghetti con Vongole

Spaghettini with Clams and Shrimps.
More detailed description would read:
“Spaghettini with Clams and Shrimps in a wine, clam juice and cream sauce and finished with a dash of truffle oil, tarragon and nutmeg”. Basically, that’s the whole recipe and I make it in all seasons even though it does look like a comfort food. This is my version of “Spaghetti con Vongole”.
1 Tbs. olive oil
3 or 4 shallots, finally chopped
3 Tbs. chopped parsley
1 can of baby clams, drained and separated
1/3 cup shrimps, chopped
1 c. of white wine
1/2 cup 35% cream or whipping cream
Nutmeg, pinch
Hot pepper flakes, to taste
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
Truffle oil, dash (optional)

Start your pot for spaghettini.
Heat frying pan and when hot add olive oil and then shallots. Sauté for few minutes but don’t allow to brown. Pour in wine and cook off. Add clam juice and cook till only about 1/4 cup remains. Add clams and shrimps and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add cream and cook under medium heat till sauce starts to thicken. Add parsley, tarragon, nutmeg, white pepper, chili pepper flakes and truffle oil.
When spaghettini are cooked al dente, drain and toss with the cream sauce.
Serve on preheated plates. I do not grate cheese over seafood pasta but if you want to, go ahead.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Duck Soup

Without doubt this must be most complicated version that I have ever came up with. This soup included 13 ingredients (in blue) and I have to count how many heat processes I’ve managed to use (roasting, simmering, boiling, sautéing). Let me count:
1)     I roasted the bones, necks and wings with root vegetables for 3 hours.
2)     I simmered the above for stock for another 3 hours and then I strained and degreased the stock and removed meat from necks, backs and wings.
3)     Boiled barley for 40 minutes and drained.
4)     Boiled wild rice at the same time in another pot for 55 minutes and drained.
5)     Sautéed sliced gizzards, hearts, shallots and cremini mushrooms in duck fat for 20 minutes.
6)     Returned the stock to simmer and added: Raw carrot, celeriac, leek, celery, garlic, wild rice, barley, sautéed shallots, gizzards, heart, mushrooms and duck meat.
So, it comes to six separate heat processes taking well over 7 hours over 2 days: 1 roasting, 2 simmers, 2 boils and 1 sauté.
What we ended up with was most incredible soup with every texture imaginable. Will do again next Christmas, for sure. It was well worth it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Roasted Duck Joke

 Mom, Dad, is that you? What happened?

Roasted Duck Legs with Red Cabbage and Dumplings

(Traditional Christmas Dinner)
As I noted in my previous blog this is perfect Christmas dinner for just two of us.
Since I had quite a few pieces of rendered skin from last night when I cut up the duck I used it as a bed form my legs so that the meat will not dry up. Both sides of legs were sprinkled with a bit of salt even though they were brined and about a tablespoon of crushed caraway seeds. Incredibly, there is no garlic. I covered the legs with parchment paper and then aluminum foil. The paper is there because the salt on duck would burn holes in aluminum if it comes into direct contact. I use it every time if aluminum foil would touch piece of salty food.
Duck is roasted similar way as pork roast but it takes only about 2-1/2  to 3 hours for meat to be off-the-bone tender and skin nicely golden and crisp.
First half hour in 375°F, then 350°F for 2 hours and back to 375°F for 15 - 30 minutes or till skin is golden. It is served with sautéed red cabbage (from jar J) and steamed dumplings.

Ready to be covered and roasted.
After 2 hours uncover and roast until golden brown.

Preparing and Deboning Duck (Christmas Dinner)

This is first step in preparing our Christmas dinner.
I used to roast whole duck for Christmas (goose is more traditional but for 2 people terrible waste) but lately I have realized, as I mentioned on Duck Breast blog, that by the time legs are tender the breasts are overcooked. There is no comparison whatsoever to chicken breast which needs lots of seasoning to taste anything whereas duck breast needs just salt and pepper.
Anyway, ducks are dressed, the bones are roasting for incredibly tasty duck soup and fat is being rendered in separate pan next to pan with bones at 350 °F for 3 hours. Tomorrow morning I’ll start the duck stock and in afternoon I’ll be roasting the duck legs and serve them with sautéed red cabbage and steamed dumplings.
Four legs will be brined overnight and roasted tomorrow and breasts will be vacuum packed and flash frozen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pork Roast, Wine Sauerkraut and Dumplings (Czech)

This is a King of Czech Sunday dinners. Without doubt, only competition is Svíčková, loosely translated as “Roasted beef tenderloin with root vegetable and sour cream sauce” which is quite complex to prepare. Pork roast is so simple: just rub a pork butt, preferably with skin on, with mixture of kosher salt, crushed garlic (I like a lot of it) and caraway seeds, place in roasting pan, pour about ½ cup of water in a pan, cover and place into 375°F preheated oven for ½ hour then lower temperature to 325°F and roast, still covered, for 2 hours turning and basting once halfway through. Increase temp to 375°F, remove cover and roast another ½ hour or till meat is golden and skin is crisp. It is traditionally served with hot sauerkraut and bread dumplings.
Note: Notice the perfectly roasted and crunchy skin at top of plate! Is it ever good!
The King of Czech Sunday dinners is ready for plating with no garnish or just bare minimum.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chicken Breast with Gnocchi and Sundried Tomato Sauce

To describe this dish that I have created for Marjo tonight on a whim would be “Pan fried and roasted chicken breast with sweet and Russet potato gnocchi served over smooth sauce made from roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, chopped tomatoes and cream”. Yup, a real mouthful but it pretty well describes what I did. According to her it was incredibly light despite 1/4 cup of 35% cream that finished the sauce. I used store bought sun dried tomatoes and grilled red peppers in the sauce. These gnocchi were the lightest I have ever eaten.
I’ll post recipe if there is any interest.

Another Breakfast Idea

This morning when I opened fridge door and saw some asparagus, Swiss cheese and eggs I saw a breakfast.
So simple and utterly delicious. I just peeled bottom half of asparagus stem, nuked it in wet paper towel for 1 minute and then wrapped in 3 thin slices of Swiss cheese and broiled in toaster oven till cheese melted. While this was going on I scrambled 2 eggs plus 2 egg whites that I had leftover from other meal, toasted and sliced English muffins, plated it (on preheated plate as usual, of course) garnished with a sliced tomato and bingo! Breakfast done in about 5 minutes.
Next time I’ll wrap the asparagus in cheese and then slice of ham. My first choice would be prosciutto but no prosciutto for sale in our town.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pork Loin with Sweet Potatoes, Asparagus and Tomatoes

Today, I have challenged myself (again J ) to come up with a meal that will include only ingredients I have on hand. First thing I touched in freezer were four small boneless pork loin chops, vacuum packed. Good start. Side dish was next and because in last few days we had rice, potatoes and pasta I felt for something else. Sweet potatoes, that Marjo bought just few days ago to keep our pantry stocked, filled the bill and since I had asparagus and tomatoes on hand as well the meal was done. At least in my mind. When I fetched the asparagus I noticed that I still had arugula that I have grown in cold frame and picked about four weeks ago before all the snow came down. It is still as fresh as when I picked it. Now I had a bed for my quickly sautéed chops. Next to chops I’ll plate steamed and then broiled sweet potatoes and then microwave steamed asparagus. Fresh small tomato wedges will complete the meal. I have to mention that this morning I broiled some hot Italian sausage ball in my toaster oven for snacks and knowing that I will broil/toast sweet potato wedges for dinner I left the fat in a pan. When wedges were nice and done I moved them on a paper towel lined plate to drain extra fat. Next, I poured a teaspoon of remaining fat into frying pan and used it third time to cook the chops. The taste was just incredible! I know it sounds like there was a lot of fat in this meal but there was no more then maybe 1 – 2 teaspoons for two people when plated.
Definitely a repeat, when I have the same ingredients on hand.

Stir Fried Beef with Red Pepper

While organizing my freezer I came across vacuum packed piece of flank steak. The method of cooking was immediately obvious but what sort of stir fry I will make wasn’t as clear. At the end I have decided that fewer ingredients the better. “Just follow the KISS principle”, I said to myself. Since I had red pepper, asparagus, green and white onions, decision was made for me. I left the flank in a garage to slowly defrost at 4 °C. In the morning it was perfect for slicing it thin. If you are using fresh beef, place it in freezer for about 30 minutes and it will be much easier to slice. Stir frying is very quick method and meat has to be cut very thin, no more then 1/16” to 1/8”. Then it was to decide what sauce it will be cooked in. Out came my favorite and well used cook book by Gloria Bley Miller “The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook” that I bought back in 1981 when I got really serious about Oriental cooking. I still haven’t seen a better Chinese food cookbook. I refer to it all the time for methods and techniques used, there are so many! This cookbook isn’t for a beginner, you have to have a bit of experience to appreciate and use it.
Here goes the simplified recipe inspired by one in this book.
To serve 2

1/2 lb flank steak, thinly sliced
1” ginger, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper
6 asparagus spears cut in half and separated (stems and spears)
2 green onions
1/2 onion, sliced into wedges
water chestnuts, sliced
1Tbs. peanut oil
1 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce
1 Tbs. Sake
2Tbs. Soy sauce
1 Tbs. Corn starch
2Tbs oyster sauce
1 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. sake
1 Tbs. corn starch
Mix all marinade ingredients till smooth and coat all beef slices. Cover and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
Have all ingredients on hand, it will take just a few minutes from start to finish.
Drain marinade (if meat didn’t absorb it) and pat dry.
Preheat well seasoned wok till hot and add cold oil around the sides of wok. Oil should form a haze as soon as it touches sides of wok. Add slices of flank in one layer if possible and let brown (don’t move the meat) for 30 seconds. Flip over with steel spatula and stir fry for another 30 seconds. Remove the meat to preheated bowl and keep warm.

Lower the heat to medium high and sauté garlic and ginger for few seconds.
Add red pepper, asparagus stems, onion wedges and chestnuts. Stir fry for about a minute and then add asparagus tips and half of the green onions. Stir for about 1/2 a minute and increase the heat. Return meat to the wok and add the sauce. Stir till all ingredients are well coated with sauce and serve immediately. Garnish with remaining green onions. Serve with steamed rice.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pastry Pie with filings (Kolache)

Yesterday, as I was surfing the net I came across a Czech pastry shop website. On a main page was a picture of Kolache. It is almost impossible to translate the word kolache, it is original Czech word. It is basically round pastry pie topped with various toppings; cottage cheese, poppy seeds and prune jam being the three most favorite fillings. When I saw the picture I actually could smell it! I had to make some for Marjo, she never had these. The dough is a bit sweet and super light and similar to brioche but not as rich. Same night I made the fillings and first thing in morning next day I made the dough and in afternoon I baked nice 9 pies, 3 of each. So good, that it is now on my permanent to bake list.
Top picture shows (left to right) poppy seed filling with almonds, cottage or ricotta cheese with raisins and plum jam with pecan.
3 c. flour
1 pkg. instant dry yeast
1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. warm milk
1 egg
1/3 c. butter, melted
Place flour in a large bowl. Make a depression in the center. Add sugar, salt and yeast and mix. In another bowl add warm milk, eggs and melted butter and beat till well combined.  Pour the wet ingredients into flour mix and knead until smooth. Or, put all ingredients in a food processor and run till dough clears the sides of bowl (my option).
Shape the dough into a ball, place in warm greased bowl and let rise for about an hour or till doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 375 °F.
Divide or pinch a dough just little bit bigger then egg, shape into a ball and place on buttered cookie sheet, flatten to about 3/8” thick and cover with towel. Let rise 10 minutes. Indent center of each pie leaving a rim about 1/2” wide and top center with filling. Brush edges lightly with melted butter and bake for about 25 – 30 minutes.  When golden brown remove from oven and place on cooling rack to cool. Brush rim with butter while kolaches are still hot.
Cottage Cheese Filling:
1/2 lb. dry cottage cheese
1/4 c. white sugar (more if you like)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg yolk
1/4 c. cooked, drained white raisins

Mix together well so it is spreadable.
Poppy Seed Filling:
1-1/2 c. ground poppy seed
1/3 c. milk
1 Tbs. butter

In a saucepan, bring milk to simmer, add butter and poppy seeds. Slowly simmer till milk is absorbed. Let cool before using.
Prune Filling:
1 c. dried pitted prunes, chopped. Simmer prunes in 1/4 cup of water till soft. Add 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and mix well. Let cool before using.
Ready for second rise.
Fresh from the oven.
Light as a feather.

Pasta and Cheese Brûlée

Last night I felt like another comfort food so I whipped egg noodles with short ribs Bolognese sauce (from freezer) topped with grilled cheese. I didn’t feel like preheating big broiler in my gas oven so I’ve decided to use torch just like in Crème Brûlée. I thought that it would be original but today I Goggled it and what do you know, there is a dish called Goat cheese Crème Brûlée. I was floored. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if Julia Child was first to use this technique, she was so creative. (And so am I, me think J)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Schnitzel and Potato Salad

Butterflied pork tenderloin cutlet with potato salad, lemon and pickle.

Tonight, I took a test run for North Bohemian traditional Christmas lunch: Schnitzel, potato salad and pickle accompanied by a beer or two. Tonight’s version didn’t include traditional veal cutlet but the substitute under blind taste test would be indistinguishable. I used butterflied and pounded pork tenderloin slices seasoned with fine sea salt, ground pepper and hot Hungarian paprika. Since I used only half of a small pork tenderloin all I got was two butterflied cutlets and two smaller pieces but it was more then enough for two of us. To add more substance to the meat I breaded the cutlets in egg wash and Panko bread crumbs and they came out absolutely perfect. Nice and crunchy on outside and, since the Panko coating provided virtual shell, the pork inside was steamed to tender perfection.
There really isn’t much of a recipe, it is that simple, just a process.

Cut the tenderloin about 1/2” thick almost through and then another 1/2” all the way. Repeat.
Spread flat, put in plastic bag and pound till about 3/16” thick. I prefer see through bag rather then traditional aluminum foil because I can see what I’m doing.
On one side sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika and roll both sides of cutlet in flour. 
Dip in egg wash and then drench in Panko.
The pan and oil is right temperature.
Preheat large frying pan, pour in oil about 1/4” deep, let it get hot and drop as many pieces as will fit without crowding the pan. After 3 minutes start checking for color. When light gold, turn over and shallow fry till other side is done. 
Meanwhile, serve room temperature potato salad on preheated plate, cut slice of lemon and slice pickle into 3 slices and reserve. Plate cutlet next to salad, top with lemon and pickle and serve.