Friday, February 27, 2009

We Now Return...

...To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming
Idaho potatoesI'll bet you thought I'd forgotten you, gentle reader. Never ever, however, underestimate a blogger's unquenchable thirst for an audience. I can assure you I did cook this weekend, it's just that I forgot the digital camera at work (it's Championship Week), and had no means of documenting my culinary acumen. And while I have been complimented on my flowery prose once or twice, a pretty picture always breaks up text agreeably, don't you think? So, I swiped a bunch of pictures off the Web, and while my own photos are only of the remnants, I have proof that I didn't fritter away my days on the couch, the remote fused to my hand.
I had the entire weekend in the kitchen all planned out. I'd made a shopping list Thursday night, and skipped out of the office an hour early on Friday so I could go to the market with plenty of time to shop and get some prep work out of the way:
Yukon potatoes
heavy cream
sour cream
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
whole roasting chicken
baby carrots
button mushrooms
broccoli rabe
cherry tomatoes
dry sherry
fresh ciabatta loaf
Fresh leeksAny takers on what was on the menu? You get three guesses. The original opening sentence for this post was going to be along the lines of, "I've Had Just About Enough of This Cold Weather," and the menus were gonna revolve around beating those lingering winter blues. Here's a hint: when you're under the weather, or feeling a bit low, what does every mother prescribe? No, not cleaning your room: soup of course. I'd been hankering for soup for weeks and hadn't even realized it until the Top Chef finale jarred me out of my wintry stupor. I love soup and really must have been an old Jewish grandmother in a previous life, cause my soups cure whatever ails you.
Friday's Potato Leek soup
  • 2 lbs Yukon potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 leeks, cleaned of all sand and roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Yukon Gold potatoesFresh leeks
In a small roasting pan, toss potatoes and leeks with olive oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in a pre-heated 400° oven for 40-45 minutes until tender. Move the vegetables to the stovetop and de-glaze the pan with the wine and 1 cup of the chicken stock. In batches if necessary, purée the vegetables and their liquid in a food processor and move to a large stock pot. Stir in the remaining chicken stock to make a thick soup. Add the heavy and sour creams and season to taste with salt and pepper. When the soup reaches a temperature warm enough to serve (do not boil sour cream), whisk in the Parmesan cheese and another splash of white wine to brighten the dish.
Leftover potato leek soup
Ina made this soup on one of her shows, and anything she can do, I can do just as well, if not better. Say what you will about Ms. Garten, she (or her minions) have a firm grip on basic, good home cooking. She's not an ingredient slave. Everything she calls for can be found readily in most local markets and her results are always satisfying. The potato leek soup was no exception. With that splash of wine, the leeks were bright and oniony. The potatoes added substance, and all that cream and cheese brought out such a richness that I really should have eaten this soup on the couch wrapped up in a Snuggie. Thank goodness I made a big batch. With our March 2 snow storm, I have plenty left over to get me through the next couple days as a shut in.
Saturday: Let's roast a chicken
Whole roasting chicken with gibletsI know, I know; more roasting. It's still winter here. You try grilling in 20° temperatures. Roasting a whole chicken is so easy and requires very little in the way of preparation. The most effort you have to exert is remembering to season the whole bird with plenty of salt and a little pepper at least one day before roasting. The salt penetrates the flesh and makes all the difference for a more tender, juicier finished product. Salt the inside and outside of the bird and wrap in butcher paper. Stow the chicken in the refrigerator overnight. Another failsafe tip is to bring the bird to room temperature before cooking. Give the chicken an hour or two on the kitchen counter before roasting. Roast in a pre-heated 400° oven, 15 minutes per pound. Start the bird breast-side up. About ⅓ of the way through roasting, flip the chicken breast-side down. Return to breast-side up the last ⅓ of the cooking time.
Lemon slicesJust before roasting I stuffed the entire cavity of my bird with lemon slices and a thick wad of fresh thyme, stems and all. Those herbs and citrus lightly perfumed the chicken but in no way overpowered it, so really get in there and fill the whole void.

Remember Whogus and his chicken gizzard treats? Well I was a very good boy Saturday afternoon and whipped myself up a little chicken hearts & liver snack while the bird roasted away. A pat of butter, a dash of soy, Worcestershire, and Tabasco sauces, some dry sherry in a small sauté pan,  salt & freshly ground pepper and 10 minutes later I had a rich and creamy appetizer. Technically, you don't really have to be a good little boy or girl to have the organs this way, but it sure tastes like a reward in a small way.
In a separate pan I roasted carrots, mushroom, greens and cherry tomatoes with some olive oil, salt & pepper along side the chicken. With the drippings from the bird, I made a thick gravy with some flour, chicken stock and a splash of heavy cream. The vegetables didn't make it to the second day, but you can see for yourself the creamy gravy below.
Leftover potato leek soup and roasted chicken with gravyLeftover roasted chicken
Lemony Pop ArtSo rest assured, my loyal followers, I have not abandoned you for the latest fad or a new diversion. You can continue to count on me for honest home-style cooking and the occasional bon mot to swap at the next office party.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Starch in Your Diet, Not in Your Shirts

The St Lawrence Starch Co., LTDI have a confession to make. I hate loving the Williams-
Sonoma catalogue. I can't help myself though. The dazzling colors and shiny objects drive me to distraction. But I always feel a little bit dirty afterwards, especially if I actually break down and order anything not already drastically reduced. Let's face it, the prices are outrageous and you can find something comparable and lot more affordable in any restaurant supply store. But the artistry, the flair! It's food porn, plain and simple. No wonder I feel so unclean.

Yet and still, they're food lovers at heart; they're just out to make a buck off their passion and what could be more American than that?

Their online recipes aren't bad. Some don't even require you to buy Williams-Sonoma Chili-infused Pineapple Reduction or Williams-Sonoma Loire Valley Fumée de Sel. And so it was that I stumbled across their latke/hash brown recipe, rösti. It's a  Swiss potato dish that I've actually had in Switzerland and was delighted to see in the pages of Williams-Sonoma. (Okay, so they were trying to sell their totally un-necessary 2-piece frittata pan, but I was deaf to its siren call.)
Simple rösti ingredients
Rösti couldn't have fewer, more commonplace ingredients:
  • 1 lb Yukon potatoes, peeled and grated
  • 1¾ tsp flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 oz Gruyère cheese, grated
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4 Tbsp butter
Grating Yukon potatoesSpread seasoned potatoes in a even layer
Put that box grater away and pull out your trusty food processor with grating blade. It'll cut your prep time down to a figure approaching zero. Soak the grated potatoes in lots of cold water for five minutes. Drain, rinse, and drain again. Place a clean, cotton kitchen towel or double-folded cheese cloth over a bowl, and place potatoes into towel. Wring out as much water as possible. Spoiler Alert: Wring the hell out of the potatoes. If too much moisture remains, the rösti won't crisp up properly. Toss the dry potatoes with flour, salt, cheese, onion and pepper. Heat 2 Tbsp of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Spread potatoes in an even layer in the skillet. Cover and cook until the bottom is golden and crispy, about 10 minutes.
Flip potatoes to brown other side
If you don't own the Williams-Sonoma frittata pan, remove the skillet from the flame,  invert a large platter over the skillet and flip over (you may need to loosen the potatoes with a spatula first). Add the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter to the pan and slide the potatoes, uncooked-side down back into the skillet. Cover and cook until the bottom again turns golden and crispy. Remove the pan from the heat and let the rösti rest for a few minutes. Slide out of the pan onto a cutting board and cut into wedges. Serve with fried or scrambled eggs and smoky bacon for an impressive brunch.
Fried eggsRösti with fried eggs
My rösti was a little too moist to crisp up the way I wanted. I should have wrung the water out more conscientiously or maybe left the skillet uncovered for part of the cooking time to release more moisture. But that's alright. I make the mistakes, so you don't have to. Notice too how I cleverly masked a broken yolk on one of my eggs by placing the rösti on top of it. I thought about frying up two more eggs, but was in a hurry, not hungry enough for four eggs, and mindful of wastefulness. I knew in the end I would be forgiven anyway.
In case you're wondering, I don't eat like this every day. But if I splurge on a meal or two over the weekend, I do it with a clear conscience. I believe British novelist John Mortimer put it best when he wrote, "I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There's no pleasure worth foregoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward." He lived to be 85.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chicken tonight. Chicken delight!

Fresh thymeLooking over this blog, one would think I didn't care for fowl, but nothing could be further from the truth. You just have to be in the mood, I suppose, and after weeks and weeks of winter beef, pork and lamb, chicken caught my eye at the butcher's shop.

I went back and forth between a whole bird and cacciatore. I'd already done a hunter's casserole back in August, and the word counter on my PC wouldn't accept the term "roasted" one more time, so what do you do, what do you do?

I shop at Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Two butchers, two delis, an ample produce stand, a bakery, and housewares all under one sky-lit roof. While I mulled over a poultry dish, I wandered over to the produce stalls for some inspiration.

Beautiful, ripe lemons were on sale four for a dollar, and the rusty cogs in my tiny mind began to turn. Chicken. Lemons. Chicken. Lemons. Mike Kanelopoulos. Chickens. Lemons. Mike Kanelopoulos... Lemon & garlic chicken! The mind is a tricky thing. Well, mine is in any event. Mike is an old, old friend from my salad days and an incredible cook. He owned the first 12" All-Clad sauté pan I had ever seen, and I coveted it greatly. He was an early inspiration in finding my own culinary voice and his lemon & garlic chicken is a thing of wonder. Mine was gonna leave his in the dust.
Lemon & Garlic Chicken
  • 4 chicken drumsticks and thighs
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 1 whole lemon, sliced
Seasoned chicken pieces
Three hours before cooking, season chicken on all sides with salt, freshly ground pepper and chopped thyme. Keep covered in refrigerator.
Brown chicken on both sides
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and brown chicken on both sides until golden (about 3 minutes per side). Transfer chicken to a plate, reduce heat under pan to medium, and sauté garlic briefly (30-45") to release oils. Add sherry vinegar and reduce liquid by one half. Add soy sauce, honey, lemon juice and water, stirring to combine.
Finish cooking chicken in thickening sauce
Return chicken to pan and toss to coat with sauce. Add lemon slices and continue to cook chicken and reduce the sauce for another 15 minutes. Turn chicken frequently to keep coated.
Broccoli rabe & garlicThe plate was gonna need something green. The Retail Market is in the heart of Little Italy, and what's more Italian than broccoli rabe? It added a fresh, slightly bitter contrast to the sweet, tart chicken.
Broccoli rabe
  • 2 lb broccoli rabe
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
Fresh broccoli rabe in salted boiling water
Steep trimmed broccoli rabe in plenty of salted boiling water until just tender (about 3 minutes), with plenty of snap left in the stalks.
Broccoli rabe cooling in ice bath
Halt the cooking process by transferring broccoli rabe to an ice bath. While broccoli cools, heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook sliced garlic until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Sautéing broccoli rabe
Add well drained broccoli to pan and toss to coat in oil. Cook 3-5 minutes, until greens are heated through. Toss with salt and move to serving platter. Just look at that color, will ya!
Lemon & garlic chicken, broccoli rabe and roasted fingerling potatoesNew and improved lemon & garlic chicken
I had some nice fingerling potatoes and a little leftover red onion in the larder. I coated them with olive oil, tossed them with some salt and pepper and roasted them in a 350° oven for 45 minutes.
I hadn't talked to The Greek in months, but he got shots of this turbo-charged lemon & garlic chicken from my cell phone and had to listen to me gloat for a good 20 minutes afterwards. The gauntlet, as they say, has been thrown. I'll be bringing my A-game to our next encounter. I know he will.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Monday, February 16, 2009

Loser Party of One: Leftovers Again?

Botero - The Dinner - 1992I know what you're saying, "I thought Sunday was leftover night?" Well, it was a three-day weekend, and Monday became the new Sunday. Besides, who's making the rules around here, you or I?

When we left our kitchen on Saturday, roast beast was resurrected to resume its rightful place in the dinner menu repertoire. But what do you do with all that leftover meat? My stepmother, Anita, wouldn't even have to pose the question. Cut up the roast into strips, slow cook with some chili, spices and a good stock until very tender. Re-fry leftover black beans from tostada night and wrap everything in a soft, warm flour tortilla.
Slow cooking leftover roast beast stripsSlow cook leftover roast beast in a good broth with some chili and spices tossed in to jazz up the meat.
Re-fried black beansFry cooked black beans in olive oil. Break down some of the beans by mashing them with a fork. Cook most of the liquid out of the beans. Add slices of cheddar cheese and stir to melt into the beans.
Heat flour tortillas on a griddleHeat flour tortillas on a griddle until warm and soft. Flip frequently so that the tortillas do not get crispy.
Wrap bean & meat in tortilla with sour cream and hot saucePile meat & beans in a warm tortilla, top with sour cream and hot sauce, and wrap everything up.
Having company? Make a pot of Mexican rice, or halve avocadoes, drizzle balsamic vinegar into the depression where the pit used to be, slice some radishes and chives, and serve on the side.
I've been making leftover burritos since I was 11 or 12-years old. Beans and tortillas were a constant in my childhood. My stepmother eschewed a knife and fork, but rather tore off a piece of tortilla and scooped everything on her plate into it. She could strip a pork or lamb chop bare with just that method. She was amazing.
We're gonna have to come up with a better title for this single-serving series. Losers don't eat this well.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Le Petit Marché

Natalie is a classy ol' broad from Brooklyn Heights who's been a dear friend for years. She claims Kentucky roots, but is actually a Park Avenue deb with hillbilly affectations. She's never set a foot in Kentucky that wasn't draped in a Prada shoe. But she's a woman of a certain age, and I defer to her in all things. We have an outing every couple of months. She's become a loyal fan of the Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show and Kiku exhibits. We always dine at Enzo's afterwards. I make the trek down to Brooklyn on the 2 Express whenever summoned and am always guaranteed a civilized cocktail hour and a good dinner. We split our time evenly between her beautiful apartment and some of the neighborhood eateries. Last night, it was Le Petit Marché on Henry Street.
I don't know myself at all. I'm always declaring Mexican as my favorite food, but I've spent more time and money in French bistros than all the taco joints and comensales in the world. Paris is my favorite city. Not Mexico City, not Zihuatanejo, not Guadalajara. I'm an enigma, or maybe just confused. In any event, I love Le Petit Marché. I'm always insisting that we eat there. You'd think I'd be surprised that the old girl obliges me as often as she does, but I happen to know she's just as fanatical about the place as I.
Eating out with Natalie is always a fun house sort of ride, but endearing. She'll get fixated on something and, just like a dog with a bone, there'll be no reckoning with her. For some reason she always orders a kir cocktail (crème de cassis and white wine) at Le Petit Marché. I've never seen her order it anywhere else. It's as adorable as it is inexplicable.
Wild mushroom pizzetaButternut squash soup
The regular menu at Le Petit is fairly straightforward, but Chef Dyner's (isn't that the perfect name for a chef?) execution is what sets the dishes apart. His French onion soup is perfection: molten hot Gruyère and tangy, smoky, almost sugary onions in a beautifully balanced broth. Damn. Dyner also does a Mac & cheese with sharp cheddar, smoked Gouda and chorizo that just blows the competition away. But I was in the mood for something earthy, so went with the wild mushroom pizzeta - lots of tasty fungi, roasted red pepper and Gruyere cheese on a crispy flatbread dough. It's got a dash or two of white truffle oil, and you just expect your next words to come out in a heavy "old world" accent.  Natalie had the butternut squash soup, because Natalie always has the butternut squash soup. I like it very much, but it has all the spices that one associates with Thanksgiving and was therefore a little out of season for me.
MusselsHerbed fries
When we arrived at the restaurant, Natalie caught sight of a couple tucked into moules et pommes frites (mussels and fries) and wouldn't even look at the menu after that, so that was settled. The goat cheese-stuffed chicken medallions with ratatouille in a richly reduced herbed chicken jus sounded too delicious to pass up. To understate the fact, it was not a disappointment. I couldn't get Chef to reveal what exactly was in the jus, but it was intensely good. The skin on the breast was nicely crisped and the meat not too dry. It gave my two favorites off the menu: a huge and heartbreakingly tender lamb shank and the roasted duck breast a real run for the money. I won't think twice about ordering a special in the future.
Goat cheese-stuffed chicken medallions
One of Natalie's charms is her effortless ability to attract people, like moths to a flame. She's the perfect blend of impeccable manners and joie de vivre, and the old girl sure can draw a crowd. Our neighbors to my right started the evening eavesdropping on her chit chat and by the end of the meal were enthusiastic contributors to the conversation. All I had to was sit back and enjoy.
Leave it to me, the original creature of habit, to write up a two-year old restaurant. I can't help it though. I know what I like and know when others are gonna like it too. Make the trip to the Heights. It'll be worth it.
Le Petit Marché
46 Henry Street (between Cranberry and Middagh)
Brooklyn Heights, NY 11205

Open nightly form 5:30 - 11:00, until 10:00pm on Sundays.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rare Who Roast Beast

"Then the Whos, young and old, would sit down to a feast. And they'd feast! And they'd feast! And they'd FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! They would feast on Who-pudding, and rare Who-roast beast!" How The Grinch Stole Christmas - Dr. Seuss
MourningMy mom was a teller of tales. You could never get a straight answer out of her. When I was a kid she used to claim she was 99-years old. What did I know? Even her sister would back her up; they were as thick as thieves. But imagine her shock when I called her to the window one day so that all my neighborhood pals could see for themselves what 99 looked like. I kept pointing to her exclaiming, "See! See!" I thought she was gonna shout the house down. It didn't curb the absurdity though. It was always roast beast for dinner in our house after that very first airing of the "Grinch". I can't bring myself to call it anything else now, and whenever it's served I remember with an ache and a smile all the laughter and fun with which she filled our home. She left us two years ago this week, and in remembrance, roast beast is on the menu tonight.
Seasoned roast
Roast beast racked for baking
Rare roast beast
Roast beast with Spiced rice with crispy potato crust
Roast Beast
Season the roast with salt and pepper the day before and keep chilled in the refrigerator. Bring the beast to room temperature 1-2 hours before roasting. Cook at 400°, 15 minutes per pound. Check the internal temperature in several places, using the lowest reading. Remove the the beef from the oven when it's still a little rarer than what you are aiming for. The temperature will continue to rise 5-10 degrees as the meat rests. Let the roast rest for at least 20 minutes. Resting allows the internal temperature to even out and the juices to re-distribute through the meat. Tent the meat loosely to keep warm while resting. Always slice against the grain.
I revised a recipe I found in a great book I picked up in the Botanical Garden book shop: "The New Whole Grains Cookbook" by Robin Asbell.
Persian spiced rice with crispy potato crust
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½ cup new potatoes, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup yellow onion, thinly sliced
Rinse rice before cooking. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the washed rice and cook for 25 minutes, and drain. In a mixing bowl, beat an egg into sour cream and mix in the spices. I replaced the cumin with garlic powder and a little dried thyme and oregano. Toss the rice with the sour cream mixture.

Drizzle olive oil into a glass baking dish and tilt the dish to spread the oil over the bottom and up the sides. Layer potatoes and onions in the oil and partially up the sides. Put the dish in a 400° oven for 5 minutes, then spread the rice mixture over the potatoes, pressing it into the bottom of the dish. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Once a brown crust forms on the sides and bottom of the baking dish, remove from the oven. Use a knife to loosen the edges of the rice from the dish. Invert on a serving platter. The crusty layer will now be on top. Serve warm while the crust remains crispy.
Hardly anyone serves roast beast anymore, but I'm on a one-man crusade to put it back into heavy rotation. It's easy, versatile, and delicious. After reading this, serve it for dinner one night this week. Maybe it will tenderly remind you of your own mother or another loved one missing at the table.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For Your Eyes Only

"Top Secret"Vanity got the better of me the other day, and I put one of those web tracker thingies on my blog to prove to my friends that no one was reading it, and sure enough, nobody is. Surprise, surprise, surprise.
But that's not what I wanted to talk about. My pop handed down a BBQ sauce recipe with the admonishment that I share it with no one. That's nagged at me ever since. I mean, a BBQ sauce recipe isn't exactly a state secret, and there are undoubtedly thousands of "classified" recipes out there. Who, exactly then, is gonna fuss over ours? Besides, no one's reading this damn thing, so where's the danger of the recipe falling into the wrong hands?
So, cosseted in a cloak of anonymity, I give you Sherwood's House-made BBQ Sauce and Ribs.
The Sauce
  • 3 cups tomato sauce
  • 2 cups tomato paste
  • 1 cup yellow mustard
  • ⅓ cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup molasses
  • ½ cup apple sauce
  • ⅓ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • ⅓ cup liquid smoke
  • 3½ cups brown sugar
  • ⅔ Tbsp garlic powder
  • ½ Tbsp onion powder
  • ½ Tbsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ Tbsp black pepper

Fold all wet ingredients together and then add dry spices to the mixture.

This is a family restaurant recipe. Unless you're a competitive BBQ grill master, quarter all measurements for a more manageable quantity of sauce.
The Ribs (3 full racks)

⅓  cup kosher salt
⅓  cup cracked black pepper
2 Tbsp garlic powder

Cooking Liquid:

1 cup liquid smoke
½ gal water

Remove silvery skin from back of ribs.
Place ribs in a large, 2" deep backing dish.
Cover generously with seasoning spices.
Add enough cooking liquid so that ribs are just short of covered.
Cover baking pan with plastic wrap, and then aluminum foil. The plastic wrap will fuse with the foil in a hot oven making an airtight seal.
Roast ribs in a pre-heated 325° oven for 90 minutes.
Pour off cooking liquid, brush ribs liberally with BBQ sauce, recover with foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes.
That airtight seal makes for some very tender ribs by the end of cooking, though - with the exception of a genotoxic cocktail - I'm not at all comfortable with liquid smoke as an ingredient. I'd be willing to bet I can come up with a safer component. Bourbon comes to mind, and I'll be sure to publish my findings in a forum with a little more exposure than You Gonna Finish That?
Accessorize BBQ ribs with a light, crunchy Napa cabbage salad: (prep the night before)
  • 1 head Napa cabbage, sliced thin and rinsed, placed on paper towels on a cookie sheet and refrigerated overnight
  • 6 scallions, diced
  • 2 packages ramen noodles (uncooked)
  • 1½ cups chopped pecans
  • 1 stick butter
Melt butter in a large sauté pan. Toast ramen noodles in butter. Once the noodles begin to brown, add nuts. Toss in pan until golden brown. Allow to cool.
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 cup sugar
Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender until combined. Toss with cabbage, scallions and noodle mixture 20 minutes before serving.
Crispy, crunchy and sweet. I love this salad. The best part is when you get to the bottom of the salad bowl where all the little broken bits of noodle and dressing-soaked pecans are resting. Whoever invented the spoon knew all about reaching the bottom of a salad bowl.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Mexican Getaway...

...Day Two.
New York City sunriseIt was glorious Sunday, nearly 60°. Folks were running around as if it were a balmy day in May. I was out there myself most of the day, the heavy coat left in the hall closet, my favorite Samuel O'Reilly's hoody a perfectly adequate substitute. I hit the bookstands at the Botanical Garden shop, ran errands I'd put off because of the weather, watched a pick-up game of touch football in the school yard.

I didn't even think about what to do for dinner, and do you want to know why? Because it's Sunday, and what do we do on Sundays around here? Leftovers, that's what, or haven't you been paying attention.

Well, there was plenty of shredded pork from Saturday to make at least one more dinner, and probably a couple of lunches as well. So, I says to myself, "Self," I says, "how 'bout some tasty pork tostadas tonight?" I said it just like that! And here we are.
Tostadas started life as an economical way of saving stale tortillas from going to waste. Now, they're rock stars in their own right and like many dishes of humble origin, have evolved into almost unrecognizable celebrities. Since you all know I'm never one to put on airs (ahem), we'll be staying true to our Mexican roots. Here's what you'll need for BOF's authentic pork tostadas:

Vegetable or peanut oil
Corn tortillas
Black beans
Shredded pork
Red onion
Queso fresco

Sorting dry black beans
Soaking Black beans
Start with dried black beans. Sort through them, picking out any foreign objects, i.e. small stones, soil particles, etc., that you wouldn't care to eat. My grandparents always seemed to have a big pot of beans on the stove during my childhood, and I can still see my Aunt Donnie picking through pinto beans on an old Formica table. Rinse your beans prior to cooking as an added precaution. Now soak your beans: To ½-lb of dry beans, add 3-4 cups of hot water. Boil for 2 minutes, then set aside for one hour. Drain and rinse the beans one more time.
Soaked & drained black beans>
Cooking Black beans
Black bean ingredientsChopped onion
  • ½-lb soaked beans
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ½-cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dry oregano
  • 1 tsp dry cumin
  • 1 Tbsp cider vinegar
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cooking until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Add soaked, rinsed beans and 4 cups of water or stock to the saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until beans are tender, about 3 hours. The house is gonna smell like a holiday with the cider vinegar wafting through the air. Once they are of soft, remove the beans from the heat but keep covered.

Add 1 tsp dried oreganoAdd 1 tsp ground cuminAdd 4 cups liquid to beans
Tostada assembly
Frying corn tortilla in peanut oilHeat about ¼ inch of peanut oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat for the tortillas. Fry one tortilla at a time in the hot oil, flipping a couple of times until they are slightly crisp, but still just pliable. Drain them on paper towels.

Spread a thin layer of black beans almost to the edge of a fried tortilla. Next pile warm shredded pork on top of the beans. Add a couple of slices of ripe, soft avocado. Sprinkle with diced red onion, chopped cilantro and crumbled queso fresco. If you fancy a little extra heat, go for a dash or two of your favorite hot sauce.
Spread black beans on a crisp corn tortillaPile shredded pork on top of black beans
Add avocado slices, red onion and cilantroTop with crumbled queso fresco
Pork & black bean tostadaMy father sometimes reads this blog, so I pledged never to swear in my writing, but holy smokes, this was no peasant meal. There was so much going on. I have to admit to cheating by adding a little of last night's reduction to the pork as I warmed it up on the stove. What an addition. Rich, sharp sweetness from the leftover pork; a nutty base note from the black beans and that tablespoon of cider vinegar would have been missed had it been omitted. Queso fresco has a saltiness and tang that should only be combined with raw onion and fresh cilantro. It all came together like... like a firework display on the 4th of July Cinco de Mayo.

I'm embarrassed to admit this publicly, but anyone who can cook this good ought to be able to quit his day job in exchange for a gig as executive chef on a Mediterranean yacht or at a Deer Valley ski lodge.
Pork & black bean tostada and wine glassThis is one dish that qualifies as a snack, appetizer, or meal in itself. I wouldn't serve a side unless one considers a frosty cold Mexican beer or glass of wine a side, in which case, go for seconds! Because I just can't help myself, I opened a bottle of 2 Brothers '05 Cabernet Sauvignon. 2 Brothers is the reserve label for Big Tattoo Wines. Theirs is a touching story and one that you should take a moment to learn. What's that? Oh, the wine, you say.
2 Brothers 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon wine labelWell, it's a young wine. I don't think any Cab should be opened before its 10th birthday, but not many winemakers can afford to age Cabernet for any length of time anymore, and so blending &  barreling tricks are employed to move the grape along. The nose or bouquet is what usually gives a young wine away for me. Vintner sleight of hand cannot mask the alcohol in a young wine. It can remind one of a trip to the free clinic. Still, 2 Brothers, I must say, has put out a very excellent reserve Cabernet. Once it opened up (about an hour after removing the cork), there were deep, black cherry and ripe red fruit aromas in the nose. A rich, full-bodied structure in the mouth with lots of ripe plum gave way to tobacco and a raw vanilla finish. I was frankly surprised at the complexity from such a young vineyard. And to think I shelled out 13 bucks for the bottle. Well, that made it all the better.
I have to tell you, it has been one rewarding weekend. The next time someone turns their nose up at your grandmother's handed-down recipes, or shows contempt for that hole-in-the-wall diner you love so well, point them to this blog entry, and politely suggest they pull their head out.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food