Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wednesday: the New Sunday

Hand-painted Italian tileWhat does one do with all that leftover polenta? Don't even think about opening the microwave door. The only reason to even approach that accursed machine is to pick it up and toss it from a 14-story window. Nope, lay out the polenta on a cutting slab and use a thin wire or filament (I use dental floss!), cut it into 2-inch squares and bake in a 275° oven for 20 minutes. Then take whatever's on hand and make a spread: mushrooms, olives, capers, anchovies, gherkins, whatever.
Sun-dried tomato spread
I had some sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies and some herbs that I chopped and tossed with some olive oil, salt and ground white pepper. It was salty, tangy, fruity, herbally and delicious.
Baked polenta with sun-dried tomato spread
Five minutes before I took the polenta out of the oven, I sprinkled the wedges with some leftover grated parmesan cheese because I was feeling randy. I ate the entire plate in front of the television watching baseball, and then sat rubbing my belling into the 6th inning.
Needs more polenta wedgesI did everything short of licking the plate, including running my finger through the salt and crusty parmesan cheese. It was the third glass of wine that emboldened me. What of the leftover scallops, you say? They never made it beyond lunch.
Buon appetito - Blog O. Food

Shortcut to Penance

PolentaI have felt such the fraud all week. Posting hobby photos on a food blog! What was I thinking? I'm better than that, and you, my loyal readers, deserve better. So, even though it's a Wednesday, and I haven't had a day off since Easter, I rifled through the kitchen last night looking for something worthy of You Gonna Finish That?. I think you'll be pleased with what I was able to pull together in under an hour.
Scrounging through your cupboards can lead to some very rewarding discoveries. I just wasn't in the mood for anything last night until I pushed aside canisters of all-purpose and almond flours. There, tucked in the shadows, was my old friend polenta. I went the whole winter without a single dollop of "Italian grits". I simply couldn't believe it, and aimed to remedy that oversight posthaste. In the freezer were some scallops from Trader Joe's, shallots and garlic in what passes for my root cellar (bottom cupboard, wicker basket), a little Pinot Grigio from the night before... and just like that, voila, a menu!
Polenta with sea scallops in white wine and shallots
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 Tbsp Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
  • 16 oz sea scallops, fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
Whisk polenta into 2 cups chicken stock
Start by slowly whisking polenta into 2 cups chicken stock in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Gradually add remaining broth to sauce pan
Gradually whisk the remaining stock into the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring briskly periodically. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes until polenta is moist and creamy.
Whip in parmesan cheese off the heat
After 30 minutes, remove polenta from heat and whip in parmesan cheese and 2 Tbsp butter for a silky finish.
Finish with unsalted butter for a silky polenta
Rinse scallops under cool water, pat dry and season with salt & pepper
Meanwhile, rinse thawed scallops in a colander under cool water. Pat dry with paper towels and season with salt & pepper.
Sauté scallops in melted butter
Sauté in 2 Tbsp of melted butter over medium-high heat for 6 minutes.
Flip scallops 6 minutes into cooking
Flip scallops and cook for two more minutes. Remove scallops to a warm platter and keep covered loosely. Add shallots to sauté pan and cook for 2 minutes, add garlic and cook for another minute. Add white wine & herbs and de-glaze the pan, letting the sauce reduce by one quarter.
Polenta with sea scallops in shallots and white wine
Pour finished polenta into the middle of a serving platter and pile on the sautéed scallops. Top with the shallot and wine sauce and serve immediately.
Sweet, tender scallops. Salty, tangy polenta. Rich, sinful sauce. Start to finish: 51 minutes. And to think, I had takeout menus in my hand just an hour before. I'll never complain about having nothing to eat ever again.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sins of Omission

St Peter - Sotirios Panailidis, IconographerI don't get it, I actually feel guilty if I don't post something at least weekly on this here You Gonna Finish That? blog thingy. If it weren't for regular visitors from Pittsford, NY, Santa Cruz, CA and London, England, I'm not sure I'd bother. (That's not true!) Anyway, I am über-busy this weekend; triple booked from now until Sunday night. It's coffee and toast then out the door.
I'll be back next weekend, and in a couple more weeks school is out.  I'm sure I can find plenty of ways to stay occupied here in Blogton. In the mean time, here are a few of my favorite things:
Tower cottageBungalow floor plan
Small spaces.
Chandler's Cove, Great Chebeague Island, MaineOld fisherman's rowboat, Strib, Fyn, Denmark
Island communities.
Road Runner, Lake Havasu, ArizonaBurrowing Owl, El Centro, California
London Bridge Golf Club, Lake Havasu, ArizonaSnow Creek Golf Course, Mammoth Lakes, California
Cabo Matapalo, Costa RicaCabo Matapalo, Costa Rica
The Toronado, San Francisco, California20 Tanks Brewery (now defunct), San Francisco, California
Cooking goes without mentioning, of course...
Squawk at you soon - Blog O. Food

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Enchilada Casserole & Tortilla Soup

Tloque Nahuaque - Quetzalcoatl motif I was gonna save this recipe for my summer trip to Chebeague, but I'm hungry now, damn it. This dish has developed quite the cult following with devotees from San Diego to Limestone, Maine. I can only take partial credit for it, though. Whenever my mother was feeling particularly ambitious, she would make enchiladas for dinner. It was a four-burner, two-person, labor-intensive affair, and I was at her elbow every step of the way browning the ground beef and learning to soften tortillas just so in corn oil. Ma finished the production line by stuffing and rolling the enchiladas herself. My stepmother, by way of contrast, had a simpler method; layering tortillas, sauce, meat and cheese in a large baking dish. While easier to prepare, hers were always drier and a lot less savory than my mother's. One year, I decided to the merge the two schools of thought and come up with something of my own. Yet, both their spirits linger in every tasty bite.
Enchilada casserole
Enchilada casserole
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ½ lb each ground beef, ground pork, ground veal
  • 4 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground white pepper
  • black olives, sliced
  • 2 doz corn tortillas
  • 1 lb sharp cheddar cheese. grated
  • 1 lb Monterey jack cheese, grated
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • cooking oil (rendered fat from ground meat plus enough vegetable oil to equal ½ cup)
  • 6 cups low sodium broth (vegetable or chicken)
While sweating onion and garlic in a large sauté pan over medium heat, combine ground meat and all the spices in a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to combine thoroughly, then add to the onions and garlic. Cover and cook just to remove the pink color from the meat. Break up meat as it cooks. Transfer meat to a bowl, toss with the sliced olives and set aside. 
Sweat the chopped onionAdd the sliced garlic and soften
Mix in the ground meat and cook slowlyWhen the meat is just cooked through, transfer to bowl
Add enough vegetable oil to make ½-cup cooking medium and make a roux with the flour. Cook through until the roux begins to brown, then add the chili powder and continue to cook another couple of minutes. Whisk in the broth and stir to thoroughly combine. Move to back burner over low heat.
Add butter to pan drippingsAdd flour to start a roux
Add chili powder and stock to browned rouxCook chili sauce to reduce
Heat ¼-inch peanut oil in a small skillet over medium, medium-high heat until it just shimmers. Quickly fry tortillas, one at a time, flipping once until just crisp, but still pliable. Dredge tortillas in chili sauce, and layer in the bottom of a large baking dish. Tortillas should overlap in the dish.
Fry corn tortillas to just crisp
Dredge tortillas in chili sauce
Once you have layered the bottom of the baking dish with tortillas, spread a third of the meat over the layer, then top with grated cheese. Now repeat the frying/layering process two more times.
Add meat on top of tortilla layer
Continue with another layer of tortillasFinish with shredded cheddar and jack cheeses
Cover casserole with aluminum foil and bake on a sheet pan in a 275° pre-heated oven for 45-60 minutes, or until sauce begins to bubble in the baking dish. Uncover and let casserole set for 15 minutes before serving. Serves and army.
Finished Enchilada Casserole
Tortilla soup
I don't think any gringo loves Mexican food more than Rick Bayless. He has single-handedly altered the terrain of Mexican cuisine in the US with erudite study and enthusiastic delivery in his famous cookbooks, restaurants and PBS series. Here he has come up with one the easiest, most delicious tortilla soups I've ever tasted.
  • 6 corn tortillas
  • peanut oil for frying
  • 4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 2 pasilla or guajillo chilies, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 15 oz canned whole tomatoes, drained
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 6 oz queso fresco
  • 1 large avocado, cubed
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
Cut tortillas into ¼-inch strips. In a medium saucepan, heat ½ inch oil over medium heat until is shimmers. Add half the tortilla strips. Fry until golden brown and crisp. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels. Brown the remaining tortillas in the same fashion. Pour off all but a thin layer of hot oil and return pan to the heat. And the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, until browned, about 7 minutes. Press the garlic cloves against the side of the pan to extract as much oil as possible, then transfer the onion and garlic to a food processor. Add chilies to the hot pan. Toss quickly to toast. After 30-45 seconds, transfer chilies to paper towels. Add tomatoes to the food processor and purée mixture. Return to saucepan and reduce over medium-high heat until thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil, then partially cover and gently simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Salt to taste. To serve, divide cheese and avocado among warmed soup bowls. Ladle a portion of broth into each bowl, top with tortilla strips and some toasted chilies on top. Garnish with lime wedges.
Cut corn tortillas into strips and fryGuajillo chilies
Brown sliced onions and whole garlic clovesReduce tomato, garlic and onion purée to thick consistency
It is absolutely criminal eating this well, but somebody has to do it. I've courted lovers, surprised young kids who thought they didn't like Mexican food, even charmed widows out of their millions with this menu. One word of advise: make enough for leftovers. It just gets better and better with time. Oh, and reheat the casserole in the oven. If you tarnish my efforts by nuking it in a microwave, well then, please turn in your apron on your way out the door.
Enjoy - Blog O. Food

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Oh No! Meat Loaf Again!

Rocky Horror Picture Show lipsMention meat loaf to anyone born after 1984 and chances are they'll quote "Wedding Crasher" lines from a certain no-talent actor who would rather chew up scenery than work on his craft. But all the kids who weren't cool in high school hearken back to the banquet scene from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" where Eddie (the singer Meatloaf) was quite literally on the menu. Right on cue, cries of "Meat loaf again?" would bounce of the walls of the theater. It was a great way to spend a Friday night. Meatloaf, the artist, cultivated a respected if quirky body of work, most of it having nothing to do with cannibalism; like this blog entry! This is a pork and veal loaf adapted from a NY Times recipe.
Mushroom meat loaf with glazed carrots
Mushroom and Meat Loaf
  • ½ lb mushrooms
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • ½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb ground veal
  • ⅛ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ cup oats
  • ⅛ tsp red pepper flake
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp dill
  • ½ cup chopped tomatoes
  • Salt & pepper
Ground veal and pork, chopped onions and mushroomsA meat loaf still life
Soften onions in butter over medium heat is a sauté pan. Slice mushrooms while onions sweat. Add mushrooms to the pan and cook until their liquid evaporates. Put ground meat and the mushroom & onion mixture in a large mixing bowl. Add the nutmeg, oats, pepper flakes, beaten egg, heavy cream, dill and freshly ground black pepper. Blend well with hands. Pack the mixture into a loaf pan and smooth down the top. Spread chopped tomatoes on top. Place loaf pan in a large baking dish and fill the dish half way up the sides with boiling water. Place in a 400° pre-heated oven. Bake for 60-90 minutes, or until a meat thermometer stuck into the center of the loaf registers 160 degrees.
Soften chopped onionsAdd sliced mushrooms
Mushrooms with give up some liquidCook until liquid evaporates
Combine ground meat and mushroom mixturePress into a loaf pan and smooth down topTop with chopped tomatoes
Peel and trip carrotsReduce a butter and brown sugar glazeToss carrots in glaze and roast
I thought mashed potatoes seemed passé, so went with glazed carrots instead. While I washed and peeled a bunch of carrots, I reduced a glaze of a couple tablespoons each of butter, brown sugar and a little water. The carrots and glaze went into the oven the last 20 minutes of cooking for the meat loaf. I tossed them once or twice to keep coated and moist.
The ubiquitous meat loaf is frequently taken for granted. But it's reliable, easy stand-bys like this that round out a weekly menu. There is almost nothing you can do to screw up a meat loaf. Just like a frittata, almost anything goes. So keep meat loaf in heavy rotation, whatever your cultural signposts.
A cooling meat loaf
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food