Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pineapple Express

This is a story about figs, and a dessert that could not be recreated.
About five weeks ago I was invited up to Boothbay, Maine by a chef friend of mine, let's call him GwaG (short for Geoff with a G). It was his mother's 70th birthday and the whole family was gathering to mark the occasion with some serious weekend feasting. GwaG and I would be in charge of dessert after the formal birthday meal. We both agreed that something simple and rustic would be suitable. I knew that nothing was simpler than frozen puff pastry and that the hard work would be coming up with a fruit filling for a rustic tart. In late September the blueberries are long gone from Maine's rocky shores and apples seemed just too damned pedestrian to wow a crowd of gourmands. So I went a whole other route with something savory and sweet at the same time. That's how I came up with brandy-soaked dried Kalamata figs, goat cheese and fresh mint. It was risky experimenting like that on crowd of foodies, but nothing ventured, nothing gained someone once said. And the results? Well, the tart made a repeat appearance the following night by command of Mother GwaG herself, so one could assume it didn't suck.
When I went looking for dried figs during yesterday's record-breaking snow storm, none could be found, and I wasn't about to go gallivanting around the Bronx and Westchester counties looking for them when perfectly adequate substitutes eyed me from the shelves of TJs.
Chili Pineapple Tart - a Blog.O.Food original
  • 1 package (¼ cup) Trader Joe's Chile Spiced Pineapple
  • ¼ cup Frangelico liqueur
  • ½ Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 sheet puff pastry dough
  • 4 oz goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp fresh mint chiffonade
Macerating fruit
In a stainless steel mixing bowl, toss the dried pineapple, liqueur and brown sugar to thoroughly combine. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for at least an hour, or overnight.
Pre-heat your oven to 400°F. Strain the macerated pineapple through a fine sieve, reserving the liquid. Thaw the puff pastry sheet for 10 minutes before rolling out on a floured work surface to roughly form a 10"x14" rectangle.
Transfer the dough to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Lightly brush some of the reserved fruit liquid on the tart crust to within 1 inch of the four edges. Arrange pineapple evenly on top of the syrup. Crumble the goat cheese over the fruit then top with the mint. Artfully fold over the edges of the pastry to make a rustic looking tart, and move to the oven.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust has risen and develops a nice golden brown color. Remove tart from the baking sheet and allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving.
Chili pineapple tart with goat cheese and mint
There is a welcome and not-unpleasant kick from the chili in my tart. It really enlivens the taste buds, and as with the figs, the cheese and mint play off one another in subtle and tantalizing ways. And I never met a food that a little hooch couldn't improve!
Did I say adequate substitutes? Well, I do have a gift for understatement. The pineapple tart far exceeded anything I had tried in that arena previously. I think we can safely say I hit this one out of the ball park. I'll be pulling a chili pineapple tart out my arsenal anytime I'm looking to score a few points with the "ladies", if you catch my drift.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, August 21, 2011

You've Been Chopped

After a couple of simply lovely days here on the east coast, we were treated to a spectacular thunderstorm Friday around sundown. I turned off all the lights, opened all the blinds and watched the pyrotechnics - red wine at the ready - well away from any electrical appliances. But with the light show and canon reports came hot & steamy weather that has pressed down us ever since.
As most of you know, I'm a California boy. I consider 45% relative humidity as redlining it. I start losing alarming amounts of water weight at anything over fifty percent. Rapidly. And embarrassingly. On the un-air-conditioned NYC subway platforms I look like the proverbial cat that fell into a well and is none too happy about it. Therefore, my Saturday shopping was simply out of the question; I would have to make do with whatever was in the cupboards. So I decided to make a game out of it, my own version of the Food Network's "Chopped". I did have some frozen chicken legs and thighs to act as a starting point. The test would be to come up with something besides the predictable and predictably boring grilled meat.
So get a load of this.
Balsamic & Dried Fruit Glaze - by Blog O. Food
  • ¾ cup dried mixed fruit, roughly chopped*
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • 1 Tbsp raw cane sugar
  • 1 tsp Ancho chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • ⅛ tsp ground white pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Mix thoroughly, reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered - stirring occasionally - for 30 minutes, or until the cooking liquid has reduced to a thick syrup.
Meanwhile, rinse and thoroughly dry the chicken, season liberally with salt and pepper, then brown on both sides (3-4 minutes per side) in a little olive oil in a large sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Once the poultry has some good color, turn heat up to high and add some Marsala wine, between half and a full cup. Just enough to come up about a quarter of the way on the chicken pieces. Bring to a boil. Cover the pan with the lid, and place in a 375°F pre-heated oven. Roast for about 20 minutes. Just long enough to cook the chicken through.
As an accompaniment, I toyed with rice, beans, noodles, even some grits in the larder before spying orzo behind some dried chilies. Perfect for standing up to, and soaking up juices and sauce. Just follow the cooking directions on the package. Arrange cooked chicken atop a big mound of stuff, and spoon the glaze and syrup artfully over everything. The money shot will take care of itself.
Seeing as their was only one contestant in my Chopped challenge, I had a 50/50 chance of walking away with the crown, but the whole exercise coulda blown up in my face as well. I'm happy to report it did not. You try this dish, and I guarantee you'll win top honors with your own judging panel at home.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
*Dried apricots, cranberries, golden raisins, cherries, and blueberries.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Smoky Red Lentil Soup

 "Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup?" ~ Miss Manners
Soup in August? Yeah well, we've had two despicably dreary weekend days. Low, slate-gray clouds, a relentless downpour, and heaps & heaps of self-pity. I needed some cheering up, something to take my mind off my pitiful sorrows.
Smoky Red Lentil Soup - A Blog O. Food original
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp sweet curry
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • 2 cups red lentils, rinsed
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 3 red peppers, roasted, skins peeled
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 6 strips apple wood bacon, fried crisp
Pre-heat oven to 450°F. Bring up the temperature of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sweat until translucent, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute to release its oils. Add the celery and carrot and cook uncovered until most of the moisture has cooked off and the vegetables begin to soften.
Add the tomato paste and spices, stir to combine and cook for about 5-7 minutes. Increase the heat to high, add the lentils and chicken stock, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Cover the Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until lentils are soft.
Meanwhile, coat red peppers in olive oil and place on a baking sheet in the hot oven. Rotate and turn the peppers frequently until charred all over. Remove peppers from the oven and let rest in a mixing bowl covered with a moist towel.
After removing the stems, seeds, and charred skin of the cooled peppers, purée in a food processor, along with the lentil soup. Purée in batches if necessary. Return the smooth soup to the pot, stir in the cream and adjust the seasoning for salt. Keep covered and warm over a low heat until ready for serving.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls, gently mound a few pieces of chopped bacon in the center of the bowl, and offer up toasted baguette slices on the side.
I have to admit that every time I make a creamed soup I covet greatly Williams-Sonoma's immersion blender, and I am just about one more disappointment away from some serious impulse spending, but really a food processor works perfectly adequately.
And what about the soup? I wanted rich smoky flavor, and I got just that. All the paprika and roasted peppers made sure of it. The curry rounded out all the other elements. Bacon needs no justification, least ways, not in these pages.
Curled up on the couch watching bad TV and slurping warm, hearty soup on a crummy weekend. Sometimes, only the guilty pleasures will get you through the rough spots.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Monday, August 8, 2011

(Not So) Secret Ingredient

I have to give hat tips to the New York Times and the Food Network for the wonderfulness of this dish. Coinciding with my search for the perfect taco in California, posted a delicious looking entry that could very well win top honors. So when I returned to NYC, I gathered all the ingredients from Trader Joe's and drew up battle plans. The second nod goes out to The Food Porn Network. Unless the Rachel Maddow show is on, it's always at low volume in the background. I think I was updating my Facebook status for the umpteenth time one day when I overheard someone mention cocoa powder. For once, my short-term memory served me flawlessly, because when I racked my brain for a new recipe for the portion of pork loin leftover after the Times' tacos, a light bulb went on, and the rest as they say is... Well see for yourself.
Braised Mexican Pork - a Blog O. Food recipe
  • 1½ lb pork loin roast
  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 medium white onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground Ancho chili pepper
  • 1 tsp ground Chipotle chili pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained
  • Chicken stock, enough to cover pork loin half way
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
By now, my loyal minions, you should have all mastered the rudiments of braising. If not, shame on you! But I'm here to help.
Sear the pork loin on both sides in a little cooking oil (bacon fat for us shameless Mexicans) in a large heavy sauté pan or Dutch oven, anything with a tight-fitting lid. Don't fuss with the cut of meat. Place it in the hot oil, then leave it alone. Allow it to develop some good color.
Remove the pork from the pan, reduce your heat slightly and sweat your onions, stirring occasionally. At the point where they're gonna start caramelizing, add the garlic and cook for one more minute, just until the garlic is fragrant.
Here's where the alchemy begins. Bump up the heat again, add the tomatoes, spices and cocoa, and let everything cook quite through - seven to eight minutes I'd say - before adding any cooking liquid. Stir the contents of the pan, but don't worry if the bottom of the pan starts to get sticky and brown. That's where the magic lies.
Jack the heat up to high and add the chicken stock. Use a wooden spoon to loosen up all the fond (the brown stuff) on the bottom of the pan. You're releasing intense flavors by doing so. Nestle the pork in the center of the broth and vegetables, reduce the heat to it's absolute lowest*, cover and simmer for hours.
Two hours in, I flipped the meat over, gave everything a gentle shake, covered and simmered for another couple hours. By the end, the meat needed little in the way of persuasion to fall apart of its own accord. Just for kicks, I cracked the lid on the pan to let the sauce reduce a bit.
I had some extra red bell peppers lying about, taking up space. I tortured them over an open flame until the entire outter skin was charred black. Adding insult to injury, I smothered them in a brown paper bag for 10 minutes so that their 3rd degree burns would peel right off, leaving nothing but sweet, tender flesh for me to eat with my pork. I'm a monster, I know.
You have to be a little careful with Mexican spices and  hard experience is really the only teacher when it comes to combinations and proportions. I can caution you that Chipotle chili has an INTENSE smoky flavor, with the ability to overpower just about anything it's added to, so take care there. With the fieriness of the Ancho powder, some tempering influence was called for. Hence the cocoa powder. It was just the counterbalancing force I was looking for, and elevated my chili sauce to new heights. Characteristically, I was the first to compliment the chef. Now it's your turn!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
*Most gas ranges cannot achieve real simmering temperatures without the flame going out. I use the low-tech method of creating a sort of halo with a piece of aluminum foil wadded into a strand and curved into a circle. I put it between the heat and the sauté pan, That elevates the food away from the heat, thus reducing the temperature. It's failsafe.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Woody Guthrie sang about b-e-e-t-s...

...not b.e.a.t.s." I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts - Jon Doe & Exene Cervenka.
Everyone gets a craving now and then, ice cream, pickles, a really good burger, but how many people - besides me and the insane - stop dead in their tracks between loads of laundry and decide they have to have beets for dinner. Don’t answer that, I already know.
I hated beets as a kid, but I grew up with those nasty things that came canned so, no wonder, right? But years ago I was in a restaurant, who knows now which one or where, when the server convinced me to try a roasted beet salad before my entree. It was an epiphany. They were woody, earthy, and just a little sweet from the caramelized sugars. I probably made a cartoon face after the first bite.
Roasted Beet Salad with Balsamic Glaze - by Blog O. Food
  • 4 medium-sized beets, greens trimmed and well scrubbed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • 6 oz pancetta, cut into ¼" cubes
  • 2 Tbsp, toasted shaved almonds
  • ½ lb Frisée, torn apart
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 2-4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400° F. Line a small baking dish with aluminum foil. Rub beets with olive oil and season with salt, then place in a single layer in the dish. Cover the beets with another piece of foil. Bake for at least 90 minutes. You can test for doneness by piercing the beets with a fork, but the longer they roast, the sweeter they'll get.
While the beets roast, render the fat out of the pancetta by browning in a small skillet over medium to medium-low heat. Start everything out with a  dollop of bacon fat like your granny taught you. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes, or until crispy and all the fat rendered. Reserve fat for future use. I use a creamer I bought on Great Chebeague. Grandma used a coffee can, you can too. It'll add the faintest soupçon of legitimacy to your kitchen. I keep mine frozen between uses.
Once you've removed the beets from the oven and they're cooling, start the balsamic glaze. In a small skillet add the vinegar and sugar. Heat on high until the vinegar has reduced to a thick syrup. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the heat.
Once the beets are cool enough to handle, carefully peel away the outer skin. Yes, this fastidiously anal Nancy uses gloves. Do you know how expensive a manicure is these days! Quarter the beets.
Add the beets, pancetta, and lemon zest to the Frisée in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle the balsamic glaze over the ingredients and gently toss to distribute everything. Pile servings on salad plates, sprinkle the almonds on top, and garnish with lemon wedges. Serves 3-4 as a starter salad.
I got my vegetables, greens, protein and a little crunch all from one dish, and a tasty one at that. Kinda nice to eat light and healthy, and just in time for bikini season!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
Although my boy Matty O. Food hasn't worn a bikini in years, he knows this recipe is for him. Three words, bro: Show And Tell.