Friday, August 27, 2010

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

It's getting late in the last calendar month of summer, even some of the schools have already opened and sucked kids off the playgrounds and swings, out of pools and trees, ending their summer, which has been the 7th hottest in 140-something years of Chicago's weather history. I'm almost ready for fall and cool blanket-at-night type weather, but for now I'm good with the continued heat and bowls of summer tomatoes and the nearing end to the harvest of our CSA, which has been a thoroughly enjoyed experience this summer. There's so much tasty stuff at the farmer's market pick-up site too, local ma and pa enterprises with all sorts of goodies- from various dead animal and fish proteins to fresh-cut flowers, artisan breads, and of course gorgeous fruits and vegetables at every turn. And your requisite dogs, strollers, hippies and hipsters with their tattoos and fixies. All good in the hood.

By now you've eaten the wide range of summer salsas at parties- from the store bought, (the quality of which from Aldi's or gas station to Whole Paycheck), to the runny salsa at the mexican place having margaritas al fresco, to the freshly homemade and delicious tomato salsas. This recipe brings a different element versus the raw salsa, as roasting the tomatillos yields a sweet and savory combo, unique in what you've scarfed down so far this year.

You can add a few hot peppers to this without the end result being beyond your spice level, so throw some in if you got em. Some long ahaheim works great, with one jalapeno or two serranos as well. Fresh out of the garden or off the balcony/deck/rooftop preferred.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
about 4 C

1.5 lb tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed, halved (little guys) or quartered
1 green bell pepper, rough chop
chili peppers- 1 jalapeno, 2 serrano, 1 anaheim, habanero if you so crasy, whatever you got/desire of heat level
1/2 yellow onion, large dice
3 cloves garlic, smashed and halved
1/2 ts cumin, optional
1/2 ts kosher
1/2 C cilantro leaves, somewhat packed
2 ts good balsamic vinegar

Fire up the hotbox to four honey. Place chopped tomatillo, pepper, garlic and onion on a sheet pan. Drizzle with oil, S&P, cumin if using, then mix well. Yes, get in there with your hands and touch your food. Roast for 12 minutes, then remove from oven a give it a nice stir up. Roast for another 7-12 minutes until lightly browned and smelling all delicious. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, up to a couple hours.

Add the veg to the bowl of your food pro with the metal blade, be sure to include all accumulated juices from the cool down. Add the balsamic vinegar and a touch more fresh S&P. Pulse until desired consistency, about 10 pulses, using a spatula to wipe down the bowl after the first few pulses. Taste and adjust with seasonings if necessary.

The tomatillos range in color, just as tomatoes can have-

I heart you summer. I thought it was just for your tomatoes, but now I'm seeing tomatillos.

I did have a camera shot of the roasted tomatillos, but somehow the files became corrupt. Unlike Blagojevich. Damn stubborn old lady couldn't swing the vote. Oh well. Who's next up for Governor of Illinois, or locally known as 2-1 odds to go to jail?

This is fantastic just with some tortilla chips, then progress into some *grilled texicken fajitas, or perhaps atop your favorite **breakfast scramble?

*chicken breasts rubbed with what is pretty much Emeril's essence, with a few ts more ground black tellicherry peppercorns. The paprika in the premixed essence is a mix of hot and sweet smoked. Enjoy with warm fajitas- grilled peppers and onions, sour cream and freshly grated cheddar or jack cheese, hot sauce optional.

**chorizo, new red potato hash, onion, peppers, cheese, fresh jalapeno

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pesto Chicken Pizza

It must be something inherent to man not to grow weary of the pizza pie. I could easily eat some form of pizza 4 days a week and for any of the meals- breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, brunch, blunch, lupper, I could even have pizza for linner. I would eat pizza on a plane and I would eat pizza on a train. How many meals in a row have you eaten pizza?

It's been a while since the last pizza post. And it seems I've been using the same dough recipe for a while? Then it is about time to put a touch more flavor into it with a easy trick- time. Let me be more specific- fermentation time. An overnight 'mother' will give the dough a more complex flavor. Oh, did I mention it only takes about 2 minutes to put together? Try it next time instead of the usual dough!

The pesto recipe will yield about 1 C, you will have a few TBs leftover, and that will be a good thing. Gotta ton of basil on your hands? Perhaps you want to double the batch and make this too? Fresh basil pesto keeps well in the freezer, just cover with a bit of EVOO.

The most condensed way to do this- the mother is the day before or very early morning of, then finish off the dough and while that is proofing you bake the chicken while making the pesto. After you punch down the dough and let rest, the chicken will be cool enough to dice up. Get after it. Alternatively, you could let the dough rest in a ball in the fridge for up to 2 days after proofing and punching down. Get after it later.

Pesto Chicken Pizza

2 C fresh basil, packed
4 cloves garlic, halved
1/4 C walnuts, chopped (or pine nuts, but the $ is like gold lately? WTW?)
2/3 C good EVOO, divided
1/2 C good parmigiano reggiano, grated
1/2 C pecorino, grated

2 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 C mozzarella, grated
1/4 C parmigiano-reggiano
basil leaves

1/2 C lukewarm water
1/2 C AP flour
1/4 ts active dry yeast (from packet)
pinch flour

2 C bread flour
1/2 C water
the rest of the yeast (from packet)
1 ts kosher salt

Some will tell you making pesto in a food pro is not the proper method. Some people have that sort of time of their hands, and the equipment (mezzaluna, anyone?). The time involved vs. the tastes worth the time equation is not balanced to me.

For the pesto-
In a food pro, combine the basil, walnuts, garlic, S&P, and a couple TBs of EVOO. Pulse a few times to combine, then scrape down the bowl with a spatula. With the machine running, drizzle in the rest of the EVOO to incorporate to the consistency you desire, the 2/3C is just a guideline. Add in the cheeses last, pulse a few times to combine. Taste for seasonings and add S&P if necessary.

For the mother-
Add the 1/2 C lukewarm water to the bowl of your stand mixer. Sprinkle the 1/4 ts yeast and a pinch of flour over the water. Let sit until a little foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the 1/2 C of flour and stir on low to combine. Scrape down the sides of your bowl if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and then a clean kitchen towel, place in a moderately warm, draft-free area overnight, or for about 8-12 hours. Your mother, sponge, pre-ferment, biga, levain, or whatever your part of the world calls it, should be nice and bubbly, that's CO2 doin some work.

Finishing the dough-
Put your mom back under the mixer fitted with dough hook. Add the water, flour, and salt. Mix on speed 2 for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. I like to knead for a couple minutes by hand too, just to feel some dough in my hands and work it a bit more. By hand is always best, you can knead by hand for about 10 minutes too. I like incorporating both so my forearm muscles don't get too big. Once you have a nice tight ball of dough, place into a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Place in a moderately warm, draft-free area to proof, about 1.5-2 hrs, or until doubled in size.

For the chicky-
Any method you choose, I don't like to grill or pan fry because I don't want to develop too much of a crust. I season with S&P, then bake for about 10 minutes per side at 350F. All depends on the size of your breasts, of course. Boiling/poaching is also a viable option.

For the pie-
Fire up the hotbox to 500°F, place your rack with pizza stone on the lowest position. You want to preheat the oven for at least 30 minutes, ensuring it is blazing hot. Once your dough has proofed, punch down to release the gas and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Place on a lightly floured counter or board and stretch into a 5" disc. I like to use a rolling pin and roll outwards from the center, so you are not killing the thing all over. My stone is square, I roll out an appropriate shape for the stone, about 12x13" or so. If the dough is too springy, just let sit for another 5 minutes or so.

Now that you've got the dough rolled out, place onto a pizza peel that is well-covered in cornmeal. To remind you of that purpose- they will help your dough slide onto your stone easily, otherwise you'll have a very ugly calzone. If you don't have a stone or peel, you can substitute with upside-down sheet pans. But I wouldn't. If you like pie enough, you'll get a stone and peel.

Top the dough with about a TB of EVOO and spread evenly. Top that with about 3/4 C pesto, then with most of the chicken. There is usually a bit leftover to snack on. Add the cheeses and scatter a couple basil leaves on top.

Bake until the cheese is golden, bubbly, and damn delicious, about 8-12 minutes.

Resist the temptation to slice into this for at least 240 seconds. Then please enjoy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Spicy Carrot Soup

I know what you are thinking. Soup in the winter?

We are in the dog days of summer, after all. In case you haven't noticed, and judging by the attendance you haven't, we in Chicago are on a hot streak- the 46th day in a row of 80F or higher. And just like the Cubs' bats with RISP, I don't see that streak ending anytime soon.

The soup-in-summer thing is sort of a cry for a change-up, as the dew points and humidity have been quite oppressive for the last week or so.

And of course it's not that I'm tired of eating one of the culinary calendar's highlights, though: the very local, very ugly, very tasty summer tomato- Beats the shit out of winter squash.

Most recipes for carrot soup will say to find the freshest carrots you can possibly obtain. Present should be bright, fresh greens, nice firm, mostly unblemished carrots. A giant box of just that from the CSA share was my source and impetus for this dish. Don't substitute packaged carrots, go for the fresh stuff. They just taste better, as you get to more of the natural sugars before conversion into starch.

Eat your vegetables. Or you don't get dessert.

Spicy Carrot Soup

6-8 servings

2 TB butter


1 large onion, large dice

1.5 lb large carrots, medium dice

3 medium red potatoes, large dice

2 stalks celery, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno (optional)

2 cups chicken stock, homemade preferred

2 cups filtered water

1 cup milk

1 ts salt


Heat your big ass cast-iron dutch oven over medium heat. Add fats, then onion, carrot, potato, celery, and jalapeno (or part of) if using. Cook until somewhat softened, about 8 minutes. Add in the garlic with a couple minutes left.

Add the liquids and S&P, stir well and turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, until the carrots are very soft. Zap with a stick blender or process in batches in blender. Strain through a sieve, pressing out as much liquid as possible. I don't taste for salt at this point, as I like finish with a little sea salt for flavor and texture.

That's simple and tasty. And if you like spicy, it's simple and tasty and spicy.

Spicy Carrot soup with fresh thyme, pink Himalayan sea salt

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shrimp, Pea Risotto

Pantry cooking tip #24- Always have arborio rice or something similar on hand, you can make about versions of risotto. Spring to Fall, Winter to Spring, it's never out of style.

I like to purchase the frozen shrimp that you can pick yourself with the ice scoop in that large, clear plastic bin. Yes, I'm going to pay for the weight of the ice. That, to me, is worth the extra half dollar when it comes to choosing my own, and knowing how long they've been thawed.

As always, your taste buds will applaud you for choosing the very best ingredients- from really good parm-reg (with the stamp on the rind, of course) to your own much-loved homemade chicken stock. Or for this risotto, it was shrimp stock. It's easy to make, you just use the shells and tails from your peeled shrimp. Unless you make a shrimp cocktail for 25, it might take a couple purchases to have enough, just freeze em. Add the usual onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, peppercorns, couple pieces smashed garlic, and maybe that parm-reg rind you've saved for just this purpose-it's simple. Buying shrimp with shell and tail on is always gonna yield tastier results. But yes, you can use chicken stock too as usual for this recipe. I like to keep chicken, shrimp, and lobster stock in the freezer in 2 C portions, always ready to lend a hand. It will take tails and shells from about 30-40 large shrimp to make 8 C shrimp stock, this recipe is even endorsed by Martha. All varieties can be frozen for 6 months.

Not speaking of beef stock, in the most helpful cooking magazine ever, Cook's Illustrated, a recent article discussed the best beef broth. Guess who won? (All I'm gonna say is that it's really made by Colavita, and it was rated very closely with College Inn.)

Shrimp, Pea Risotto
four servings

5 C shrimp stock
2 TB unsalted butter
3/4 C yellow onion, fine dice
1.5 C arborio rice
3/4 C dry white wine (reserve of which you are currently drinking)
pinch saffron threads (if ya got em)
2 TB fresh parsley, chopped
3/4 C parm-reg, reserved
1/3 C cooked green peas

2 TB butter
1 ts garlic, minced
1/4 ts chili flake
1 lb. 20-4 size shrimp (or your preference, whatever look best)
1/4 C dry white wine

In a medium saucepan, keep the stock warm, just under a simmer.

For the shrimp-
In a medium skillet, melt the 2 TB butter over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes, stir for thirty seconds, then add the shrimp by hand in an even layer. Cook for two minutes, or until shrimp start to turn pink. Flip, add the 1/4 C wine, cook for another two minutes or until cooked through. Do not overcook, unless you like your shrimp rubbery. Drain and reserve liquid.

For the risotto-
In a large saute pan, melt the butter and add the EVOO over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir thoroughly to coat each grain with some fat, about thirty secs. Add the saffron, if using, and then 1 C of the warm stock and stir constantly for 1 minute. The rice will take about 21 minutes to cook, you want to gradually add stock in 1/2 C increments. You don't have to stir the entire time, more like regularly. Don't rush when adding the stock- wait until most of the liquid from the previous addition has been absorbed. You may not need the entire 5 C of stock. Once the rice is tender and creamy with just a slight bite remaining, add the reserved cooking liquid, shrimp, parsley, 1/2 C parm-reg and peas, then turn the heat to low and stir it up to warm the shrimpies for about 3 minutes. Season to taste with S&P. Top with the remaining parm-reg and more parsley, if desired.

Buon Appetito, uhhh?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Happy Birthday!

Really? BLT is already one year old?!?

How will we celebrate? With pork, of course!

Well, it all began on the grill with mesquite-smoked chicken wings (that was 65 posts ago). It would only be fitting then, to return to the smoker for the anniversary post. But no chicken wings this time, we're going with the boss hog- St. Louis-style baby back pork ribs- they're a little leaner than normal baby backs, due to a little more trimming, one more pass of the band saw for them tips.

You can find the recipe and methodology here, but it's pretty basic- low+slow=BBQ. No, cooking burgers for 10 minutes on a gas grill is not barbecuing, that's outdoor grilling. BBQ, the real deal, requires low temps and a long cooking time. The dry rub was modified a little, as I ran out of ancho, added a bit more garlic, etc.

Notice the smoke ring- that's the pinkish appearance in the meat formed when the carbon and nitrogen oxides react with the myoglobin in the meat, but you probably just want to know that it's a sign of tasty. If you really wanna get in it, this is a great explanation.

The set-up-

A smoker complete with water pan and temp controls would be be great, and one day I hope to find that under the Christmas tree. Until then, this is how it works- a poultry rack to hold the ribs, set over indirect heat at 230F for 6 hours. The pan gets rotated every half hour or so, to cook them evenly. The direct heat side is for the combustion of wood chips- mesquite, hickory, applewood mixture. I used a smoker box that was soaked for 2 hours in apple cider, and numerous smaller packets made from aluminum foil. These tended to burn up quick and were replaced on the half hour while the pan was being rotated. You don't want to open the lid too much, gotta let that smoke do some work. If you have vents, keep them open to avoid creosote build-up.

BLT has learned a lot in one year, from taking decent pictures with a point-and-shoot to how to super-juice a lemon. (zap in the 'wave for thirty seconds)

Maybe for the second birthday, we'll do the bacon explosion. Might be time to think about life insurance.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fennel Slaw with Oregano Dressing

My favorite part of the decision to sign up for a CSA share this summer? It's not the green garlic or spring asparagus, not the freshly-dug new potatoes, not the juicy heirloom tomatoes or the lettuce that keeps for 10+ days. It's the things that present a challenge- like beets, kale, or fennel.

We've gotten a shit ton of fennel so far in our CSA share, it's been daunting to find new ways to make tasty things to eat with it. Chilled soup or vichyssoise, we haven't gotten there yet. Don't be afraid of the anise flavor, the sugar and acid will help keep that at bay. If you like to pound a few Jaromir bombs, however, you probably have no qualms with fennel.

The vinaigrette was adapted from Elise, she has a plethora of recipes on a classic, long-running blog. There's a reason why when googling a recipe, there's always a hit from simplyrecipes in the top ten. She's got good stuff, and a lot of it.

A key here is slicing the fennel bulb as thin as possible, a mandoline would be ideal, or you'll have to use some knife skills to get it thin, but it ain't too difficult.

Fennel Slaw with Oregano Dressing
6 servings

1 large or two small fennel bulbs, trimmed (reserve fronds) and cored, very thinly sliced
1/2 medium carrot, halved, very thinly sliced
1 medium to large radish, halved, very thinly sliced
1 large shallot, halved lengthwise, very thinly sliced
1 TB sugar
4 TB lemon juice
1/2 C good quality EVOO
1/2 ts dijon mustard
1 ts fresh oregano, chopped (a pinch of dried will be okay, although will not have same effect as fresh)
1 ts kosher

For making dressings, vinaigrette, sauces, etc. a stick blender is so easy and affordable. You don't have to mince the hell out of the garlic and shallot, just chop it up and throw it in. Or, you have to slowly add the fat, EVOO, while whisking to emulsify the dressing. Or use your food pro or blender, but that's a lot to wash afterward.

Combine the lemon juice, sugar, mustard, S&P, oregano, and EVOO. Combine thoroughly via your method of choice.

In a large mixing bowl, add the sliced fennel, carrot, radish, and shallot. Pour the dressing over and mix well. Top with some chopped fennel fronds. Chill in the fridge for about an hour, as with the coleslaw, you can serve cool or at room temp.

If you're using fresh oregano, throw in some of the tiny leaves if you have em.

It's healthy, tasty, and refreshing. Try it!!