Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto

I bet I'm the last guy on the block with a corded drill.  A little Skil model that has a generous 5' cord.  It has sent screws through plywood in setting a base layer for a new bathroom floor, it's bored through concrete in securing garage wall shelving.  All with an extension cord, of course.  It won't even reach across the bathroom to drill pilot holes for drywall anchors to hang the crap paper without the extra cord length.  Eight months to Christmas, I hope I can be good for the rest of the year and maybe Santa will upgrade my technology with one of them fancy battery-powered models.  I'd rather spend my own money on fresh wild gulf shrimp, very recently removed from their habitat and shipped in to my local fishmonger.  Now free of petroleum!  Sometimes an inspiration to cook something comes easy, like an email from said fishmonger with that week's fresh deals.  If you don't have your own spot then the grocery store will do.  

If I'm procuring shrimps from the local grocer, my first option is the raw, frozen, tail-on variety that are sold in 1 or 2 lb bags.  I save the tails and shell and once I have a good amount, make shrimp stock to use when making risottos like this.  If you ever cook a lobster at home, you better make your own lobster stock.  Canned chicken stock will be just fine too, or a mix of each.   For this dish I used 4 C of shrimp stock that I made, with 2 C of homemade chix stock. Frozen stock kept in small quantities (pickle jars) is easily defrosted in a water bath and ready for use. 

Risotto is always deliciously creamy and luxurious with good parmigiano-reggiano and a pinch of saffron threads.  Crocus Sativus, one of the most expensive seasonings in the world, just a little bit will do ya to deliver a lovely flavor and color to the rice.  Toss in some tender, simply seasoned sauteed shrimp and one of spring's most favorite vegetables, and you have a pretty easy and quick weeknight dinner.   They say asparagus is one of most difficult foods to pair wine with, but get a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc or pinot gris and I'm sure you'll be fine. 

Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto
6 servings

6 C stock (shrimp, fish, chicken)
2 TB butter
1/3 C yellow onion, minced
1 medium clove garlic, minced
2 C arborio rice
1/2 C dry white wine
pinch saffron threads
1 lb medium shrimp, shells and tail removed
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed (about 12-14 medium stalks) and cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, plus 2-3 TB reserved

Defrost the homemade stock you have one day ahead, then bring just to a boil in a medium pot, keep warm over low heat.  Or, warm up some store-bought stock.

With your shrimps at room temp, season lightly with S&P and saute over medium-high heat in a skillet with a TB each of EVOO and butter.  2-3 minutes on each side should do it, until just cooked, then set aside.  Saute the asparagus, adding a TB of butter if needed, until just crisp-tender which is 2-3 minutes, set aside.

In a large saute pan, melt 1 TB each of butter and EVOO over medium heat.  Saute the onion for 3-4 minutes, until soft and translucent but not browned.  Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds, then add in the rice.  Stir to coat the rice thoroughly with the fat, bout a minute or so.  Pour in the wine and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring a couple times.  Add a pinch of saffron.  Using a ladle or measuring cup, you want to incorporate the warm stock 1/3 C at a time.  You don't have to stir constantly, yet don't let sit for more than 60-90 seconds untouched.  When almost all of the stock is absorbed, add another 1/3 C.  Continue to cook over medium heat, adding small amounts of stock, until the rice reached desired consistency; tender yet still slightly firm to the bite.  Total cooking time will be about 21-24 minutes.  Season with a touch of S&P, remove from heat and add in the parm cheese, a TB of unsalted butter, the cooked shrimp and asparagus.  Fold the whole mess together and then serve topped with a bit of parm-reg. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Onion and Bacon Marmalade

Onion and bacon marmalade? What the hell am I gonna do with that? Well, I'm sure it won't take you long to figure it out- this tasty combination can be mixed in with some mashed taters, layered in a roast beef and cheddar sandwich, or tossed in with your morning hash browns for a delicious kick.  Or a million other things that need a bit of bright, savory taste.  My application was for a party appetizer, and you can never have enough good recipes for those type of snacks.  This caramelized onion and bacon marmalade recipe is combined with the tang of apple cider and sherry vinegar, with a little bit of thyme for an herbal lift.  
Four pounds of onions might seem like a lot, but they do cook down quite a bit- and you'll need a hefty amount on hand for the myriad of potential culinary applications.   Wearing swim goggles while slicing the onions is optional to keep the eye burning and crying to a minimum.  Do you have any methods for preventing this?? I like to work quickly and as the mis en place dictates, keep the onion halves face down.

Onion and Bacon Marmalade 

8 slices thick bacon
4 lb. yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 ts kosher salt
3/4 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 C sherry vinegar
1/4 C dark or light brown sugar
10 sprigs of fresh thyme (bout 2 TB)
2 ts freshly cracked black pepper

In a large skillet or dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp.  Remove and set aside, crumble once cool.   Add the onions and turn the heat down to medium-low, so they cook gently.  If you hear too much sizzle, that's a sautee, which is too aggressive.  Sprinkle with the kosher salt and stir to coat all the onion with the salt and fat.  Mmmmm...salt and fat.  Cook until tender, stirring 2-3 times, for about 30 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients, reserving 1 TB of thyme and 1 TB of crumbled bacon bits if you serve as below on toasted baguette slices.  Cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the onions are well-browned and deliciously caramelized, for about another hour or so, stirring every 15-20 minutes.  If they seem to be getting dry yet you still want to keep them going, add a splash of water or wine.

As long as things don't become too arid, the longer and slower you caramelize onions the better.  I have heard of one chef who has a 6 hour cook time, which prompted me to try a slow-cooker approach....didn't turn out too well, as you need to stir every 20-30 minutes...enough time to create the browning (Maillard reaction) but not letting them burn.  6 hours might be extreme, 60 minutes is more practical.  Serve as you wish, will keep up to a week in the fridge. 

This onion and bacon marmalade was delicious as an appetizer for a party celebrating the birth of my child- slice up a good baguette on the bias, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, grill or broil each side, spread on some quality goat cheese, top with the onion and bacon marmalade, then add the reserved bacon bits and thyme. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Prosciutto and Asparagus Pizza

Is it really worth it?  That's the numero uno question I get about making your own pizza dough.  My response is usually the same.  Hell yeah it's worth it....AYFKM?  I remember back in the day when I used to buy those Boboli pre-made crusts and thought that was the shit, I'm making my own homemade pizza!!  But once you make a few pizzas from scratch, it's as easy as breathing.  There's only 5 ingredients and it takes a mere 10 minutes to get a dough going.  Even if you use a stand mixer, as I do, you still should knead by hand for a few minutes also just to give it that extra touch and as a side effect you become more involved with what you are cramming in your pie hole.  Touching your food is always a good thing, especially if it's in the raw or work in progress stage.  Sure, you'll need a pizza stone and a peel to make it easy on you, but after that investment you'll be whipping out pies on the cheap.  It might take a few pies to get the hang of the transfer from peel to stone, but it's quick learning and the payoff is well worth the minimal investment. 

It's been years since I had a pizza delivered, and I honestly can't remember the last time I resorted to a frozen one.  For sure I can mess up a Jack's (4 for $10 at Jewel, all the time) frozen pizza like no one else, but there's something so satisfying and easy about making your own that it's my first option.  Get after it. 

You can use plain all-purpose (AP in most postings)  flour, but the higher protein content of bread flour will give you a crunchier bite. 

Prosciutto and Asparagus Pizza 

For the pizza dough-
1 ts or one packet of self-rising yeast, 1 C of warm water, add 1 ts honey and stir well. Let sit until nice and bubbly, about 6 minutes. Meanwhile, add 1 ts kosher salt, 2 ts EVOO, 2.25 C bread flour (king arthur preferred) into the bowl of your stand mixer. Or a large bowl if hand kneading. Add wet to dry and stir to incorporate, then knead using the dough hook for about 5 minutes. The dough will become shiny and elastic. Turn out onto very lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 1-2 minutes, then shape into a ball. Rub or spray a little oil on the inside of the bowl, add your dough ball and toss around, then cover with a kitchen towel and place in a draft-free area for about 1.5-2 hrs, until the dough has doubled in size. Turn out and punch down, cover with plastic wrap and kitchen towel until ready to use. Can be parked in fridge too, bring to room temp when ready. Don't have a stand mixer? Knead by hand for 10 minutes. Go buy stand mixer.

The rest- you'll need a bunch of asparagus, trimmed and shaved or sliced thinly, some quality prosciutto, mozzarella, EVOO, and 1 clove of garlic thinly sliced.  Once your dough has rested for at least 10 minutes once punched down, it should be nice and pliable and ready to roll out.  Your oven should be pre-heated with the stone in to 500F for 30+ minutes.  Sprinkle your pizza peel with yellow corn meal so the dough releases easily during the transfer.  Prick the dough with a fork, then coat with a few TB's of EVOO.  Toss around a few thin slices of garlic, some caramelized onions if you like, layer on the paper-thin slices of proscuitto, then slices or shreds of mozzarella, and finally the asparagus.  Season with freshly cracked black pepper, then cook for about 10-12 minutes, until nicely browned and crispy.  Let sit for 5 minutes before carving into shapes preferable for eating. 

Mis en place- while the oven is heating and the dough is resting makes preparing this pizza a schnap.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Grilled Bone-In Pork Chops, Lemon and Thyme Brine

The mint has already taken off, I'd call it wildly if it wasn't domesticated.  The oregano and thyme have enjoyed the record-breaking warmth in Chicago this early spring, and have so far tolerated a couple of freezing nights.  Rosemary would easily power through a couple cold snaps, but we haven't planted any yet- there's rules for that, you know.  Some herbage like basil wouldn't stand a chance living in thirty degree temps.  Even though it was in the high 80's for a couple days in March, a good rule of thumb any year is not to plant until May, some would say even Mother's Day.  But with all the trees, shrubs and flowers throwing out tremendous color so early in 2012, I couldn't resist starting a few herbs tolerant of the few remaining chilly nights.  The thyme lent a yummy flavor profile to these grilled pork chops, paired with familiar friends in garlic and lemon. 

Pork isn't the 'other' white meat, it's the white meat.  Since it is Passover, I won't get into my love affair with all things pork, so let's just agree the pork council should amend their slogan.  Chicken is boring.  Pork kicks chicken's ass any day.  Every day.  No days on my calendar I can't enjoy swine or bread.  Life should not be without pork chop sammiches, though everybody does get to make their own choice in the matter. 

The brine is the second-most important element to this dish, after the quality of your bone-in pork loin chops, which you have hopefully procured from what you deem to be the best choice available.  Jewel or Dominick's might have something similar to decent, but a butcher or even Whole Paycheck would be best. 

This recipe calls for kosher salt.  More specifically, I use Morton's kosher salt, which I greatly prefer over Crystal or other brands.  Never substitute table salt when a recipe states kosher, as the particle size is different and therefore you may end up over-salting your dish.  

In determining when grilled meat items intended for human consumption have nearly reached their recommended internal temperatures, something called an internal thermometer is key.  Very easy to use, they are as important to a cook as fork and knife.  Pick up one for $20 at BBB or get the Cadillac of the bunch online.  Even if you kill this pork chop, (I mean overcooking, not actually eating a live pig) the brine will keep it nice and juicy, thoughts of a dry piece of meat are ridiculous! It's not gonna happen!  Five minutes of prep work for a delicious grilled experience with the most valuable animal ever. 

Grilled Bone-In Pork Loin Chops, Lemon and Thyme Brine
2 generous servings

2 10-12 oz. bone-in pork loin chops, 1.25-1.5" thick
1 C very warm water
3 TB dark or light brown sugar
3 TB kosher salt
3 TB fresh lemon juice plus lemon, sliced, 2 slices reserved
splash OJ or a couple orange slices
4-6 fresh thyme sprigs, roughed up a bit to release flavor
6-8 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 TB black or green peppercorns, smashed
3 C very cold ice water/ice cubes

In a small bowl, dissolve the salt and sugar into the warm water, let cool (if there's room I'll put in in the freeze for 10 minutes, stirring after 5) and set aside.  Add your chops to a clean brining container.  With the brine at room temp or cooler, add to the chops along with the cold water, herbage, fruit(s) and lemon juice, garlic and peppercorns.  The longer you can brine, (up to a point, of course) is better, anywhere from two to six hours in the fridge would be good.  Don't forget to flip halfway through, if you can. 

Remove from brine one hour before you would like to dine on them.  Rinse and dry with a paper towel and put on a plate, discard brine solution.  Set your grill of choice up for medium direct heat, 400 hundred F or so thirty minutes to meal time, this will give your proteins time to relax and warm up before being denatured over flame.  During the preheat, lightly season your chops on all sides with S&P, then rub some oil all over, EVOO or canola/veggie.

Depending on the size of your chops, total cooking time will be about 15 minutes.  For a chop just under one and a half inches, mine went for 8 minutes on the first side and 6 on the flip.  Cook until internal temp registers at least 140F, you'll gain the extra five degrees to hit the minimum of 145F as it rests.  Serve with asparagus risotto or a once-baked, once-broiled potato and a simple green salad.  A couple sprigs reserved for garnish would look nice too. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Red Wine Braised Lamb Shanks

Tired of the same old ham for Easter?  Why not cook up something much more appropriate, such as lamb.   Lamb certainly has more mention in religious circles than the back end of a hog's leg.  This is a simple, straight-up braise that yields deliciously tender lamb shanks.  You can also make this the day before and quickly reheat in the oven, if that makes it easier for you.  Which 'dry red' wine to use in this recipe? Go pick up a couple bottles of decent Syrah, which you already know is also called Shiraz in some countries.  One is for drinking and the other is for drinking.  Wait...get three bottles.  One is for cooking.  

Red Wine Braised Lamb Shanks
serves 4

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
4 one lb lamb shanks
6 garlic cloves, peeled
4 medium carrots, sliced 1/4"
4 celery ribs, sliced 1/4"
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 bottle dry red wine
1 C (or more) of water
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme or rosemary or both
10 whole peppercorns

Fire up your hotbox to 325F.  In a large oven-proof cast iron dutch oven, (or similar) heat up the oil over high heat.  Season the lamb shanks all over with S&P.  Brown on all sides, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Try to get as much surface area as you can to create a nice brown Maillard-reaction crust.  Remove the shanks to a plate, add the veggies and the wine.  Boil rapidly for about 3 minutes.  Add the shanks back in and the peppercorns, herbage and bay leaves.  You'll need to add about 1 C of water to ensure the shanks are just covered.  Cover tightly and place in the oven.  Cook until very tender, about 1.5 hours, turning once halfway through.

You do have a plastic cutting board reserved only for raw meat, right?

Transfer the shanks to an ovenproof dish, turn down the oven to 275F.  Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a medium pot.  Boil for 20 minutes to reduce to about 1.5-2 C.  Add the warm shanks back to the liquid to ensure they are heated through for a couple minutes, then plate up and serve with additional sauce passed at the table.  Any leftover sauce should be saved for your next ribeye off the grill.  Serve with some garlic smashed red potatoes and a green salad, or whatever you like.  If you want to use the same technique for a different animal, now's the perfect time of year for this recipe too.