Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chipotle Pepper Sauce

Do I know what I'm doing? Nope! But it still tastes good.

So I recently discovered chipotle peppers. Or more accurately, finally tried working with them after seeing them mentioned in recipes occasionally. Have you smelled sautéing chipotles? Oh man--makes me want to eat the air.

I just made a simple sauce by sautéing onions with chipotle and ancho peppers, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and a little white wine, and then immersion blending them coarsely. Combined with the pan-fried pork chop brought out a fullness in the flavor that wasn't there in the sauce alone. I'm not sure why, but the sauce smelled much fuller than it tasted alone--kind of like teas smell richer than they taste to me.

Well, in any case, I've got my eyes set on Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday to start exploring Latin cuisine. Maybe I'll get some insight there. The book seems like just what I'm looking for, as everyday cooking should give me understanding of the flavors and techniques that are foundational to or capture the essence of the cuisine (Mexican, specifically, in this case), which is what I look for rather than aiming at particular dishes. But we'll see. I'll be blogging.

Also pictured above and below are potato wedges roasted in duck fat. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with duck fat, but it didn't really jump out at me, at least in the quantity that I used. The potatoes were delicious, but not particularly decadent, as I was led to believe. So far, duck fat seems similar to chicken fat, to me at least, with an excellent roundness to its flavor. But maybe I just didn't use enough, as I went with my usual light coating, which was about one-quarter (a quarter!) of what some recipes online called for. I mean, if you're gonna dump that much fat into a dish, of course it's going to taste rich.

Recipe and more pics below.

Simple Chipotle Pepper Sauce

3 oz. chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (about 1/2 a small can), roughly chopped
1 dried ancho chili pepper, soaked in hot water until softened (15-30 minutes), stem and seeds removed, roughly chopped
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup white wine
salt to taste
lime juice to taste

1 TBS peanut or other neutral flavored oil
  1. Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat until it slides easily around the pan. Add onion and sauté until beginning to brown.
  2. Add garlic, chipotle, ancho chilies, cumin, and cinnamon, and continue sautéing for a minute or two, until spices have darkened.
  3. Add white wine and bring to a simmer while stirring and scraping browned bits off the bottom of the pan.
  4. Remove from heat and either use a hand blender or pour ingredients into a food processor to make the sauce. Adjust salt and lime juice to taste. Serve as a sauce or dip with chicken or pork, or on roast potatoes, for example.

In the dishes below, I spooned the sauce over the pork chops, whereas above, I tried adding the sauce to the pan as the pork chop was finishing, and tossing the pork chop in the sauce in the pan. I didn't particularly prefer one approach over the other, though spooning it over the pork chop was a little more moist.

Also in these pics is braised kale with green cardamom and coriander--which turned out to pair very well with the chipotle pork.  This was not planned, but rather a happy accident.

On a side note, kale stems take a long time to become tender if you're trying to braise them. It goes faster if they're just completely submerged in boiling water (but then the leaves cook quickly). Best to keep stems and leaves separate and add leaves late, though I'm still inclined just to toss the stems. I only went with them this time because I bought a giant bag of pre-cut kale that included the stems. Hmm.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Go West, Young Man...Then South

Pan-roasted herbed leg of lamb

I'm trying! In the past, my cooking has generally been largely southeast Chinese/Taiwanese home cooking with some other Asian cuisines, as well as basic Western dishes and techniques, like roast meats and vegetables and various other dishes. But recently I've been trying to explore Italian a little more concertedly, as you may have noticed by my referencing Hazan's Essentials cookbook, and Colicchio's Think Like a Chef (though that's broader than just Italian).

Pan-roasted lamb on braised cabbage with saffron risotto

I like learning and expanding my familiarity with different ingredients and approaches, which is why I want to reach into other culinary traditions. Italian seemed like it would offer more available to me than, say, French, which has a very heavy reliance on dairy products. I've been able to pick out dishes that don't rely on dairy or wheat, or that can omit them easily or just require a small vegan "butter" substitution. However, after working through some (cheeseless) risotto, frittata, vegetables, braises, and roasts, I'm finding that even Italian has too much dairy and wheat reliance for me to get very far into its repertoire. Lots of simmering and braising in milk and/or cream, lots of cheese I'm leaving out, bread crumb toppings and coatings, deep frying, clearly having no pasta of any sort, and I'm not a fan of the gluten-free substitutes for wheat products; powdered starches probably aren't too good for you as blood sugar spiking agents, themselves. Vegan cheeses are weird tasting. And I'm finding that butter tastes cloying in its richness to me in a way that pork, chicken, and duck fat do not (I haven't cooked with tallow and rarely eat beef). Maybe it's because I haven't had much of it in several years.

I like Hazan's zealous devotion to simplicity in her recipes. I've liked what I managed to put together. But I feel it's time to explore other culinary traditions, as I'm reaching the end of my rope already as far as the broad strokes go with Italian, due to my dietary restrictions.

So I'm looking next toward Latin American cuisine. It's something I've starting looking more toward as I realized that I can have all their masa/corn based things, and of course rice. So if I can avoid their cheeses and butter (the destroyer of all culinary avenues [see Indian]), I should probably have a good area to explore.

Any recommendations on Latin American cuisine cookbooks? Any nation/tradition.

Pan-roasted chicken thigh with Italian salsa verde and mashed sweet potatoes

[A tangential note, but I'm approaching this post as my musing back on Italian.
The ingredients are more expensive than Southeast Asian cuisine's ingredients, despite my image of Italian as being a less "elite" and hyped-up cuisine than French, for example. The thing is, I wonder how much is a function of its being richer parts of the world that consume Italian cuisine, thus driving prices higher. But let's be serious, here: $4/pound for Arborio rice? And it's only packaged 1-2 pounds a unit so there aren't even much bulk discounts?]

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Butternut Squash and Chard Soup

Whew! Snatched "mmmm" from the slack jaws of "meh" on this one. Alright, so it would've been fine flavorwise, but I seem to keep overcooking squash when I've been simmering it, lately. With a good range of techniques in your toolkit and adaptive, creative thinking, you can adjust what your doing to respond to unintended outcomes in your cooking. 

I was preparing a second iteration of a successful kabocha squash, chard, and bacon dish I'd prepared, trying butternut and simmering it instead of roasting the squash since I wanted a moister result. Well, as mentioned, I ended up simmering the squash too long, and it had turned too soft to have a satisfying chunkiness in your mouth. So rather than have a soup with too-soft vegetables swimming in it, I decided to go for a nice, thick puréed soup instead.

I adjusted the spices and seasoning and pulled out my hand-blender (they're fabulous, as I've raptured before). The crispy bits of pork I garnished the soup with were pancetta rather than bacon, since I had some extra on hand. Pancetta's basically the same thing as bacon, but not smoked. Check out this explanation over at theKitchn.

Mmmm...stay on your toes, and don't be afraid to adapt!

Here's what I did for this dish:

Butternut Squash and Chard Soup

Omit pancetta/bacon to make this recipe vegan.

1 large butternut squash, peeled, 1-inch cubed
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 TBS ginger, minced
2 TBS peanut or vegetable oil
3 cups vegetable stock, or enough to just cover squash in pot

1 bunch chard, washed, chopped, leaves and tough stems separated

1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
dash of white pepper
salt to taste

several ounces pancetta or bacon, fried until crisp, crumbled, for garnish
  1. Heat oil in large stockpot until oil slides smoothly over the surface. Add squash and sauté to brown for a few minutes.
  2. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant.
  3. Add chopped chard stems and stir-fry until coated with oil.
  4. Add enough vegetable stock to cover the squash, bring to a simmer and cook for several minutes, until tender.
  5. Add chopped chard leaves and cook until softened.
  6. Add cumin, coriander, white pepper, and adjust salt to taste.
  7. Use hand blender to purée soup. Add more vegetable stock to adjust thickness of soup to taste. Serve while hot with crisp pancetta or bacon garnish.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Easy Roasted Fall Vegetables

Must be fall 'cause the winter squash are back in stores! Who doesn't love the hearty, mouthfilling sweetness of roasted or braised winter squash? (Put your hand down.)

What makes it even better is that it's so simple to put together a fall vegetable roast; all you have to do is cut them up, toss with oil, and pop in a 425F oven for 30 minutes, turning them halfway through. If the squash is ripe, it should be sweet enough by itself not to need any other flavoring, though it can be nice to add some in, like cinnamon and ginger, or garlic and herbs, maybe some cumin, or brown sugar, or whatever you want.

It's great also that other fall vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes will cook in the same time at the same oven temperature, so you can mix them together and get some variations-on-a-theme going in your vegetable roast.

Oh, also, the squash pictured above is called a "Red Kuri" squash or ウチキクリuchikikuri in Japanese, meaning, much more poetically, bashful or reserved chestnut. Red kuri's, like kabocha squash have soft skin that is completely edible once cooked. Don't toss the skins out!

Got any favorite seasonings for roasting squash?

Easy Roasted Fall Vegetables - Base Recipe

1/2 medium kabocha or red kuri squash, seeds removed and cut into large chunks with skin still on3 large carrots, roll cut into large pieces
(the vegetables will shrink while roasting so don’t cut any of them too small)
[other recommended fall vegetables to consider adding to the mix or replacing others with: butternut squash with skin removed, sweet potato, parsnips]

vegetable, peanut, or other neutral flavored oil

suggested seasoning ingredients:
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp each of cinnamon and ground dried ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
4-5 whole, unpeeled garlic cloves and 1/2 tsp dried thyme
coconut oil or butter and brown sugar

Note: the proportions here are just an example. Feel free to adjust them to your needs.
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425F while you do the prep work.
  2. Add vegetables with just enough oil to lightly coat the vegetables, and seasoning ingredients of choice in a medium baking pan and toss to coat. Pan should be large enough to hold vegetables in one layer. If not, divide vegetables into multiple pans. (Line pan(s) with aluminum foil if desired for easy clean up afterwards.)
  3. Put pan on rack set at upper third of oven and roast for 30 minutes, turning the vegetables halfway through. Serve hot, room temperature, or even chilled.