Pea Butter

5 06 2010

Now that it’s pea season, I thought I’d share my favorite way to use up lots of fresh peas. I’ve actually never tried this with frozen peas but I bet it would be pretty good with those too. It’s one of my absolute favorite things to spread on a nice piece of toast and it’s so simple to make.

 

1. Shuck your peas
2. Blanch them in well-salted water* for a minute or two until they’re softened but not mush
3. Shock the peas in a colander or strainer floating in a bath of ice water – this helps stop the cooking so they don’t get mushy and stay nice and bright green
4. Put the peas in a food processor with a nice fistful of pecorino cheese, some salt, pepper and olive oil. Puree.
5. Spread on toasted bread

 

 

*When you blanch vegetables there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

  • First – the water should be well-salted. If you taste your salted water it should taste almost sea-water-salty. Don’t worry about your veggies being too salty afterwards because you’re going to rinse most of it off when you shock them in the water bath. The extra salt in the water will really bring out the color in your vegetables – especially the green ones. They’ll be more bright green than you even thought was possible.
  • Second – the water should be at a rolling boil at all times. This means you’ll need to use a pot of water much larger than would seem necessary for the amount you’re blanching and you’ll almost always want to work in batches so you don’t cool the water down too much when you add your vegetables (it also helps to have them at room temperature when you do the blanching).

 

 
Pea Butter

Peas
Pecorino Romano (or another nice hard cheese)
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

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Making Cheese – Neufchatel

27 05 2010

I’ve been wanting to make cheese for a while now. I finally decided to give it a shot last weekend. Since I’ve been working a lot lately with temperamental, sensitive stuff like beer and cured meats and other fermentations, I decided to forego the beginner projects like making yogurt and lebnah first and went straight for the cheese. If you’re not familiar with any of the concepts involved, I’d recommend starting from the beginning to get a grasp on handling the ingredients, what certain temperatures feel like, etc.

I found an awesome resource online by a guy who actually happens to be from Ohio and teaches at the University of Cincinnati. He has loads of great information and photos on his site – here.

I decided to go with a mixture of half goat’s milk and half raw cow’s milk. I got some liquid rennet from a cheese shop in my area but apparently you can get the tablets at a pharmacy or grocery store. Rennet is what helps the curds separate from the whey. It comes from the stomachs of mammals and contains enymes that help the milk solids coagulate.

I also varied slightly from his syllabus… I decided to scald the milk just to be sure it was free of any extra bacteria although probably not necessary because it was all pretty fresh. After the temperature fell back down to around 70F I pitched the cultured buttermilk and the rennet that I had dissolved in a little bit of cool water.

Mixed that up and let it set up overnight, or for about 12 hours. By the time I checked on it in the morning it had set up nicely and although I didn’t get a proper clean break, I think it was close enough. A clean break is when the curds have set up solid enough that a finger inserted and removed at an angle will produce a clean cut with no remnants sticking to the finger. This cheese seems to be pretty forgiving though and despite not having a totally clean break it seems to have been good enough. I didn’t have time to let it set more but I’d recommend going for the full clean break. If you don’t get it after 12 or so hours, let your curds set for another 12 hours or so. If you still don’t achieve one at that point then you probably won’t at all and need to start over. It probably means there was an issue with your rennet.

So, after the curds have set properly, it’s time to cut them and separate them from the whey. They whey is the leftover liquid that the curds have separated from. Remember Little Miss Muffet? That’s the stuff she was eating right there… she couldn’t even wait for the cheese to be finished!

I’m honestly not really sure why you cut the curds for this cheese other than just making it easier to remove them from the whey. I know in other cases it’s important to have them all be similar sizes but I doubt that it matters much here because it’s all getting mashed back together anyway.

So, after slicing the curds with a knife or spatula or something (about 1/2″ to 3/4″ slices in both directions) the curds get ladled out into the cheesecloth. This lets them drain off as much of the whey as possible to create a nice, dense, creamy cheese. The curds then get wrapped up in the cheesecloth, tied and hung to drip for another whole day in the fridge.

After that, it’s finished! You should mix in some salt at very least and if you get crazy you can try mixing in some chopped garlic, fresh herbs, dried herbs, spices – whatever you want! It’s your cheese, don’t let me tell you what to do with it.

 
Neufchatel Cheese
Adapted from David Fankhauser

1 quart Goat’s Milk
1 quart Whole Cow’s Milk (you can use skim but the less fat, the less rich your cheese will be…. alternatively, you could use heavy cream!)
2 drops liquid rennet dissolved in a few tablespoons of cool water (or the equivalent from a rennet tablet)
1/4 cup cultured buttermilk (check to make sure it contains active cultures, otherwise it’s useless)
salt to taste

Go forth and make cheese.





Angry Mussels

20 05 2010

Lately one of my favorite things to eat has been mussels. For so long I never even gave them a second thought as something I would make at home. Turns out, they are suuuuper stupidly simple and cheap and really really tough to f up. Don’t believe me? Try it. Now, they’re great as they are, steamed in a little bit of white wine. But what would make them better? Do I really have to answer that?.. yeah, you guessed it – bacon. If there’s one food equation you can almost always count on it’s that shellfish + bacon = amazing.

I was watching the Food Network one night and at some point someone mentioned JCT Kitchen in Atlanta and their Angry Mussels. I was only half paying attention but as soon as I heard that the mussels were cooked with a heap of bacon I tuned in solid. After a bit of searching on the web I learned that this joint cooks their mussels with a load of bacon and fresh chilis. Bacon = no problem – always on hand. I was without fresh chilis so I kinda just riffed on the idea of spicy, bacony mussels.

I decided that the best way to go about it would be to render down a bunch of bacon, remove it and sautee some aromatics (garlic, red onions and the whites of some scallions) in the smokey rendered fat. Along with that I added some crushed red pepper flakes and a little bit of cayenne to spice it up.

 
I rendered the bacon and sauteed the aromatics in the fat. Got the pan hot, tossed in the mussels and a good glug of dry white wine. Threw on a lid and simmered for about 5 minutes. Removed to a bowl, tossed in the bacon, topped with green onion tops and got out the bread to sop up the juice. The liquid that cooks out of the mussels mixed with the wine, bacon, chilis and all that other good stuff makes for some seriously awesome flavor.

 
Angry Mussels
Adapted from JCT Kitchen

1lb mussels
1 cup dry white wine
1″ thick slab of bacon, diced (or equivalent in sliced bacon)
1/2 red onion
3 green onions
1 seranno chili or a good pinch of crushed red pepper
some good bread

See above for *detailed* steps. Or just sautee, steam and eat. Way too easy.

 
And satisfaction.





Smooth Operator

18 05 2010

For a long time I refused to even attempt to make smoothies at home because after a few terribly watered down and flavorless attempts I decided it was best left to the masters at Jamba Juice. But, recently I decided that it was actually something I could conquer. I realized that there are really only a couple of key elements to making an awesome smoothie at home:

1. One of the fruits must be frozen
2. One of the fruits must not be frozen
3. A decent blender (you don’t have to spend a ton, it just needs a powerful motor)

At the heart of it that’s the real key because it allows you skip the ice so you don’t have to thin the flavor just to get it cold. No one likes a warm smoothie so just blending warm fruit is no good either. Having the fresh fruit is also essential because you need something that liquefies easily so the blender can do its work. The fresh fruit is the catalyst to get the whole thing churning. A lot of the time you won’t even need juice to thin it out but if you do, add it a bit at a time and only as much as you need so you don’t end up with a thin liquid smoothie.

Now come the other steps that aren’t as key but in my opinion are pretty essential. For starters, I almost always have a banana in the mix. Banana just adds a perfect creamyness and really binds everything together in the perfect texture. When I buy bananas I almost never make it through the entire bunch before they go bad. So when it gets to the point where they’re almost starting to turn brown (because the longer they ripen, the sweeter they get) I slice them up and freeze them in a tupperware tub. Then when I’m ready to make my smoothie I just grab that, a little bit of fresh fruit, some yogurt and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice and I’m ready to go. Honestly I usually don’t even use more than two fruits, one of which is almost always a banana.

The other option I’ve been using lately that allows me to use the fresh bananas too is using frozen chunks of fruit from Trader Joe’s. Some of my favorite combos are below.

Frozen banana + frozen blueberry + fresh strawberry + plain yogurt + lemon juice

Frozen mango chunks + fresh banana + plain yogurt

Frozen banana + peanut butter + chocolate syrup + milk or vanilla yogurt (trust me, it’s awesome)

Useful ingredients are…

Fruit (fresh and frozen)
Yogurt (plain or flavored)
Honey
Lemon juice
Juice – orange, pineapple, carrot… whatever
Peanut butter

The trick is when fruit is in season and it’s cheap, buy a bunch and freeze what you can’t eat when it’s at the peak of its ripeness or even a bit past.

A word on blenders – I’ve tried making smoothies with shitty blenders in the past and it just discouraged me from wanting to make them at home. I’ve found two options that are affordable (compared to restaurant grade blenders) and work great. One is the super simple old-school clover shaped blender. The shape of that thing was apparently designed perfectly to encourage mixing and it does an amazing job of getting stuff mixed without needing to stir or beat the hell out of the side. The second is what I use now, an Oster Beehive. It’s relatively cheap and has an amazingly powerful motor for its price.





Cobb Salad

17 05 2010

Here come the posts. They’ve been piling up for weeks now and I’m just getting around to sorting things out so bear with me. I made this cobb salad a couple weeks ago and it was pretty awesome. The whole operation takes a fair amount of prep but once you have everything ready it’s easy to throw together another one the next day or every day following until you run out of ingredients.

Key ingredients – some mixture of salad greens, bacon, chicken, avocado, blue cheese, tomato and hard-boiled egg.

I used these nice mixed cherry tomatoes just sliced in half.

A nice ripe avocado.

Some homemade bacon.

Some Maytag blue cheese – one of my favorites.

Some of my standard vinaigrette that was a little heavier on the mustard and had a little bit of honey in there to sweeten it up.

And some hard-boiled eggs.

And there you have the healthiest salad of all time. Ok, so maybe not quite… but it’s damn tasty.





Arugula Pesto

16 05 2010

Ok so, sorry but I’ve been on a little bit of hiatus. Believe it or not it’s because I’ve actually been cooking more than usual. Because of that, most of what I’ve been cooking is pretty boring so I haven’t really been motivated to post any of it… but I was thinking that some of it may actually be more useful than any of the other stuff I post because most of it is easy, cheap and functional. Starting out with something super simple, adaptable and good for some nice lite fresh summer dishes. Pesto.

The best thing about pesto is that it’s so versatile and adabltable. You can make it out of so many different combinations of ingredients and there really are very few limits. The easiest way to success but by no means the only is some combination of 1) green leafy herb, 2) some kind of nut or legume, 3) garlic, 4) hard cheese, 5) olive oil and 6) salt+pepper. The classic combination is basil + pine nuts +raw garlic + parmesan + olive oil + salt and pepper. Swap out any or all of those for variations.

It’s so simple. The only thing you need really is a food processor but depending on your blender you could even do it in there… just might require a little bit of shaking around and you may have to thin it out a bit more to get things moving.

For this batch I had a bunch of extra arugula around that I knew I wasn’t going to get to before it went bad so I decided to prolong its life as pesto. I didn’t have any pine nuts but cashews are just as good and sometimes even better. The rich buttery nuttiness cuts nicely through the peppery arugula.

A nice fistful of grated pecorino romano, a few glugs of olive oil, some salt, some pepper and a few whacks from the food processor and it’s ready to go.

And the first application – chef Stef making a pesto pizza!

I’m back baby!





Tomato-Butter Pasta Sauce

10 04 2010

I decided to get on the boat. This seems to be the food-blogger trendy dish of the year… super simple tomato sauce with spaghetti that’s just canned tomatoes stewed with a whole onion and some butter. Does it live up to the hype? Yes.

There’s a lot of talk going around about this super simple tomato sauce and I felt like I had to give it a shot because there was just no way it could be as good as they said. But damn, it is. I had a bunch of roasted garlic around so I tossed a head of it in to add a little bit more flavor.

The sauce is literally – canned whole tomatoes (San Marzano if you have em), unsalted butter, a whole onion and some salt to taste. Despite the fact that I will literally eat straight hog fat cured and sliced by itself, I still for some reason have this weird aversion to using too much butter… I’m all “oh but too much butter seems so excessive and fatty”… dude, you eat straight pig fat! Shut up and use it! Trust me, it’s worth it. This is like some grown up fancy Chef Boyardee shit. It’s good.

I also busted out some super easy super quick fresh spaghetti the other night so if you really want to impress your date, break out the food processor and let it rip. Once you’ve done it a few times it’s really so easy and so much better that it’s kindof stupid to ever buy noodles again.

 
Tomato Butter and Onion Pasta Sauce
Adapted from the inter web.

This is like some voodoo magic type shit. It’s so easy and so good it just doesn’t seem right…

1 large can San Marzano whole tomatoes (if you can’t find those just use whatever you can get your hands on)
1 whole onion – yellow, red, white, whatever… I use yellow for just about everything
3-5 tablespoons of unsalted butter, depending on how rich you want it
Salt to taste
I whole head of roasted garlic if you so desire

Slice the onion in half, toss it all in a sauce pan and simmer it for about 40 minutes or so until the tomatoes have broken down. Smash them up with a wooden spoon as you stir it up throughout the cooking. When it’s finished just pull out the onion and it’s ready to go.

 
The amount of time that it takes for that sauce to simmer is more than enough to make some fresh pasta to pour it over. You’re saving so much work with this sauce, why not give it a worthy base?

My laziness works in funny ways… I was feeling too lazy to bring myself to take a book from the shelf and look up a pasta dough recipe so I just googled for the easiest recipe to divide down to get an egg to flour ratio and then adapted that ratio to what I know works well in dough… the ratio is basically 1 egg per 100 grams of flour – that’s all that is absolutely necessary. The oil makes it easier to work with and the salt helps the flavor.

I use Tipo ’00’ Italian pasta flour but you can just use regular all-purpose flour too or a mixture of that and cake flour. People always claim it makes a big difference but so far I’ve never had anyone spit out their pasta because the flour wasn’t fine enough.

 
Fresh Basic Pasta Dough

This is a small batch – (about 4 servings) but you can just scale it up as necessary – the beauty of fresh pasta dough is that it’s so flexible and adaptable. Similarly, if you want it richer you can just substitute more egg yolks for some of the whites.

200 grams tipo “00” flour or all-purpose or a mix of all-purpose and cake flour
2 large eggs
About a teaspoon of olive oil
A pinch of salt

Toss the flour in the food processor and then everything else on top. Pulse it until you have crumbles and then dump them onto your counter and knead it into a nice smooth mass. If you don’t have a food processor, make a pile of flour on the counter, make a well in the center and mix the eggs, salt and oil in with a fork. Knead for a couple of minutes to get it all mixed and smooth and then wrap it in plastic and throw it in the fridge for a bit to chill out and stiffen up.

Roll it out with a pasta machine or a rolling pin or a wine bottle or baseball bat… whatever you have. Make sure you flour it well before you start rolling though.

Cut it up with the cutter on your machine or roll the sheets long ways and slice it into noodles.

This whole process can literally be done in a matter of minutes. This pasta, start-to-finish took me about 15 minutes. That’s barely more than it takes to boil dry noodles! You can make the dough while you’re waiting for the water to boil.

 
Spoon that sauce over your spaghetti and get busy. You can toss on some parm if you want but it really is fine just the way it is. I threw a little pecorino and some black pepper on top.