Archive for October, 2010

Bringing home the flavor

Shrimp EtouffeeI just got back from a trip to New Orleans – my first, and long overdue. I was there for a conference, and much of my four days there was taken up with meetings – but the organizers were smart enough to leave us free in the evenings, so I was able to do what I love best when traveling: Sample the local food.

“Sample” is an understatement, actually. I ate like an eating fool.

Seafood, of course. Oil spill be damned, I ate shrimp and blue crabs and oysters in multiple preparations. I ate traditional food, and modern takes on traditional flavors, and to be honest, the only bad meal I had was the lone conference dinner, and conference meals are just like that. You try preparing food for 300, all at the same time, and tell me if you’re able to get the chicken to be anything but rubbery.

I dined at a some of the  tourist favorites – oysters at  Deanie’s, which has the ambience of a big 50s diner and starts you off with a complimentary bowl of plain boiled red potatoes, and barbecue shrimp at  Desire, a seafood bistro and bar on Bourbon Street. I had a muffaleta at the Central Grocery, and cafe au lait with beignets at Cafe du Monde.

And I had what qualifies as one of the best meals of my life at the tiny Green Goddess, tucked away in an alley between Bienville and Conti streets: a sophisticated modern take on crayfish with risotto and mustard greens, followed by a small but utterly decadent dessert of three green dates, roasted in vanilla essence and stuffed with a mousse of “humane” foie gras.

And I came home hungry for more. The flavors of New Orleans really speak to me: spicy, rich, savory, complex, with influences of France and Spain and the Caribbean and Africa.

So why not try New Orleans recipes with northwestern ingredients? After all, our seafood is not so very different from theirs; they have blue crab, we have Dungenness; they have Gulf shrimp, we have Pacific shrimp. Their oysters are a different breed than ours, but we have do oysters, and they’re tasty things.

Oh, Internet, how I love you. A quick Google turned up Emeril LaGasse’s recipe for shrimp etouffee, which is basically shrimp stewed in a roux-based sauce flavored with the Holy Trinity (onion. celery, green pepper), tomato and plenty of cayenne, served over rice. The hardest part about it is making the brown roux, and that’s not actually hard, it just requires constant stirring of the fat-and-flour mixture until it’s nut-brown. I even had a bag of shrimp shells I’ve been hoarding in the freezer, waiting for the occasion to make a seafood stock.

And so I did.

See the photo, above.

Here’s the recipe. Other than using local seafood and vegetables, I followed it to the letter.

It’s very, very good. I have enough leftovers for days. And if my limited experience is any test, it tastes just like New Orleans.

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October 23, 2010 at 8:31 pm 1 comment

Pan-roasted mushrooms, revisited

Pan-roasted chanterellesFinding a delicious recipe is wonderful. Finding a way to simplify its preparation but still retain every bit of the deliciousness is even better.

I first posted the recipe for pan-roasted mushrooms nearly two years ago; I’d got it from a LiveJournal friend, and found it among the most tasty mushroom side dishes I’d ever encountered.

But, as written, the recipe called for cooking the mushrooms in small batches until they’re dried and caramelized, then giving them a gloss of butter, garlic and parsley … then wiping the pan clean and starting all over again with the next batch. Which, let’s face it, is kind of a pain in the butt if you’re cooking a lot of mushrooms

This afternoon, looking at a bag of lovely chanterelles I’d bought from The Mushroomery via Corvallis Local Foods, it occurred to me that it should be possible to streamline the prep without losing any of the flavor, by simply roasting all the mushrooms, moving them to a bowl, and then giving them all the garlic-butter treatment at once.

So I did. And I’m hear to tell you that – served with leftover roast chicken reheated with a bunch of late cherry tomatoes from my garden and good bread to mop up the juices – the mushrooms were exactly as delicious as I remembered, and a whole lot easier to prepare.

If you love mushrooms, you need to try this, whether you do it with wild mushrooms or tame. If the ‘shrooms are a touch dried out, as mine were, all the better. The result is chewy, dare I say meaty, savory, and rich with the gloss of butter and garlic. You won’t be sorry.

Pan-roasted Wild Mushrooms, Revisited

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • Wild (or domesticated) mushrooms, cleaned and thickly sliced
  • Fresh-ground pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Unsalted butter, about 1 tbsp per cup of cooked mushrooms
  • Garlic – at least 1 fat clove per above
  • Fresh Italian parsley, minced – a generous handful, ditto

Method

In a large skillet, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Heat the pan on high until the oil shimmers but does not smoke, and glides easily across the pan when tipped.

Add a layer of mushrooms, one at a time, so they don’t touch. Season with fresh-ground pepper and a pinch of kosher salt.

After about 1 minute, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking – without stirring the mushrooms – for 3-4 minutes. Using tongs, turn the mushrooms and cook for 3 more minutes, until they’re browned and fairly dry. Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon.

Repeat for each batch of mushrooms, adding olive oil if necessary.

After all the mushrooms are cooked, wipe out the pan with a paper towel and return to medium. For each cup of mushrooms, add a tablespoon of butter, (at least) a clove’s worth of minced garlic and a handful of parsley. Stir until the butter is all melted and the garlic is turning golden (but not burning!), then return the mushrooms to the pan. Toss with the buttery mixture until heated. Remove from heat and serve, hot, as a side dish with just about anything.

Leftovers keep just fine in the fridge.

October 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm 2 comments

A surfeit of beets

Borscht!Some people get flowers on opening night of a play. I got beets.

No kidding: My friend (and the stage manager of the show I’ve been directing) came into an excess of beets and, after asking if I liked them (oh, yes!), brought in a bag of beets bigger than my fist, probably 2-3 pounds worth.

Young beets are great for raw preparations: julienned atop a salad, thinly sliced and sprinkled with a little salt. Older beets need cooking to transform their woody texture to something tender and delectable. And other than just roasting and eating them, my favorite thing to make with big o’l beets is a big ol’ pot of borscht.

Or borsht. Or borsh, or even barszcz, depending on which Eastern European language is describing this hearty vegetable soup. The “authentic” recipes are as varied as the cultures they come from, and you can find internet flame wars on various cooking sites involving people who swear that their grandmother’s recipe is the One True Borscht/Borsch/etc., and all others heretical nonsense. There are recipes that call for beef, recipes that call for pork, recipes that call for no meat at all. Some say cabbage is required, some say potatoes, and some even say you don’t need beets to make a borscht.

If you’ve read me long, you know I’m not a purist. I’ve made borscht with and without cabbage, carrots, potatoes, meat; I’ve even made it with duck leg confit because I had some on hand. I always use beets – without beets, I’d call it vegetable soup and be done with it. But otherwise, like many good dishes, my borscht is a matter of what’s fresh, what’s local and what’s in the larder.

Roasting the bonesThis time I went the whole nine yards and started by spending Saturday making a big pot of home-made beef stock, beginning by oven-roasting a couple of pounds of “soup bones” –  meaty beef shanks that the butcher had sawn in short lengths, the better to expose the tasty marrow – from Heritage Farms NW.  There’s nothing like rich, flavorful homemade stock to add depth and character to a humble soup, and this may be the best batch I’ve ever made. I wound up with four quarts of stock; half of it went back into the pot this morning to make the borscht, and the other half is in the fridge, awaiting further reduction tomorrow evening to produce demi-glace, the syrupy, concentrated essence of beef that’s one of the serious cook’s best friends.

Stock isn’t hard to make. It does require attention – you don’t want any part of it to scorch or burn, because that adds an unpleasant bitterness to the stock. And you do want to simmer it long enough to reduce the liquid by a good deal and concentrate all the rich flavors – otherwise you might as well make your soup with water. Here’s a great little step-by-step tutorial for the uninitiated. Don’t be put off by what seem to be many, many steps; none of it is hard or even particularly labor-intensive, and the results are fabulous.

However: You could also make a perfectly good borscht with stock-inna-box, or even a good beef concentrate (Better than Boullon is a staple of my own kitchen). Vegetarians, look for mushroom stock if you can find it; good vegetable stock if you can’t. Just please, please, don’t use bouillon cubes – they taste of nothing much other than salt, and your soup will wind up much too salty.

The borscht itself is easy as can be, and (once you’ve got stock) pretty quick to make; it’s also infinitely adaptable to suit your own tastes and those of your diners. Except, perhaps, the ones who are averse to beets – and if they’re willing to try it, they may be surprised.

Beefy Borscht

Ingredients

Borscht ingredients

  • 2 pounds of fresh beets, trimmed and scrubbed
  • Olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp butter (or more olive oil)
  • 1 cup carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped onions (or shallots, or leeks)
  • 4-6 cups thinly sliced cabbage. I like to use purple, because it intensifies the hue of the final dish, but green is fine.
  • 2-6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Some potatoes, peeled or not, and coarsely diced (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh dill, or 1 tsp dried. Additional fresh or dried herbs as you prefer
  • 4-6 cups beef (or vegetable) stock
  • Cooked beef from the stock-making, shredded – or sliced sausage, diced pork chops, or other meat that won’t require long cooking. (Optional, but it turns the soup into a hearty meal).
  • Leftover rind from a hunk of good parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Juice of two limes, or a few tablespoons of red-wine vinegar.
  • Salt (if needed)
  • For garnish: sour cream, sprigs of fresh dill

Toss beets in olive oil, put them on a baking sheet and roast in a 350F oven for 20-30 minutes, until they’re tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool, then rub off the skins and trim off any tough bits near the stem. You can roast the beets the day before; if so, refrigerate overnight. When it’s time to make borscht, cut them in bite-sized pieces.

In the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot or dutch oven, melt butter or olive oil until it sizzles. Add onion and carrots; sautee, stirring frequently, until onion is softening. Stir in the cabbage, garlic, potato (if you’re using it; I don’t), herbs and meat, and add stock to the pot to generously cover all the ingredients. If you happen to have a rind of parmesan on hand, toss that in – it will melt into the soup, adding an extra touch of tang and umami to the soup.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until carrots are tender. Stir in the lime juice or vinegar (I prefer lime, but vinegar seems to be traditional). Taste to see if salt is needed. If your stock is home-made, it probably won’t be (the natural saltiness of beef gets concentrated in the stock-making).

Ladle into bowls, garnish with a swirl of sour cream and a sprig of fresh dill. Serve hot, with crusty bread to mop up the bowl. Serves a bunch, and like so many soups, it’s even better the next day.

This soup freezes beautifully, especially if you leave out the potatoes (I’m never happy with how potatoes fare when frozen). Half the batch I made this morning will go into freezer containers for cold-weather meals!

October 3, 2010 at 1:12 pm Leave a comment


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