Monday, December 28, 2009

Skate wing cakes

You may have noticed by now that many of my recipes are unique in that I have relied on an usual ingredient which just happens to be on hand. I had Whole Foods track down some skate wing for me last week. Skate looks like a small manta ray. A whole one, skinned would probably weigh about 1 1/2 pounds. It is easily fileted and sauted in butter 4 minutes per side.
That's what we did with part of our filets. We ended up with enough leftovers to use in another application. Hence, crab cakes made with skate. Use your favorite crab cake recipe, but watch out on the spices (salt, pepper). Remember the skate has already been seasoned and cooked. Add the standard mayonnaise, an egg, breadcrumbs, scallions, and whatever else seems appropriate.
Form the skate into 2 cakes and saute in butter and a touch of olive oil. The taste and texture of the skate is delicious and very enticing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vegetable soup

We find ourselves with miscellaneous veggies in the fridge - not enough to do anything with on their own, but enough for a nice soup.

Bear in mind that there are a bunch more veggies you could use; the idea here is to use up leftovers. Mine came mostly from a crudite platter I made for a New Year's Day open house. I will confess a guilty pleasure: I made that retro French onion soup and sour cream dip from the 50's (or maybe even 40's). Guess what - our guests loved it and ate it all.

Some other things you could use for this soup: bell pepper, fennel bulb, green beans, canned beans, mushrooms of various kinds. The list may not be endless, but it is extensive.

Note that my proportion of liquid to vegetation is 1 for 1 - 1 cup liquid for each cup veg.

A word about water versus broth: a number of chefs on TV will use just water. For me that's bland. I usually use all broth. But, this time I went 1/2 and 1/2. I like the result. Some richness and flavor from the broth - freshness from the water.

Vegetable soup
1 tbsp olive oil
approximately 1 cup each: carrot, onion, celery, peeled broccoli stem*
6 dry shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and slice (stems removed)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed slightly
salt and pepper
1 medium red potato, 1/2" dice
14 oz. can chicken broth
14 oz. water
2 bay leaves
pinch red pepper flakes
lemon juice
grated parmesan cheese (optional)
celery salt (optional)
1 tbsp butter (optional)
croutons (optional)

Cut all the veggies to an even dice - 1/2" is good.
Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the veggies (except potato) and sweat for 5-6 minutes, seasoning with some salt and pepper. (Do your final seasoning later in the game to avoid over-salting.)

Add the potato and the liquids and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 25-30 minutes, just until the potatoes and carrots are softened to your liking.

Prepare the soup to this point, cool completely and refrigerate for a day or two if desired. If your going to eat it right away, toss in the broccoli florets (and any leafy vegetation you may plan to use) just before serving. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. I added a bit of celery salt and red pepper flakes at serving time. Then, after serving into bowls, sprinkled a bit of lemon juice into it. I skipped the butter, but only on a momentary whim. Suit yourself.

*If using broccoli florets, I would add them to the soup just before serving.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mushroom soup

There is a unique twist to this recipe, one which not everyone will be able to match. It's the use of preserved mustard tuber. Maybe by the time I've finished this post I'll be able dredge up an alternative. The tuber adds a wonderful extra touch of "umami," that extra dimension of taste which is mentioned more and more.

Here is wikipedia's definition of umami: Umami, popularly referred to as savoriness, has been proposed as one of the basic tastes sensed by specialized receptor cells present on the human and animal tongue. Umami is a loanword from Japanese meaning "flavor" or "taste" (noun) in that language. In English, however, "brothy", "meaty", or "savory" have been proposed as alternative translations. In as much as it describes the flavor common to savory products such as meat, cheese, and mushrooms, umami is similar to Brillat-Savarin's concept of osmazome, an early attempt to describe the main flavoring component of meat as extracted in the process of making stock.

Here's a variation to do without the mustard tuber. Reconstitute 1/2 of the shiitakes in a combo of soy sauce and fish sauce. Heat just enough of it to cover the 'shrooms and then add some or all of the liquid to the soup. Also, puree a few of the shiitakes along with the button mushrooms. That should work pretty well.

Mushroom soup
8-10 reconstituted shiitake mushrooms (depending on size)
8 oz. button mushrooms
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter, divided
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 packet of preserved mustard tuber
2 tbsp corn starch, dissolved in water
2 15 oz. cans beef stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and white (or black) pepper, to taste
1 scallion, white and green parts, chopped (garnish)
chopped parsley (garnish)

Slice the shiitakes and the button mushrooms. Heat the oil and butter in a soup pan until the butter's foam subsides.

Saute the onion and mushrooms until starting to brown, about 10 minutes over medium heat. Season with onion and garlic powders and some pepper. Don't add salt yet.

Remove about 1/2 of each of the types of mushrooms and set aside.

Put the remaining mushroom onion mixture and the corn starch and the mustard tuber (if using) into a food processor. Add about a cup of the beef stock and puree completely. Return all this to the soup pan and add the remaining beef stock. Taste and adjust seasonings according to your preference. Add back the reserved mushrooms. Add the cornstarch and simmer, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes. Add the cream. Bring to a simmer and simmer very slowly for about 10 minutes.

Taste another time for seasoning, adding a bit of salt if you think necessary. Serve garnished with scallion and parsley.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pot roast mom's way

Talk about brown food! When I was a kid my mother regularly made pot roast for Sunday dinner. It went into the oven before we went to church and was ready to eat by about 1 pm.

You can see this hunk o' meat was pretty big (took this snap after dinner). About 4 pounds in fact. It's original price was just over $16. I got it on sale for $5 from the manager's specials bin at Safeway. The reason the price was reduced was that it's "last date of sale" was yesterday. But with beef or lamb I don't considere the date specific deadline to be of any importance whatsoever. With pork or poultry I feel differently of course.

The meat has been chilled and you can see more residual congealed fat in the bottom of the container. I'll skim off more of that when I reheat it for dinner tonight.

After researching various pot roast methods I happened on one that I just had to do. It mimics the way my mom cooked our pot roasts lo these many years ago. The only real difference is the wine. She didn't use it. Whether or not she used some chicken stock or not I really don't remember.

When the casserole came out of the oven, I was surprised by how much liquid there was.

Solution? Gravy.
Pot roast mom’s way
1 7-bone chuck pot roast, about 4 lbs.
1 package dry onion soup mix
1 can undiluted mushroom soup
1 ½ cups red wine
water and flour as needed

Preheat oven to 300°.

Place pot roast in a casserole just large enough to hold it. On top of meat put onion soup mix and mushroom soup concentrate. Pour wine around meat.

Cover with foil and seal tightly. Bake for 1 hour then reduce oven to 250°. Continue baking for 3 more hours.

Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature (or put it outside if the weather’s cold). Refrigerate until the fat congeals. Scrape up fat and discard. Pour liquid into an adequately sized sauce pan for gravy.
Taste and dilute with water as necessary (mine was extremely salty and strong – I added about ¾ cup of water). Bring to a boil. Whisk in about 1 tbsp flour per (estimated) cup of liquid. It takes more time and more flour here in mile-high Denver). Keep at a strong simmer and keep whisking until the gravy thickens.

Pork shoulder steak

Don't be too dismayed by the not-yet-cooked-through pork steak above. I took this shot right after turning it. We cooked one of these steaks a while back and it was fabulous. I found a jumbo package (4 lbs.) of these in the manager's specials at Safeway. Each steak weighs about 1 lb. Therefore one of them was enough for our dinner.

When you see the word "shoulder" you might be inclined to think braise or slow-roasting. But with a hearty brining period this meat is wonderfully tender and juicy.

One secret to knowing when it is done is found at the top of the meat, right between the 2 rivets on the side of the pan. You can see the pinkness there. When that turns tan the meat is very close to being ready. A couple of minutes after that I made a cut in a thick portion and found it perfectly medium - just a trace of pink in the center.

Another secret to cooking this is not to sear it over high heat. That tightens the fibers. My method was along the lines of butter poaching.

Pork shoulder steak
1 pork shoulder steak, about 3/4" thick, trimmed of excess fat
brine: dissolve 2 tbsp kosher salt, 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp roughly ground black pepper in 2 cups of water
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter
1 few pinches each of onion powder and garlic powder
more pepper to taste

Put the meat in a freezer bag, add the brine and refrigerate for 3-5 hours. Remove from the fridge about an hour before cooking. Rinse it thoroughly, dry with paper towels and allow to come to room temperature.

Heat the oil and butter until the butter's foam subsides and it just barely starts to brown. My electric range has dials that go from 1 to 10. I heated the pan at 5 then reduced it to 3 after the meat went in.

Sprinkle the top side of the steak with a bit of garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper. Put that side down in the pan and reduce the heat as above. Season the exposed side in similar fashion.

Cook first side for 5-6 minutes then turn. Give the second side another 5-6 minutes. That should get you close to done. Slice into a thick part and have a look. You'll know when it's done to your liking. Having said that, I think it's best to remove it from the pan when there is still trace of pinkness in the center - it's up to you.

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