Saturday, October 2, 2010

Peppers...grow many varieties yourself!

I grew up eating out of a vegetable garden the size of a football field. My father grew about 35 different things, including ten different varieties of tomatoes, five different varieties potatoes, and five different varieties of squash. We did not, however, grow a large variety of hot peppers, only the sweet variations. Therefore, thing I never appreciated until later in my cooking life is the hot pepper varieties that are out there. So, I took it upon myself to search out different peppers to add to different dishes to get different flavors. Yes, I like different. Here are a few of the peppers I grew this year (some pictured and some not.)
This is a good opportunity to explain how hot peppers are rated for heat. The Scoville scale is a tool that measures the capsaicin in a pepper. It ranges from 0-15,000,000, with 0 being a bell pepper, and 15,000,000 being pure capsaicin, or weapons-grade pepper spray. Capsaicin lives most potently in the white part of the pepper that holds the seeds, not in the flesh of the pepper like you may imagine. So, if you have a very hot pepper, but want the flavor instead of the heat, you can cut out that white portion and the seeds to dull some of the heat. Again, the pepper will still have heat, but not as much.
Here we go into the peppers I grow and enjoy. In the picture above, you see five of the seven peppers growing at the Kachline residence this year. I will go from mild to hot (and super hot.) The round red peppers you see above are a variation of a bell pepper. They are not hot, but rather quite sweet. They grow to about the size of an egg, and are great for stuffing with sharp provolone and prosciutto.
The second type, and a hotter pepper, is the Hungarian Wax pepper. It grows green, turns yellow and then to red when it is ripest. You can pick it yellow, but it is not really hot until red. I would give it about a 3,000-5,000 range on the scale. The Hungarian Wax is the pepper most commonly know for paprika, the dried, ground spicy. It is also smoked and ground for smoked paprika. You can use this pepper fresh and diced for a little kick in a chicken or fish dish. I add both smoked and regular paprika in my chili for a base of flavor.
The third pepper on the list is the small yellow pepper in the above picture, the hot lemon pepper. Do not let the name fool you, it does NOT taste like lemons, so don't just pop it into your mouth. It is a seriously hot little bastard that can hit you hard. The lemon pepper is a variation of the Cayenne pepper that originated in Ecuador, and hits 30,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville scale. I use it mostly as a fresh pepper in salsa or in guacamole. I like to have both red peppers and yellow peppers in some dishes for added color. My plant gave me about 20 peppers, which is fairly common if you pick them regularly.
Okay, now we are getting into the big hitters. You will see hiding in the middle of the picture a small red pepper called a Japanese Nippon Taka, but is often mistaken for a thai chili. This little guy is HOT. It ranges from 50,000-100,000 on the Scoville. If you enjoy General Tso's chicken, you can picture the hot little peppers in the sauce that you push aside for fear of consuming one by accident...those are these. I do not use these fresh, but rather dry them (they dry in about 5 days) and chop them for crushed red pepper. It is really fun to grow these because a single plant bears about 50-75 peppers if harvested regularly. I still have some from last year, and will never have to buy crushed red pepper ever again.
The last pepper pictures here is the orange chili habanero. This is, what I have lovingly come to call one of the "glove peppers." When dealing with a habanero, you are foolish to handle them without some hand protection, especially if you don't regularly wash you hand before you use the bathroom. The chili habanero ranges fro 100,000-350,000 on the Scoville scale. It is plain hot, but has a great flavor too. It is a clean sort of fresh taste that is unlike a regular pepper. It is really good in salsas or as a hot sauce. You can also dice one and add to chili, but use a very small dice so people do not get a whole piece of pepper in their mouth (they will essentially melt away I diced small enough.) The plant will bear about 15-20 peppers.
I grew two other peppers this year that are not pictured because I used them up fast. The first is the Scotch Bonnet pepper. It is in the family of peppers with the Naga Jolokia, or the Ghost Chili- the hottest pepper in the world. The Scotch Bonnet will register just under 800,000 on the Scoville scale, which is 100 times the heat in a jalapeno. To use these peppers, you MUST cook them. They have a fantastic flavor when you can get around the heat, much like the habanero. To be functional, I puree them with a little garlic, white vinegar and salt for preservation. The resulting paste is, not to be redundant, F-ing hot. I add one half of a teaspoon to an entire pot of chili, and the resulting chili is hot. Don;t mess around with this pepper unless you are ready for heat.
Finally, I tried a little experiment this year, I grew a pepper for a particular purpose. The Chilaca pepper, or chili negro, is used almost exclusively in Mexico for mole sauce. They are rarely used fresh, and when dried, they are called Pasilla peppers. They are not hot, ranging from 1,500-2,000 on the Scoville scale. When ripe, they grow a brown flesh that leads one to the belief that they are rotten, but are definitely not. I don't have much to say about this pepper that will translate to words, but the one word I find appropriate is "flavorful." That is such a cop-out, but it is true. It adds a deep flavor to any dish that you may want.
So, that is my pepper blog post. Don't forget to grow your own, they are easy, grow fast and plentifully, and add deliciousness and heat to many dishes. ENJOY.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Summer Thanksgiving

During my bar exam review, I spent every week day with a group of fellow law students who doubted my cooking chops. In order to squelch their insidious ribbing, I made them ribs (among five other courses). So, I bring you Summer Thanksgiving. In essence, Summer Thanksgiving is just a good excuse for gorging one's self with delicious food and drinking scrumptious drinks.
My first of six course was sort of a picking platter. I had out some great cheeses to dip in truffled honey, including the ultimate Parmigiano Reggiano, Bellavitano (an american-made, but Italian-style cheddar), and some buffalo mozzarella. Also in the first course was home-made pickles in an apple cider vinegar and brown sugar cure, my infamous deviled eggs, and other little treats.

Second course was, as per Jaclyn's request, the above pictured ribs. These are my dry-rubbed spare ribs that are, that's right, done in the oven. I rub the ribs (that's what she said) the night before with my proprietary blend of spices and brown sugar. I place them on a roasting rack and pour an apple cider vinegar and water solution in the bottom of the roasting pan for moisture. In the oven they go for four hours at 250 degrees. After making some of my scratch BBQ sauce, I put a thin coat on the ribs and turn on the broiler to 500 degrees to bubble the sauce into a bark. YUMMY.
The third course was out of order, but was equally tasty. I prepared a seafood fra diavlo with whole wheat thin spaghetti. I apologize about this cell phone picture, but the ones taken with a camera were deleted. This is a basic Napoletano-Italian recipe. It is a spicy tomato sauce with onion and diced tomatoes and as much seafood as you can fit in the bowl. I chose bay scallops, little neck clams, 26-30 shrimp, and mussels (for Marie). Usually, there is scungili (baby squid tentacles) and squid body, but I skipped them not knowing if everyone liked those ingredients. Still, it was nice.

The fourth course, which was supposed to be the fifth course, was a simple seared dry-packed sea scallop. You can read my previous post, here, for the difference between good and bad scallops when you go to the market. The scallops were seared in a combination of butter and olive oil. I also add a few drips of truffle oil and fine sea salt to each plate right before serving. I also served a chilled sweet corn soup with the scallop. This soup was actually the most involved dish, which required its own post, which will be coming soon! I was, however, forced to move this course up because the pork belly needed more time. Thats right, pork belly too!!!

So the fifth course was supposed to be the main and final course. It did not, however, work out that way. For a final course, I chose a whole roasted beef tenderloin accompanied by duck fat-roasted red and yukon gold potatoes. The tenderloin was easy- just salt and pepper on a tied roast (there will be a post soon on how to trim and tie a tenderloin). I roasted it at 450 degrees for 12 minutes to create some flavor, and then roasted at 300 degrees until the internal temperature was at 125 degrees at the thickest part of the roast. This will give you a final temp of about 130 after ten minutes resting for a solid low medium, almost medium rare, but the thiner parts of the roast will be a high medium for those who like to kill the juiciness. The potatoes are really simple. Cube the potatoes and blanch them in boiling SALTED water for 7-9 minutes. Then place in a large frying pan a healthy tablespoon of duck fat. I added thyme and rosemary from the garden to make some damn flavorful potatoes.
Finally, the sixth course was supposed to be the fifth. It did finish nicely, however, as the greens cut some of the delicious abovementioned fat. I served an arugula salad with shaved Pecorino Romano and a vinaigrette comprised of roasted sesame oil and honey/ginger vinegar. That chunk of pig you see there is our home grown (not at my home, but at our butcher's home) fresh bacon, or pork belly (also a post soon on pork belly). This was an asian flavored pork belly braised in soy sauce, tons of garlic, and other things you will have to tune back in to get.

We also had some fine desserts including chocolate covered strawberries and peanut butter, Christa's famous raspberry almond bars, and some delicious Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout. After dinner we went around the table and let everyone know what we were thankful for, as if it really was Thanksgiving. It could have been the overwhelming sense of happiness stemming from our completion of the bar exam, it could have been our huge bellies, or it could have been the copious amount of wine and beer we drank that led to the lovefest. No matter what its origins, it was heart-warning, funny, and a memorable time. Thanks to Christa, Marie, Mike, Jaclyn, Kate and Jess for coming and eating (and not spitting out) my food.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Interesting Beer Concoction

There are very few opportunities in the current beer scene to be smacked in the face by something GOOD and NEW. Some breweries seem to go into an alley behind a row of restaurants and grab scraps from the garbage to use in their "unique new brew." As Dennis Leary so brilliantly indicated, "Wake the $&*# up and smell the maple nut crunch," Watermelon and pizza do not belong in beer. (Watermelon Wheat is by 21st Amendment- usually a damn good brewery, and the pizza beer is by some slack-jaw named Tom Seefurth).

I was fed up with beers claiming to have exotic ingredients flavoring their brew, and further claiming that they tasted good. SO, I was naturally hesitant when I heard that Sam Calagione (fellow Muhlenberg grad) at Dogfish Head was joining with two other spectacular breweries - Victory here in Downingtown and Stone in Escondido, CA- to create a unique herb-flavored ale, but I trusted them. Damn were they right on the money.

So, the beer is a saison, which is a pale ale recipe from France. Traditionally, saison was brewed seasonally in the fall and spring, hence the name saison- french for season. The flavor of a saison is very very mild, and thus is a fantastic vehicle for loading on big flavors, and these man did exactly that. The saison is brewed with parsley, thyme, sage and rosemary.

The beer, upon first sip, has the very familiar taste of a pilsner or lighter pale ale. But then the herbs come through- you get hit with sage and thyme first, but they do change interestingly into parsley, and finally into rosemary. The herby flavor is not overpowering, but definitely present. There are also notes of orange and an ever-so-slight sweetness. We tried it on its own, and they later with a few different foods, including asian flavored pork belly and filet mignon. It was good on its own, but great with food. At $3.99/bottle, I suggest that you by it by the bottle or 4-pack if you want to try it. I will, however, be going back for more. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Veal Breast: Small Cut, Small Price, Delicious Results

There are some cuts of meat that we just don't think of using. Some of these cuts are gristly and tough to make tender no matter how long you may cook them. There are others, however, that are tasty, tender, and most importantly, cheap. Veal breast is on of these cuts. The piece you see here cost me a whopping $2.65 for a 3.5 lb cut, so I bought two. Veal breast is exactly what it sounds like, the breast plate of the calf. Basically, it is the portion of the side of the rib that connects with the other side by the sternum. Most cuts of the breast will include rib bone and rib cartilage. There is a muscle plate on the top of the cut, and another between a nice pad of fat. Then there is sweet, tender meat between each rib bone. The high fat content of the cut allows for a long braise , although the long cook is not necessary. A cut similar to the one above does not render a large yield of meat, but what does come off the bone is so incredibly delicious, that you will buy three or four the next time you choose veal breast so you have left overs.
Now, how does one prepare a tasty veal breast? There are several flavor profile options, but really only one way to cook this cut: you have to braise it. I went through a few braises before I found MY favorite flavor profile for the meat, but every person is different. I used a french approach, with the classic flavors. I first heated a little herb infused olive oil and butter in a enamel coated cast iron pot and browned the breasts on all sides. While browning, dice two large carrots, one large sweet onion, and three celery stalks for your mirepoix. Remove the breasts and put on a pan for later. Turn down the heat and throw in the mirepoix to soften. While that is working dice up two or three cloves of garlic and throw into the mix after about 5-8 minutes. If you want to add flavor, let some of the veggies brown a little bit. Then deglaze with some good white wine and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Although the browning of he meat should use high heat, the veg ought to cook at medium heat, unless the aforementioned browning is wanted. Add 4-5 cups of chicken stock (I add a little ham stock too), 4 bay leaves, and fresh thyme and rosemary if you have it. Place the pot in the oven for 3.5-4 hours at 275-300 degrees.
When the veal is done, it will pull apart quite nicely. There is a lot of fat, but the meaty goodness is going to be unequalled. I serve it as sort of a pulled sandwich, or if you like, make some cheddar grits and serve it over the grits. It also makes a kick-ass stew if you serve it with the juices and veg. If using as a stew, throw in some potato and extra carrots about 30 minutes before removing from the oven. ALWAYS remember to remove the bay leaves before serving. ENJOY!!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Great new website!

Are you like me? Did you choose to hoard your wine corks when you started getting in to wine? Do you now have an obnoxious barrel of old corks from every freaking bottle of wine that you ever freaking consumed? If so, check out this website.
This is a great idea for all of us who feel that they need to retain useless cork from our favorite bottle of wine. This is a sort of hippie way to use the cork, but when you go to their website, you may agree that saving or throwing away cork is not the best idea. This is especially true when you see good wine makers going to artificial or glass stoppers for their wine. I bought a semi-expensive bottle a few months ago and wanted to save it for a special occasion. When I finally decided to pop it open, there was a plastic cork in the bottle that had flaked apart and ruined the bottle.
With that semi-pathetically told story, click on the above link and send you old dusty corks to this company. You may even get a comfortable pair of sandals out of it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

WOW, its been a long time.

I apologize to all of my readers for such a long absence of new posts. I have been incredibly busy at school with all of the graduation preparation. I do have other preparations in mind, including some delicious new recipes that I have been perfecting. Look forward to Green Chili with White Beans and Pulled Duck, my now infamous Pulled Pork Sandwiches with hand cut Green Apple Coleslaw, and other dishes soon to come. So, keep looking for new and improved posts.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Raspberry Jam Filled Almond Bars

It has been said that a picture speaks a thousand words, but this picture conjures only two- "oohhhh god!" I would love to take credit for these delicious raspberry filled almond bars, but alas, I cannot. My wife began baking a few months ago. In her words, "I felt that I had to contribute in the kitchen and you won't let me cook." This is true to some extent, I am a little territorial, and my kitchen is my home. I remain, however, extremely open to her newly found love for confections. Instead of my writing the recipe of a dish that I have never cooked, I will hand over the reigns to my lovely wife, Christa.

Sweet! I am excited to share this recipe with your blog readers - although there was a time when I considered keeping it "Top Secret". I figured at very least it would help me secure more dinner and party invitations from our friends and family simply by keeping their hope alive that I might bring these bars along. But, alas, I have come to terms with the fact that they are so good that it is unfair to keep them to myself and so, I will share the recipe with the world.

Decadent Raspberry Almond Bars

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup almond paste, diced (4 oz)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
Pinch salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (about ½ regular sized jar) raspberry jam
1/2 cup sliced almonds (just eyeball the amount of almonds. I'm pretty sure I used more than 1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees. Grease a 9-inch square metal cake pan (a buttered non-stick pan worked great) or line with parchment paper to extend 1 inch above rim on 2 sides; set aside. You can use a bigger pan and just double the recipe as well. This recipe isn't too finicky.

Step 1 - Crust: In bowl, whisk flour with icing sugar; using a fork, blend in butter until it creates fine crumbs. Press mixture by hand into bottom of prepared pan to evenly cover the bottom surface. Bake in the center of 350°F oven until pale golden, 16 minutes. Let cool on rack. (a larger batch/pan may need just a little longer – maybe 17 minutes)

Step 2 - Filling: In bowl, beat almond paste, sugar, butter and salt until combined. Beat in egg, vanilla and almond extract until smooth. Mix in flour; set aside.

Spread raspberry jam over base; spoon filling over jam. Drop large spoonfuls evenly spaced across the top and use a rubber spatula to just prod the filling into the empty spots so that the surface of the jam is completely covered with almond filling. Work slowly to avoid mixing the jam up into the almond filling). Cover evenly with sliced almonds.

Step 3 - Bake in center of 350°F oven until light golden and filling is just firm to the touch, about 30 minutes (Larger Pan may need a little bit longer – no more than a couple extra minutes though).

Step 4 - Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack rack. Make sure you let the bars cool as completely as possible before cutting. Once cool, run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the filling from the sides. You can then cut them right in the pan, or, turn the entire pan out onto a large cutting board and cut them upside down. You may want to put them in the fridge to let them firm up before slicing Use a sharp knife to cut and you may want to run knife under hot water or wipe with a damp cloth in between cuts to make the process a little bit easier.

Good luck, and let us know how your bars turn out!