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Monday, February 21, 2011

Four Ingredient Challenge Lamb Chop

First off, we have a new member in out little club, welcome Rich from Grilling with Rich to the Four Ingredient Challenge.  I hope you find this as challenging and interesting as I have.  Our February Four Ingredient Off our Grills Challenge involves lamb chops, blood oranges, elbow macaroni and nappa cabbage.  As usual, when ever I approach a set of ingredients, my first thought is to what will be available to me, where am I going to get these things and what makes sense in terms of flavor profiles.

My initial thought was to go Chinese/BBQ hybrid, in keeping with my familiarity and comfort with heritage and comfort flavors.  However, the elbow macaroni just does not work for me in that context, so I started considering what I could put together featuring lamb, blood orange and macaroni.  European flavors work better in my mind for this combination, adding in the nappa, which I can work flavor profiles off of, the apparent choice is going to be a fusing of French, American BBQ and a little Japanese touch.  Thus...

Lamb Chops with a Blood Orange Marinade, Puy Lentils and Macaroni and a Sweet Nappa and Citrus Salad.

The salad was made with nappa cabbage, carrots and supremes of blood orange.  I decided to do a sugar cure of the nappa cabbage and the carrots, which meant first slicing them up, curing them separately as I do not want the flavors to blend.  The veggies are layers with a mixture of sea salt and turbinado sugar mix.  Then they are weighted to make sure as the liquid is pulled out, the vegetables stay in the liquid.

These were allowed to sit for 12 hours until the vegetables were cured.  They remain crunchy and get a slight salty/sweet flavor profile.  These quick pickles will not hold due to the sugar used.  This is a very traditional method for the start of making Tsukemono, all I would need is a week or two of fermenting in a cool dark spot.  But, I am in a hurry.  After washing the veggies, I tossed them and added some supremes of blood orange.  The end result tasted great, with an excellent balance of salty and sweet flavors and the freshness of the orange adding to the unique crunchy texture and vegetable flavor.  And it looked great.

Moving on, the lamb chops, which mysteriously avoided the camera intially, was marinaded in a blend of rosemary, blood orange zest, olive oil, blood orange juice and some Todd's Dirt, which is a herb based BBQ rub mix which I have found makes an excellent season-all for many meat and soup dishes.  Here are the ingredients for the marinade.
The side dish for this challenge had to include elbow macaroni, the problematic ingredient.  There is always a problematic ingredient isn't there.  Well, elbow macaroni with lamb, hmmm...  The lentils, Puy Lentils in fact, were boiled with bay leaves and a whack of Todd's Dirt, then they were drained and combined with the cooked macaroni.  Just prior to serving, a pretty standard mirepoix of  carrots, onion and celery were sauteed along with some garlic.  The lentil/pasta mix was added along with some mustard and some Lucky Dog hot sauce.  Here are the veggies...
The lamb chops came out of the marinade after 5 hours, out of the pool and into the fire, Muaaahahaaaa...anyways, as you can see, the chops get a little bit of a funny color from the blood orange juice in the marinade.  Let's hope that is not an issue.
On the cooker, smoking at 225F over charcoal and apple wood, for about 30 minutes.  Then bumped up to an unknown temperature due to my back aching.  The chops were removed from the kettle at just the right time, based purely upon my guessing.  There were right at 135F, odd how that works.  Just pink throughout the chop.  As for the color, not a problem, they came out great.
Here is the final plating, I added some fresh roasted cashews and a cognac chutney made from dates, raisins and candied ginger.  If you look closely, you can see the strips of fresh mint I snipped over the final product.  I decided the intensity of the chutney would be a good counterpoint to the earthy lamb and the starchy lentil/elbow macaroni mix.

 I have to say, the lentil and macaroni dish has some promise, as odd as it sounds, the basic flavors actually complemented each other quite nicely.  The lamb, chutney and cashews worked very well together.

Grilling with Rich - Entry Here

I am a young person breaking into the great world of barbecue. I enjoy everything about barbecue from the culture to the food. I am just a regular guy trying to have fun and enjoy the food and the process of cooking the food on the grill.  At Grilling with we go beyond just the normal cooking adventures and dig deeper into the large world of BBQ’ing, both professionally and for amateurs. Grilling with Rich focuses on the adventures of a regular guy and his quest to understand and learn as much as possible about the BBQ world.

Larry Gaian of The BBQ Grail - Entry Here
The BBQ Grail website was created in 2007, initially to document the author’s quest to find the perfect backyard BBQ experience. Since that time The BBQ Grail has become one of the more popular BBQ blogs on the internet and is listed on as one of the top BBQ blogs.

Paul Haight of No Excuses BBQ – Entry Here
The No Excuses BBQ website was started in January of 2009 as a way to record the author’s goal of cooking outdoors at least once a week throughout the year and showing the results to the world.  Somewhere along the way things got out of control…

Marc Van Der Wouw of Grill Adventures - Entry Here
Grilladventures by broadcastmarc is started on march of 2010.I started the BBQ thing when I was 30,before that we eat a lot outside.have fun,but when the kids came in our life We start serious cooking.Most of it is realy healthy I think;-)The grill has a special place in my heart,We love to do things outside..Everything I make is an adventure,and sometimes we use the books.We try to grill as much as we can year round.

Chris Grove of Nibble Me This - Entry Here
Nibble Me This is Chris Grove’s blog about his misadventures in live fire cooking. ”I have no culinary training….I’m just entertaining myself with fire and food”.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Red Boat and Ingredient Driven Food

One of the important elements for me, when it comes to food, is the quality of the ingredients I use when cooking.  This has brought me into contact with a wide variety of food producers who focus on ingredients and quality of flavors.  One of these producers is the guys behind Red Boat Fish Sauce which is a product I have mentioned previously as a new flavor in my cooking.  These guys are now back in Vietnam and working out some new products and flavors that they intend to bring to the U.S. market. (Update:  Red Boat Fish Sauce is now on the market at Amazon. )

Now, as for the area, they are on Phu Quoc Island, a small island which is located in the Sea of Siam, my friend Rob sent a few shots of this paradise, I think he is bragging that he is getting paid to lounge on a beach and eat Vietnamese food.  Here is one of the shots...
The Phu Quoc harbour and it's fleet.  A mix of the fishing and merchant fleet.  This is the kind of fleet that goes out and seeks the squid, octopus and fish that dominate the cuisine of any island in the Sea of Siam.  This is also the source for the Black Anchovy that forms the base of the fish sauce the island is famous for.  The food is what it is all about for me, here is a 'simple' breakfast typical of the area.   Well, maybe not exactly typical...
Well, back to the fish sauce, one of the processes that is key to a fish sauce product is the blending of the barrels to create a flavorful product.  While the base sauces are fermented in barrels with just salt and anchovies, the large tanks is where these base sauces are blended to create a flavorful product.  This is an important step, since there are no added flavors or ingredients to moderate or simplify the flavors, no gluten products, no MSG and no sugar added.  These tanks are a work of art...
As old and traditional as the tanks and process may seem, the desire to create a consistent and artisanal product inevitably has an aspect of science to it.  The tasting occurs within a slightly more controlled environment.  Here is what the base sauces look like during tasting.  Anyone familiar with the process of blending wine will find this shot to be very familiar...
As cool as all of this is, and I do find this process and ingredient very cool, I am even more enthused about the new venture these guys are looking at.  Phu Quoc Island has had a long thriving pepper market with a very fine black pepper coming out of their hand work intensive process.  Ever wonder what a pepper orchard looks like?  It looks a lot like this in Viet Nam.
As a BBQ guy, why do these exotic flavors matter?  Can't I just buy black pepper from the market and be happy.  Well, yes, and no, these peppercorns are something special.  Black Pepper is a huge component of the traditional BBQ flavor profile now.  Brisket and ribs, pulled pork and chicken, all rely upon the intense power of ground black pepper.  The first sample of Phu Quoc Black pepper was the most intense and complex flavor of black pepper I have ever tried.  Here is a shot showing the fresh harvest, you don't see this kind of thing if you don't go to the source like the Red Boat guys are doing.
See those berries?  Do you see all the different colors, each of these represents a varied level of ripening and a different flavor profile and intensity.  These are hand picked and the berries are hand sorted, this insures that that the product can reflect each stage of the peppers flavor.  One of the great things that will come out of this is that a true white pepper corn will soon be available from these guys, not the bleached versions most common to the U.S. market, but the fruitier and more moderate white pepper that can be developed through thorough ripening and hand cleaning.  Here are some peppers out for drying, these are hand raked to encourage sun drying without damage to the drupes.
Here are a couple more shots of how this fish sauce and pepper corns end up in food.  I really think Rob sends me these because he knows I hate the idea of flying and that I love the idea of street food and cooking over buckets.
Here is another shot, the standard cute girl with banh xeo.  In this case, a stuffed Vietnamese crepe.  Okay, maybe the web sites you go to don't feature this kind of shot, I happen to see this kind of shot a lot, since I spend most of my online time looking for food ideas.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Morimoto Napa

One of the things I always wonder about is just how good are those chefs you see on television.  One of the shows that has really pushed chefs to the fore has been Iron Chef.  One of the chefs, Masaharu Morimoto has had quite a lot of success in the United States with most of his success coming in New York.  Recently, he opened an outpost in Napa, California and my opportunity to try is food was finally afoot.

Now, the reality of these globe trotting chefs is that you are not paying for the food prepared by the hands of Morimoto, what you are paying for is his inspiration, knowledge and guidance in the creation of the menu and the training of the staff.  At it's best, you will have the best of that input, at it's worst, the chef has simply sold his name to a venture.  I was hoping for the best.

Upon entering the restaurant, you are greeted by a nice lobby and waiting area.  As you walk to the end of the lounge, you see some cases, presumably for takeaway foods, although none were apparent.  What was apparent was that you could look down the entire cold prep area of the kitchen.  As you walk to the dining area, you walk past the hot line and into the sushi area.  Incredible for a restaurant, the kitchen is quite transparent to the clientele.

I think it is quite confidence inspiring that the restaurant feel it can show off it's kitchen and staff to all of the customers.  Naturally, the sushi area is a show place, with fresh fish on display and incredibly focused staff working away on sushi, sashimi and fish preparation.  When asked, the entire staff was engaging and helpful in explaining what they were doing.  The sushi was very well done.  Here is the sample that came with the lunch set.
You can't quite see the shine that as on the fish.  As any of you who really enjoy sushi and sashimi would know, a truly fresh and well cut piece of fish will have a rainbow glisten to the flesh, this was apparent on each piece of fish presented.  Yes, the wasabi is fresh ground, the ginger appears house made. Truly impressive technique and attention to quality was apparent.

Although and entire menu of sushi, sashimi and individual cooked dishes were available, I wanted a sampler of what they were doing.  This meant a lunch set.  A common term amongst Japanese restaurants is to refer to combination lunches as 'sets'.  I chose the crispy tofu set, m dining companions chose the grilled black cod set and the beef teriyaki set. Here they are.
Each set was nicely plated and was accompanied by a few pieces of sushi, either a soup or salad and some tempura vegetables.  The soup was amonst the best misoshiro I have ever had, it am certain it had been fortified by tonkotsu, or the most incredible miso I have ever tasted.  The salad has an intense flavor and was delicious.  The beef was tender and the black cod very nearly perfect in preparation with the fish just past translucent.  Take a look at this little hunk of fish...
The curry was interesting, very typical of Japanese style curry, it was mild with sweet undertones, the difference was that there were slices of jalapeno that must have been added late in the cooking process, so each bite offered differing levels of spice.  A nice touch to allow for different flavors to shine through.  I also had a plate of gyoza, which is one of those bellwether dishes for me.  Does a restaurant care enough to serve something simple, yet fussy enough, to require some care.  Well, this was the only odd step for me.  The presentation was different and the elements were quite good.  A bacon foam, a typically sweet tomato puree (Japanese preferences are for sweet pink tomatoes) and a tuille of potato starch atop the gyoza were all excellent.  The tuille of potato starch was like the most delicate potato chip you have ever had.  The gyoza skin was nice, with a good tooth and flavor, but, the filling seemed a little plain and almost seemed like just ground up pork.  A miss for me there. Here is the plating though.
Then there was the dessert, ice cream sandwiches and Japanese donuts with a variety of dipping condiments.  The ice cream sandwiches were quite good, with clean and distinct flavors.  The donuts were beautifully friend, with lavender honey, Japanese molasses and a variety of sugars such as green tea sugar, kinako sugar and a few I can't remember.  All were delicious.
One of the things I note in any food prepared or inspired by world class chefs is a purity of flavors.  This food was no different, each dish represented a particular combination of ingredients and flavors that rang true through each bite.  I love food that presents a variety of flavors such that each bite changes subtly thus assuring the palate is always changing.  I found that this was the case with the curry as well as the tempura side, which featured a somewhat typical selection of vegetables, but, in a unique tempura coating with a wasabi infused aioli sauce.  Ingredient driven food with beautiful technique presented in a wonderful environment.  The wait staff was perfect for the setting, casual enough, yet somehow showing up just when needed.  This kind of food does not come cheap, and is a once in a great while experience for someone like me.  But, if you have a passion for food, a highly recommend a nosh or two from a world class chef inspired restaurant.  Ah, one final plating, as we left, this was placed out for service...
All photos courtesy of John McGee.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Greek Coffee

I had too much coffee today.  But, after I had finished my triple Americano, one of the coffee shop regulars at Zocalo Coffeehouse in San Leandro showed up with his portable coffee gear.  This is a style of coffee that he makes at his home in Greece and it is quite interesting.  As you can see, his portable gear consists of a 35 year old MSR camp stove, a Greek coffee maker and a bottle of fuel.  We used both a Greek brand of coffee, Bravo, and with Zocalo's house blend. 
As you can see, like any camp stove, it takes a bit to get the flame stabilized and the element heated up.  For those that don't know, that tin cup is not the coffee maker, that is the old cup that holds the stove.  Ancient stuff here.  The Bravo coffee is not a gourmet item, unless you allow for the fact that it is completely labeled in Greek and came from Greece.  Apparently in Greece, this is a very common household item.  It was ground extremely fine, beyond espresso grind.  It's texture was almost like cinnamon in texture.  The coffee was ladled into the cold water in the coffee maker, 2 to 2.5 teaspoons for about 4 demitasse of water.  Sugar is also added, 2 to 3 teaspoons is apparently the norm.  This is heated over the stove until just shy of boiling.  Naturally, the coffee should not be boiled.
The great thing about this method, is that the coffee will tell you when it is ready.  As the coffee approaches the boil, it starts to give off a 'crema' of sorts that floats at the top of the pot.  This even looks like the 'crema' on an espresso.  The foam color you are looking for is the classic light tan, with some tiger striping of lighter and darker tans.  If the 'crema' turns dark, it is burned.  Here is a shot of the Zocalo House blend 'crema' which was darker than the Bravo.
The interesting thing was the range of flavors, the ligther roasted Bravo brand gave a simpler flavor, but, with a clear nut and fruit profile.  It was quite sweet since the sugar was added.  The sweetness is not quite like a 'Cuban' Espresso  with it caramelized flavors, it is more a simple sweetness.  We tried two types of sugar and you could taste the difference between the unwashed Turbinado and the regular granulated cane sugar.  The Zocalo House blend, which is not my favorite coffee bean, was totally different with a richer overall texture and flavor showing the spice, wine and roast qualities typical of this blend.  It is much better this way.  We also cut the sugar back on this brew which is much more to my liking.  As you can see, there is a float of oil on the top of the coffee which is what I would expect in any good coffee extraction.
This represents essentially  double shot of espresso, which means, if you allow for a triple Americano, and three double Greek coffees, I had 9 shots of coffee. WHEEEEE!

My stomach hurts.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Stuffed Smoked Jalapeno Peppers

Otherwise known as ABT's or the long version, Atomic Buffalo Turds.  Yep, that is not a lovely name, but, this is beer food and 'spending all day watching a smoker run' food.  Jalapeno peppers stuffed with some form of cream cheese spread and wrapped in bacon then smoked.  Or you could cook them in the oven if you are so inclined.

First step is to gather up the basics, some jalapeno peppers, cored and seeded, some cream cheese and other stuff.  In this case, I went with some water chestnuts and browned pork sausage.  Because you can never have too much salty fatty pork apparently.  Here are the raw materials...
Then the peppers are cored and stuffed, in this case with a mix of cream cheese, browned sausage and finely minced water chestnuts.
Then the peppers are wrapped in a strip of bacon, I like to use uncured fancy pants bacon, from heritage pork, mostly because I am a bacon snob.  Although I prefer to use uncured bacon of late, it just seems to cook up the way I like.  I also prefer to use thin sliced bacon for this use as it crisps up better.
Next, I rubbed them up with some BBQ rub, in this case, my usual go to prepared rub was used, Simply Marvelous Sweet and Spicy finds itself on more stuff I cook than just about any other rub.  I really like this product and the fact that I know the owner and he is California based helps.
These were then cooked at 225F, until the bacon is done, I very cleverly moved the peppers into direct heat, and then forgot about them for a bit, so these are extra crunchy.  Not burned though, these were terrific despite the dark color.  I found these to be very tasty with an excellent texture.
I do have to note that eating all of these was a bad decision, in addition to all the salt and fat, a few of them were rather exceptionally hot and got the stomach going in the wrong direction.  I do love these things though, great combination of flavors and textures.