Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Kansas City Strip Steak Fra Diavolo

     Fra Diavolo Variations
     There are two major variations of Fra Diavolo sauce.  One is made with olive oil, butter, garlic and crushed dried red chile pepper.  The butter olive oil sauce version usually accompanies shrimp or lobster.  
     I used to sell lobster fra diavolo at a classy Northern Italian restaurant many years ago.  This entrée is made by splitting large lobster tails in half and sautéing them quickly in butter, olive oil and garlic.  Crushed dried red pepper and crushed black pepper are added when the lobster is halfway cooked.  After the peppers are added, the temperature is reduced and small splash of dry white wine or chicken broth is added, then the liquid is evaporated to finish the lobster.  
     Steak Fra Diavolo is sometimes prepared with a butter olive oil crushed red pepper sauce, just like lobster fra diavolo, but the spicy "a la minute" tomato sauce version of Steak Fra Diavolo is more popular.  Which version of fra diavolo is applied to a steak just depends on an Italian American chef's preference or interpretation of the recipe.  
     Fra Diavolo Origins
     Fra diavolo is an Italian American creation, but most chefs in Italy know the recipe and its variations.  I have worked with Italian chefs who literally just got off a plane from Italy and had never been to America before, yet the chefs cooked Lobster or Steak Fra Diavolo on their first night in a restaurant like they knew the recipe by heart.  This goes to show that Italian chefs worldwide do communicate Italian cuisine trends with each other, wherever they happen to be.  

     Fra Diavolo literally translates to "Brother Devil."  The word "brother" in the translation refers to a monk or a priest.  Fra Diavolo was the nickname of Michele Pezza, who was a heroic Italian guerilla leader who resisted the French occupation of the Kingdom of Naples in the late 1700's.  Michele Pezza often disguised himself as an Italian priest when reconnoitering in French army territory and this is how he earned the name Fra Diavolo.  
     Michele Pezza is symbolized as the last cavalier in many of the works of the French writer Alexandre Dumas and there is an opera that is named Fra Diavolo.  An Italian guerilla freedom fighter, a priest who was a spy and a cavalier!  This romantic opera hero is associated with the words "fra diavolo" and this is why Steak or Lobster Fra Diavolo is a nice speciale del giorno for a Valentines Day menu.  
     Today's Recipe
     There really is no single definitive Steak Fra Diavolo recipe.  Lobster or Steak Fra Diavolo is basically an entrée that allows a chef or sauté cook to boast their own cooking skills and their mastery of hot chile pepper flavor balance.  Steak or Lobster Fra Diavolo is usually a speciale del giorno that is meant to impress guests that enjoy spicy Italian flavors.     
     Earlier in this article, I described how lobster fra diavolo is made and I mentioned that steak fra diavolo is usually made with a tomato sauce that is cooked to order.  I apprenticed with many Italian chefs during my career.  Every Italian chef that prepared steak fra diavolo seemed to have their own interpretation of the recipe and each chef's interpretation involved showing their finesse in creating flavor.  Some Italian chefs added dry white wine, while others added dry red wine.  Some added extra garlic.  Some added sage or oregano.  Some used fresh overripe local tomatoes and some used canned tomatoes imported from Italy.  Some used crushed dried red pepper and some used fresh red chile pepper.      
     Today's recipe features a Kansas City Strip Steak that is prepare Fra Diavolo style.  A Kansas City Strip Steak is a loin steak that has a portion of the bone attached.  A New York Sirloin Strip Steak is boneless.  Many steak enthusiasts tend to prefer steaks that have the bone attached, because more flavor is created.  There is some kind of a primal instinct that is satisfied by carving steak meat off of the bone and this adds to the appeal.  
     The peppers that I chose to use in the fra diavolo sauce were red Fresno Peppers.  Fresno peppers are about the same size as a jalapeño, but they look more like a large Tuscan Pepper.  Fresno peppers have a little bit more spicy heat than a jalapeño or a Tuscan Pepper.  The flavor of a Fresno Chile Pepper tastes like a definitive classic hot red chile pepper.  There are no fruit or tobacco flavor undertones and there is no green vegetable flavor in this breed of chile pepper.  The flavor of red fresno peppers is perfect for making Kansas City Strip Steak Fra Diavolo.     

     Kansas City Strip Steak Fra Diavolo:
     This recipe yields 1 serving!  Like many Italian saute recipes, everything is cooked in one pan.
     Step 1:  Select a 12 to 14 ounce Kansas City Strip Steak.
     Season the steak with sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of blended olive oil.
     Add the strip steak.
     Add 1 whole red fresno pepper.
     *Sauté the pepper, till a few golden brown highlights appear and the pepper becomes tender.
     Set the whole pepper aside and keep it warm on a stove top.
     *Sauté the steak on both sides, till it is almost cooked to the preferred state of doneness.  (For example, if medium rare is preferred, cook the steak rare at this stage.)
     Step 3:  Remove the steak from the pan and set it aside.  Keep the steak warm on a stove top.
     Drain off any excess grease from the pan.
     Step 4:  Place the pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter. 
     Add 2 cloves of thin sliced garlic.
     Sauté till the garlic becomes a light golden color.
     Step 5:  Add a few onion strips.  (about 1/5 cup)
     Add 1 teaspoon of minced shallot.
     Add 1 seeded diced red fresno pepper.
     Sauté till the onions start to turn clear in color.
     Step 6:  Add 1/2 cup of dry red wine.
     Add 1/2 cup of beef broth.
     Simmer and reduce the liquid, till only about 1/2 cup remains.
     Step 7:  Add 1/2 cup of imported Italian tomato puree.
     Add 1/4 cup of imported crushed Italian San Marzano Tomatoes.
     Add 1 small pinch of ground sage.
     Add 1 small pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 small pinch of basil.
     Add 2 to 3 pinches of crushed black peppercorns.
     Add sea salt to taste.
     Step 8:  Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a very thin tomato sauce consistency.  
     Step 9:  Add 2 pinches of minced curly leaf parsley.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of virgin olive oil.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Step 10:  Return the strip steak to the pan.
     Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a medium thin tomato sauce consistency.
     Step 11:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Place the steak on a plate.
     Spoon the sauce over the steak and onto the plate.
     Place the sautéed whole fresno pepper on top of the steak.
     Garnish with a small lemon crown that is pressed in chopped curly leaf parsley.

     Fra Diavolo is one of the tastiest steak preparations that there is!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Pasta e Fagioli

     Pasta e Fagioli!
     Pasta Fagioli is delicious, hearty and full of flavor!  Italian Pasta Fagioli recipes can vary from one household to the next and there are many regional interpretations.  This Italian specialty can be served as a soup or a complete entrée.  There are vegetarian versions and some recipes feature Italian pork products.  Ditali Pasta is most often used to make Pasta Fagioli, but the pasta shape is open to interpretation too.
     Overall, Pasta Fagioli reflects upon simple peasant style food.  Depending on the family or chef, Pasta Fagioli can inspire sentimental memories of poor economic times or it can elegantly express a healthy peasant style harvest season meal.  The ingredients in a Pasta Fagioli recipe usually reflect upon family traditions.
     I learned today's Pasta Fagioli recipe variation while apprenticing with a great Sicilian Chef in a New York Italian style fine dining restaurant.  Sicilian chefs always seem to go over the top of the scale when impressing guests with flavor and the style of his Pasta Fagioli certainly accomplished this task.  The Sicilian chef stated that to achieve peak flavors, Pasta Fagioli should always cooked to order.  His choice of pasta was Fettuccine and it creates an interesting visual effect.
     By the way, the word "Fagioli" is pronounced as "FAH-Zooo" in America.  The chef died laughing when I pronounced Fagioli the first time as "FAGGY-O-LEE!"  I was still a very green apprentice back in those days.
     Pasta Fagioli:
     This recipe yields one large bowl of zuppa!  
     This style of Pasta Fagioli is always cooked to order and it is never prepared ahead of time.
     To make 2 or more portions, an extra wide soup pot is the best choice.
     Step 1:  Cook 1 small portion of fettuccine in boiling water, till it becomes al dente.
     Cool the pasta under cold running water.
     Drain the water off of the pasta.
     Set the pasta aside.
     Step 2:  Heat a wide sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of imported Italian Pancetta that is cut into small 3/16" thick strips.
     Sauté till the pancetta starts to lightly brown.
     Step 3:  Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic.
     Add 1/4 cup of small chopped onion.
     Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
     Step 4:  Add 2 large escarole leaves that are sliced into wide ribbons.
     Add 2 paper thin slices of imported Italian Prosciutto that are cut into 3/8" wide ribbons.
     Sauté till the escarole wilts.
     Step 5:  Add 3 tablespoons of imported Italian canned crushed plum tomato.
     Add 8 to 10 whole Italian Parsley leaves.
     Add 2 thin sliced fresh sage leaves.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 small pinch of crushed red pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of basil.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Briefly sauté for a few seconds, till the herbs become aromatic.
     Step 6:  Add 3 cups of chicken broth.
     Add 1 cup of rinsed cooked cannellini beans or rinsed canned cannellini beans.  (Cannellini are white kidney beans.)
     Step 7:  Bring the soup to a gentle boil.
     Rapidly simmer and reduce the soup, till the broth develops a full flavor and the soup reduces to about 3 1/2 cups in volume.
     Step 8:  Add the reserved small portion of al dente cooked fettuccine pasta.
     Step 9:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer and reduce till the volume of the soup is about 2 3/4 to 3 cups.  The broth should be very rich and not watery.
     Step 10:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Immediately pour the soup into a large shallow soup bowl.
     Try to expose some of each of the ingredients on the surface of the soup.
     Serve with finely grated Italian Parmigiana Cheese and sliced Italian bread on the side.
     This is a great tasting Pasta Fagioli.  Escarole adds a very light buttery cabbage flavor.  Pasta Fagioli is a great afternoon soup that is really a full meal! 

Friday, December 18, 2015

French Saffron Dill Clam Chowder

     A Nice Light Clam Chowder!
     Chowder was originally created in France.  The first chowders were very simple and milk was not always part of the recipe.  Local folks simply gathered clams and mollusks along the shoreline in Northern France, then simmered the shellfish in a broth or water with mild herbs and salt pork.  Western world ingredients, like potatoes, were added to the recipe later in history.
     Even in modern times, many chowders are not made with milk.  By far, the most popular are Manhattan Chowder and Bahama Chowder.  Both of these chowders feature tomato and mild peppers.  Along the American Northeast Coastline, there are a few local chowder recipes that are only made with clams, onion, bacon and potato.  These clear broth chowders are also satisfying on a cold day.
     I used to sell plenty of today's rustic French style Saffron Dill Clam Chowder in Florida during the hot humid summer months.  A great French chef taught me how to make this chowder at a small café.  This chowder has a light thin body and it has a great flavor.  Clam juice is not used to make the broth.  The broth is made with light chicken stock.
     I usually make my clam soups and chowders with fresh clams or fresh frozen clams.  Where I currently am located in Chicago, the fresh seafood has not been looking too good for a few months.  It pays to be careful about choosing fresh seafood and canned clams are always an option for chowders.
     For today's recipe, I chose to use canned baby clams.  If there is not any good fresh clams available, then canned baby clams are a good choice.  Both canned baby clams and tiny Ipswich Clams are very tender, when compared to canned chopped large ocean clams.  Canned chopped large ocean clams do tend to be tough and rubbery.
     We used to garnish this soup with a few toasted croutons at the French café in Florida.  For today's chowder presentation, I chose Indian Masala Khakhara Bread.  Masala Khakhara is a very thin unleavened bread that is flavored with turmeric.  Masala Khakhara can be found pre-made in Indian markets.
     French Saffron Dill Clam Chowder: 
     This recipe yields 1 large portion of chowder!  (About 2 1/4 cups)
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Add 3 tablespoons of finely chopped celery.
     Add 3 tablespoons of finely chopped onion.
     Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
     Step 2:  Add just enough flour to absorb the excess butter while stirring.  Stir till the butter is absorbed and a roux forms.  (2 teaspoons is plenty)
     Step 3:  Raise the temperature to medium heat.
     Add 3 cups of light chicken stock, while stirring.
     Stir occasionally, till the chowder starts to boil.
     Step 4:  Add 3 ounces of canned baby clams.  (Do not add the clam juice to this soup!)
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 1 pinch of Crocus sativa Saffron (or 2 pinches of Safflower Saffron).  (Rub the saffron between your fingers, so the full flavor is released.)
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh dill weed.
     Add 1 pinch of turmeric.
     Add sea salt and white pepper to taste.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer and reduce the chowder, till the volume is about 2 1/4 cups
     Step 6:  Remove the bay leaf.
     Ladle the chowder into a shallow soup bowl.
     Garnish with a few toasted French bread croutons.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.
     Optional Garnish:  Crack a large Masala Khakhara Bread into 4 pieces.
     Place the Masala Khakhara pieces in the chowder, so they lean against the rim of the soup bowl.
     The light chicken stock adds a very soothing flavor to this French style chowder.  The Masala Khakhara adds a nice touch to the presentation. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Roasted Brunoise Garden Vegetables and Chèvre Crostini

     A Nice Simple French Café Style Crostini Appetizer Or Light Lunch!   
     Today's appetizer features a roasted brunoise garden vegetables and warm Chèvre (fresh goat cheese) on toasted French bread.  Brunoise translates to 1/8" dice or 1/8" cube pieces.  The easiest way to learn proper brunoise knife skills is to learn from a chef in person or to watch an instructional video on Youtube.  Most French Precision Cut instructional videos are available on this free video website.  Some instructional videos are better than others, so it pays to browse for accurate information too.  
     Roasted Brunoise Garden Vegetables and Chèvre Crostini:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.
     Brunoise means to uniformly dice cube shaped pieces that measure 1/8"x1/8"x1/8".
     Goat cheese contains no fat, so it will not melt.  Chèvre will only soften when it is warmed.
     Step 1:  Brush 3 thin slices of French Baguette Bread with olive oil.  (About 3/8" thick.)
     Place the bread slices on a baking pan.
     Bake the crostini in a 325ºF oven till the bread is toasted crisp with a light golden color.
     Set the crostini aside.
     Step 2:  Brunoise dice these vegetables:
     - 2 tablespoons of celery
     - 2 tablespoons of carrot
     - 2 tablespoons of green bell pepper.
     Step 3:  Place the brunoise diced vegetables on a small roasting pan.
     Drizzle a very small amount of olive oil over the vegetables.
     Step 4:  Bake the brunoise vegetables in a 350ºF oven for only 2 to 3 minutes, till the vegetables are halfway cooked.
     Remove the pan from the oven and set it on the stove top.
     Step 5:  Cut a few thin slices of chilled soft Chèvre goat cheese.
     Place the sliced goat cheese on top of each of the crostini.
     Place the chevre crostini on a baking pan.
     Sprinkle equal amounts of the brunoise garden vegetables on the goat cheese.
     Step 6:  Bake the crostini in a 350ºF oven till the goat cheese softens and the brunoise vegetables are roasted al dente.  (The vegetables should not be browned.)
     Café Style Lunch Presentation:
     Place the Roasted Brunoise Garden Vegetables and Chèvre Crostini on a plate.
     Garnish the plate with a simple vinaigrette salad of your choice.  A small portion of caponata is a nice optional accompaniment!
     This light crostini snack has a very pleasant comfortable flavor! 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sour Mash Bourbon Turkey a la King en Phyllo with Hickory Smoked Linguica and Roasted Scallion Threads

     A Fancy Version Of Turkey a la King!
     Chicken a la King was created by a cook named William King over 100 years ago at the famous Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia.   Chicken a la King originally was a classy fine dining recipe.  The combination of ingredients yielded such a tasty flavor that this entrée became popular in all wakes of life.  
     Unfortunately, Chicken a la King has for the most part has disappeared from fine dining restaurant circles.  During the last 50 years, this classic entrée has been resigned to being offered mostly at greasy spoon diners and institutional food facilities.  As expected, Chicken a la King that is served at a school cafeteria is not exactly going to be a gourmet item.  Even so, because the combination of ingredients is so well thought out, even a Chicken a la King that is made in a correctional facility will be palatable.  

     Because the basic list of ingredients for Chicken a la King work so well together, it is very easy for a chef to modify the recipe to create a new gourmet version.  Today's Sour Mash Bourbon Turkey a la King en Phyllo with Hickory Smoked Linguica and Roasted Scallion Threads is a good example of jazzing the old original recipe up with a classic Americana Cuisine theme in mind.  
     Turkey a la King is the most popular variation of the original recipe and using turkey automatically inspires following a classic American cuisine path.  Turkey a la King is also perfect for using up leftover roast turkey from Thanksgiving.  
     Good old Kentucky Sour Mash Bourbon replaces the Dry Vermouth in today's recipe.  Bourbon adds a rich comfortable flavor to the sauce and it marries with the rustic taste of Hickory Smoked Portuguese Linguica Sausage.  
     Portuguese Linguica is highly seasoned like Cajun Andouille, but the choice of ground chile pepper is a combination of robust tasting Paprika Chiles.  Portuguese Linguica is not a Chorizo, but it is similar.  If no Hickory Smoked Linguica is available, then any highly seasoned hickory smoked sausage is a good second choice.
     There are no Peas in today's modern Turkey a la King version, but you can add peas if you wish to.  Sweet Peas were usually an optional ingredient anyway.  
     Roasted red bell pepper adds a richer flavor than plain red bell pepper.  Portobello field mushrooms are richer tasting than cave button mushrooms.  Adding a few drops of truffle oil can really enhance the mushroom flavor in the cream sauce.  Crème Fraîche enriched béchamel tastes richer than plain milk gravy.  Roasted scallions add a unique rustic flavor.  
     As one can see, today's recipe is not your average high school cafeteria Turkey a la King, so it deserves an eye catching plate presentation.  Why not go with a starch that adds an interesting texture?  Phyllo Dough Sheets can be purchased pre-made and frozen at most grocery stores.  They are easy to work with, but they always must be kept covered with a towel or they will dry out.  An ordinary oven proof soup bowl was inverted and used as a shaping mold to drape the butter sheets of phyllo.  A Phyllo Bowl is easy to make and it looks impressive when presented!

     Phyllo Bowl Garnish:
     This recipe yields 1 large Phyllo Bowl.
     Step 1:  Cut 10 squares of phyllo dough sheets, so they measure 10" x 10."
     Keep the phyllo sheets covered with a dry towel, so they do not dry out.
     Step 2:  Place a round soup bowl or small mixing bowl (about a 2 1/2 cup capacity bowl) upside down on a baking pan.
     Brush both sides of 1 phyllo sheet with melted unsalted butter. 
     Drape the sheet over the soup bowl dome.    
     Work with one phyllo sheet at a time till all 10 sheets are draped over the bowl.  Try to leave the edges uneven, to create a nice visual effect.  
     Step 3:  Bake the phyllo in a 350ºF oven, till it becomes a crispy golden color.
     Step 4:  Allow the phyllo, the baking pan and the bowl to cool to room temperature.
     *This next step is a bit tricky to do.  The object is to minimize damage to the crisp phyllo bowl!
     Place a shallow wide stew bowl over the top of the phyllo bowl on the baking pan.
     Invert the shallow stew bowl, baking pan and the crisp phyllo covered bowl as altogether at one time.
     Remove the baking pan.
     Use thin tongs to grasp the soup bowl mold, while gently prying off the crisp phyllo bowl.  
     *The phyllo bowl will now be setting in the shallow stew bowl and it is now ready to be filled with Turkey a la King.  If any phyllo leaves break off, then do not worry about it.  Just piece them around the base of the phyllo bowl, so it looks nice.
     Set the stew bowl with the phyllo bowl lining aside where is will not be damaged.  

     Roasted Scallion Thread Garnish:
     There is a difference between a scallion and a green onion.  The flavor of a scallion is much richer.  Scallion are almost never sold in markets, so green onions are a good substitute.  Scallions have a short shelf life and they are usually sold as a garden fresh item by an herb purveyor.
     Place 1 thin julienne sliced green onion on a baking pan.
     Drizzle a little bit of melted unsalted butter over the green onion threads.
     Roast in a 350ºF oven, till the green onion threads become crisp and turn a caramelized brown color.
     Set the roasted green onion threads aside.

     Sour Mash Bourbon Turkey a la King with Hickory Smoked Linguica: 
     This recipe yields 1 hearty portion.
     This recipe is made with oven roasted turkey breast.  Leftover roast turkey from Thanksgiving is the best choice, but if none is available then slow roasting a whole turkey breast is a good option.  
     The roasted turkey is added late in the recipe, because roasted turkey has a tendency to shred, when it is simmered in a sauce.  
     If you want to add the optional peas to this recipe, then add 1/4 cup of sweet peas at the same time that the turkey is added.
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 teaspoon of minced shallot.
     Add 2 tablespoons of diced onion.
     Add 1/3 cup of large diced green bell pepper.
     Add 2 tablespoons of minced celery.
     Add 1 chopped green onion.
     Add 3 to 4 small portobello mushrooms that are cut into quarters.
     Sauté till the vegetables are tender.
     Step 2:  Add just enough flour, while constantly stirring to soak up the excess butter in the pot and to create a roux.  (about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons)
     Stir for about 1 minute, so the roux is combined.
     Step 3:  Add 1/2 cup of turkey broth or chicken stock.
     Add 1/3 cup of Kentucky Sour Mash Bourbon.
     Add 1/3 cup of milk.
     Add 1/2 cup of cream.
     Stir till the sauce comes to a gentle boil.  (The sauce will thicken to a very thin soupy consistency.)
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1/4 cup of sour cream while stirring.
     Step 5:  Add 3 ounces of Hickory Smoked Portuguese Linguica Sausage that cut into thick half moon shapes.  
     Add 3 tablespoons of large diced roasted red bell pepper.
     Add 1/2 of a bay leaf.
     Add 1 small pinch of thyme.
     Add 1 small pinch of marjoram.
     Add sea salt and white pepper to taste.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of black truffle oil.  (optional)
     Step 6:  Gently simmer and reduce the sauce, till it is a thin sauce consistency.
     Step 7:  Add 5 ounces of roasted turkey breast that is cut into large bite size pieces.
     Simmer till the turkey is hot and the sauce becomes a medium thin consistency that easily coats a spoon.
     Keep the Turkey a la King warm over very low heat.

     Sour Mash Bourbon Turkey a la King en Phyllo with Hickory Smoked Linguica and Roasted Scallion Threads:
     This recipe describes 1 plate presentation.
     Place the crisp phyllo bowl lined shallow stew bowl on a countertop.
     Gently spoon the Sour Mash Bourbon Turkey a la King with Hickory Smoked Linguica into the phyllo bowl that is setting in the shallow stew bowl.
     *If too much is placed in the crisp phyllo bowl at one time, then the phyllo will break.
     Garnish with the roasted scallion threads.

     Viola!  A classy looking American style Turkey a la King that tastes great!  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Asparagus and Ham Roulades with Brandy Cheddar Crème

     A Nice Vegetable Item For A Banquet Or Holiday Dinner! 
     Every once in a while, I post a recipe that has become lost in the past.  Today's asparagus spear roulade was a popular item at yacht clubs and country clubs many years ago.  We used to prepare ham wrapped asparagus roulades with a variety of cheese sauces.  Cheddar cheese sauces seem to be the best choice and a splash of brandy adds an elegant touch.
     The holiday season is here and there are a few directions that most folks go when planning Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for themselves and guests.  During the last few decades, dining out has become a worthy option.  Dining out means not having to clean up the kitchen after the meal is done.  Another option is to prepare a gourmet holiday dinner at home or to hire a private chef to do all the fancy cooking.  By far, the most popular option is a good old fashioned classic holiday dinner that is composed of old family recipes that have been handed down for many generations.
    When planning a holiday dinner for family and guests, many folks like to introduce a few new food items along with the old family recipes.  Some folks attempt to go off the scale on the gourmet side and often the cooking idea loses something in the translation.  
     A better alternative for folks that do not attempt to cook fancy gourmet food on a regular basis is to perfect something simple.  This is where today's asparagus recipe fits in.  Ham wrapped asparagus spears are easy to make.  Making a good brandied cheese sauce is not all too difficult either.  The end result is a holiday dinner side dish that is a real crowd pleaser!    
     Brandy Cheddar Crème:   
     This recipe yields a little more than 1 cup.  (Enough for 3 to 4 asparagus and ham roulades.)  
     The mother sauce for this recipe is béchamel.  
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of flour, while constantly stirring, to make a roux.  (The roux should be shiny and not caky looking.)
     Constantly stir till the roux become a white color, with very little hazelnut aroma.
     Step 2:  Add 1 cup of milk while whisking.
     Add 1/2 cup of cream.
     Add 1/4 cup of brandy.
     Stir as the sauce heats and thickens to a very soupy consistency.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 2 tablespoon of chopped onion.  
     Add 1 spice clove.
     Add 1 small pinch of nutmeg. 
     Add sea salt and white pepper to taste.
     Step 4:  Gently simmer and reduce the sauce till it is a thin sauce consistency that can coat a spoon.
     Step 5:  Add 1/3 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese, while gently stirring.  (The better the cheddar, the better the sauce!)
     Stir till the cheese combines with the sauce.  (The cheese will thicken the sauce to a medium thin consistency that easily clings to a spoon.
     Step 6:  Add 1 tablespoon of brandy to refresh the flavor.
     Add 1 pat of unsalted butter, while gently whisking.  (monte au beurre)
     Step 7:  Pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a second sauce pot or ceramic sauce container.
     Keep the sauce warm over very low heat or keep the sauce warm in a 135ºF bain marie.  Stir occasionally.

     Asparagus and Ham Roulades:
     About 18 thin asparagus spears are needed for making 2 roulades.  Pencil thin asparagus spears do not have to be peeled.  
     If you use larger asparagus spears, they will have to be peeled and you will have to judge how many asparagus spears will be needed for each roulade.  
     Each asparagus and ham roulade should be about a 1 1/2" in diameter.
     Step 1:  Select a nice roasted ham at a delicatessen and request whole undamaged slices that are about 1/32" thick.  (One slice of ham is needed per roulade.)  
     Step 2:  Boil a pot of salted water.
     Blanch about 18 pencil asparagus spears for about 15 to 20 seconds, so they are still fairly crisp.  (Thin asparagus spears cook quickly!)
     Step 3:  Use a fryer net to remove the spears from the hot water.
     Shock the asparagus spears in ice water.
     Step 4:  Remove the asparagus from the ice water and place them on a cutting board.
     Trim the asparagus spears, so they are about 7" in length.
     Step 5:  Trim the width of 2 slices of ham, so each ham slice is as wide as the stalks of the asparagus spears.  The asparagus tips should be exposed when the spears are wrapped.
     Step 6:  Place the 2 ham slices on a counter top.  
     Place about 9 pencil asparagus spears across the end of each ham slice.
     Tightly roll the ham and asparagus together to form roulades.
     Step 7:  Brush a baking pan with unsalted butter.
     Place the roulades on the baking pan with the seam side facing down.
     Brush the ham and the exposed asparagus tips with melted butter.
     Step 8:  Bake in a 325ºF oven, till the ham gains a little bit of golden color and till the asparagus spears become hot.  (Be careful not to bake the roulades for too much time, or the asparagus tips will dry out!) 
     Keep the asparagus and ham roulades warm on a stove top.

     Asparagus and Ham Roulades with Brandy Cheddar Crème:  
     Place the roulades of asparagus on a plate.
     Spoon a generous amount of the brandy cheddar crème sauce over the ham and onto the plate.
     No garnish is necessary!

     Brandy accents the flavor of sharp cheddar cheese.  This is a nice tasting old fashioned vegetable side dish!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Carnival Squash Soufflé

     Light, Delicate, Carnival Squash Soufflé!
     It seems like new varieties of winter squash appear in food markets every autumn.  Some are relatively unknown natural varieties and others are carefully developed garden hybrids.  The names of odd winter squash can be confusing too, because produce department managers at grocery stores often mislabel exotic varieties of squash that they have never seen before.
     Originally, I thought the squash used to make today's recipe was a Dumpling Squash, but that was because the squash was mislabeled at the food market.  As it turned out after doing a bit of research, the squash was actually called a Carnival Squash.  Carnival Squash are also called "Festival Squash or Heart Of Gold Squash."  Because Carnival Squash have about the same shape and flavor as a green speckled Dumpling Squash, it easy to get the two mixed up.  In the end it really does not matter, because it is the good taste that counts!  
     There are a few different color varieties of Carnival Squash.  The yellow orange striation color variety looks pretty on a plate.  Carnival Squash have a delicate flavor that tastes kind of like Acorn Squash.  A light delicate winter squash flavor like this is perfect for making soufflé.  
     Two small Carnival Squash are required for today's recipe.  A hollowed par-baked Carnival Squash is used as a soufflé baking ramekin, instead of a ceramic ramekin.  The second Carnival Squash is used to make the soufflé batter.  Because the soufflé is baked in a squash shell, the soufflé is practically guaranteed to have a moist texture.

     *This entire recipe yields 1 petite soufflé!

     Dumpling Squash Preparation:
     Step 1:  Cut the tops off of 2 Carnival Squash.  (This is done just like cutting the top of a pumpkin open to make a Jack O' Lantern.)
     Use a spoon to remove the seeds and pulp.
     Step 2:  Place the 2 squash shells on a roasting pan.
     Place 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter in each squash.
     Bake in a 300ºF oven till the squash just starts to become tender.  (par-bake)
     Step 3:  Allow the squash to cool to room temperature.
     Set 1 of the par-baked Carnival Squash aside.  (This Carnival Squash will be used as the soufflé ramekin.)
     Step 4:  Cut the second squash in half.
     Scrape the squash meat out of the shell and set it aside.  
     Discard the empty shell.  

     Béchamel Sauce:
     This recipe yields a little more than 1 cup.  (Enough for at least 2 petite soufflés.)  
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of flour, while constantly stirring, to make a roux.  (The roux should be shiny and not caky looking.)
     Constantly stir till the roux become a white color, with very little hazelnut aroma.
     Step 2:  Add 1 cup of milk while whisking.
     Add 1/2 cup of cream.
     Stir as the sauce heats and thickens to a very thin sauce consistency.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add thick slice of onion.
     Add 1 spice clove.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 small pinch of nutmeg.
     Add 1/2 of a small bay leaf. 
     Step 4:  Gently simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a thin sauce consistency that can coat a spoon.
     Step 5:  Pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a container.
     Keep the sauce warm on a stove top.

     Carnival Squash Brandy Crème Puree:
     Step 1:  Place the reserved prepared Carnival Squash meat in a small sauce pot.
     Add 1/4 cup of the béchamel sauce.
     Step 2:  Place the sauce pot over medium low heat.
     When the sauce start to simmer, add 1 ounce of brandy.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of granulated sugar.
     Add 1 small pinch of allspice.
     Simmer the ingredients for 1 minute.
     Step 3:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Finely puree the ingredients with an electric blending wand or a food processor.
     Step 4:  Place the thick squash puree in a mixing bowl.
     Add a little bit more of the béchamel sauce, while whisking, so the puree is a medium thin sauce consistency that easily coats a spoon.  (The amount depends on how moist the squash meat is.  About 2 to 4 tablespoons more béchamel is about enough.) 
     Set the mixing bowl of brandied squash puree aside.
     Carnival Squash Soufflé:
     Step 1:  Place 2 egg whites in a second mixing bowl.  
     Whisk the egg whites till medium soft meringue peaks appear.
     Gently fold the meringue into the brandied squash puree.
     Step 2:  Place the reserved par-baked Carnival Squash on a baking pan.
     Pour the Carnival Squash Soufflé Batter into the Carnival Squash Shell till it is full.  (Any extra batter can be baked in a separate ceramic ramekin.)
     Step 3:  Select a steel ring mold that is the same width as the open top of the Carnival Squash shell.
     Brush the inside of the ring mold with melted unsalted butter.
     Press the ring mold onto the open top of the Carnival Squash shell, so it is firmly seated.  (The ring mold will act as a soufflé collar.)
     Step 4:  Bake the soufflé undisturbed for 20 minutes in a 375ºF oven.
     Step 5:  Remove the pan from the oven.
     Run a paring knife against the inside of the steel ring mold, to loosen the soufflé from the steel ring mold collar.
     Remove the ring mold.
     Step 6:  Place the Carnival Squash Soufflé on a small serving plate.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.
     Serve immediately before the soufflé deflates!

     Viola!  A nice tasting savory Carnival Squash Soufflé with a natural looking presentation! 

Mussels Marinara

     Mussels Marinara! 
     In places where fresh mussels are not available, there are many people that have never heard of today's recipe.  At small towns located in midwest farm communities, Mussels Marinara might as well be the name of an Italian professional wrestler starring in match that is broadcast on a Saturday morning local television channel!  
     All up and down the American eastern seaboard, nearly everybody is familiar with Mussels Marinara.  Italian restaurants located near the east coast offer plenty of seafood on the menu.  Fresh Atlantic Blue Mussels are available year round and the price is reasonable.  From New England down to Virginia, Mussels Marinara is offered at local taverns, diners, fine dining restaurants and of course, nearly every Italian restaurant.
     Mussels Marinara is a popular antipasti because there is plenty of great flavor.  Even an extra large portion of Mussels Marinara is not too filling, so this appetizer will still leave plenty of room for pasta, entrée and dessert courses when dining out.
     Part of the Italian approach to creating a romantic fine dining experience is to offer food items that are meant to be shared by 2 guests.  Usually the items shared by couples are antipasti or desserts.  Opening and ending a multi course meal with shared items inspires intimate conversation and romance.   A platter of Mussels Marinara for two will certainly get the ball rolling!

     Blue Mussels must be clean and fresh for today's recipe.  Fresh Blue Mussels are easy to find at food markets along the Northeast Coast, but the farther one is from the shore, the less likely fresh mussels will be found.
     If no fresh Blue Mussels are available, then frozen mussels are the next best choice.  There are a few frozen mussel products to choose from.
     Farm raised Green Mussels are usually pre-cooked and frozen on the half shell.  Green Mussels are not well suited for making Mussels Marinara.
     The best choice is Cryovac packages of frozen Blue Mussels.  The vacuum packaging seals in the fresh flavor, while pinching each shell shut.  Cryovac packaged frozen Blue Mussels do take a little longer to open when they are cooked and some shells will not fully open.  Even so, Cryovac packaged frozen Blue Mussels are close enough to being fresh, that they are better than having no mussels at all.
     Marinara Sauce:
     Follow the link to the recipe in this website.
     • Classic Marinara Sauce

     Mozzarella & Arugula Bread: 
     This is an optional garnish for 1 mussels marinara appetizer!  This garnish should be prepared before cooking the mussels marinara.
     Garlic Bread or fresh baked Italian Bread is usually served with mussels marinara.  Baked bread with an Italian cheese melted on top actually is an old fashioned Italian antipasti.  Often the cheese bread is served on its own as Bruschetta with a tomato basil topping.  Cheese Bread also is nice for garnishing mussels marinara.      
     Step 1:  Cut 1 thick slice of Italian bread and brush it with olive oil.
     Place the bread on a baking pan.
     Lightly toast the bread in a 325ºF oven.
     Step 2:  Remove the pan from the oven.
     Place a few thin slices of fresh mozzarella on the toasted bread.
     Place a couple of arugula leaves on top of the cheese.
     Lightly brush the arugula with olive oil.
     Step 3:  Return the bread pan to the oven.
     Bake till the mozzarella softens and the arugula wilts.  (Do not brown the cheese or it will taste bitter!)
     Keep the cheese bread warm on a stove top.

     Mussels Marinara: 
     This recipe yields 1 large portion that can be shared by 2 guests.
     Step 1:  Clean and de-beard about 25 Blue Mussels.
     Step 2:  Heat a wide sauté pan over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
     Add the prepared mussels.
     Briefly sauté till the shells start to heat and open.
     Step 3:  Add 1/4 cup of dry white wine.
     Add 1/4 cup of water.
     Bring the liquid to a boil.
     Step 4:  Add 3/4 cup of Marinara Sauce.
     *Add just enough marinara sauce to coat the mussels with flavor.  Mussels Marinara should not look too saucy!
     Step 5:  Cover the pan with a lid.
     Let the mussels steam in the sauce, till the shells open.  (It only takes 2 to 3 minutes for fresh mussel shells to open.)
     Step 6:  Remove the lid.
     Discard any mussels that do not open and discard any broken shells.
     Step 7:  Rapidly simmer and reduce, till most of the excess liquid evaporates.
     Remove the pan from the heat.

     Mussels Marinara with Mozzarella & Arugula Bread Garnish:  
     Place the Mozzarella & Arugula Bread garnish on the center of the plate.
     Arrange the mussels on a plate so they look nice.
     Spoon the Marinara Sauce and mussel juices from the pan over the mussels.
     Bread is great for soaking up the extra Marinara Sauce and juices from the mussels.  Warm Italian cheese bread adds a nice touch!   

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Manhattan Clam Chowder

     Manhattan Clam Chowder!
     Many New Englanders claim that any chowder that is not made with milk is not a chowder.  This one size fits all definition of chowder is not true.  There are many kinds of chowder around the globe and milk is really just an optional ingredient.    
     The French invented chowder several hundred years ago.  Milk was not always part of the original chowder recipe.  The earliest French clam chowders were made with clams or foraged seafood from the shoreline.  Salt Pork, Green Bacon, lard or suet was in most kitchens back in those days.  Salt pork or bacon is part of many of the earliest recorded chowder recipes.  French chowders made prior to the age of Columbus contained no potatoes or any ingredients from the western world.     
     The French were not the only Europeans that lay claim to creating the first chowder.  Chowder was also made in Portugal and Spain a few hundred years ago.  Folks in Portuguese fishing villages made seafood soups in a big pot that is called a Caldera.  Seafood cooked in these cooking vessels was called Caldeirada.  A traditional Caldeirada technically is a chowder, even though after the Colombian Exchange the recipe was changed to include western world items like chile peppers, potato and tomato.  

     Both Rhode Island style Red Chowder and Manhattan Clam Chowder were created by Portuguese fishermen in New England.  These chowders were basically made the same way that a traditional Portuguese Caldeirada was made.  
     Manhattan Clam Chowder was created long before the year 1900, but it was called New York Chowder back in those days.  The locals referred to the highly seasoned tomato broth chowder as Fulton Fish Market Chowder.  It was not till some time during the Great Depression, the name of this chowder was changed to Manhattan Clam Chowder.
     For Manhattan Clam Chowder, bacon or salt pork is rendered to start the recipe.  A small amount of flour is added to the grease to create just enough roux to give this chowder a very thin body.  Carrots are added if the tomatoes are acidic, but many chefs add carrots no matter what.  Celery, bell pepper, onion, garlic, Spanish Paprika and a few select herbs combine to create the classic flavor.  Potatoes make this chowder hearty enough to warm up the bones of a fisherman on an icy cold day!

     Digital Pocket Camera Food Photo Distortion Problems     
     One thing that I have noticed about digital pocket cameras, is that certain food colors cause the sensors to overcorrect.  For example, tiny specs of oil floating on broth end up looking like spilled paint.  The bright orange color of Anatto (Achiote) really sends the yellow and red color sensors into a state of chaos.  A reddish orange tomato broth soup, like Manhattan Chowder, can look dull in one photo and the next photo might have a blaring contrast that looks like bright neon lights.  
     Food photography takes some practice and each individual digital camera has its own characteristics.  I usually use a good pocket camera for most food photos.  The problem is that pocket cameras are notorious for distorting the red, yellow and orange color tints.  Some experts blame it on the lens quality, while others say the fault is in the digital processing sensors.  
     The Manhattan Clam Chowder photos in today's article are a good example of how the color distortion effect was not noticed, till it was too late.  Out of 15 photographs, only 3 were remotely worthy of being published.  Adjusting the contrast with photo processing software was the only solution, but this method does not always correct bright orange color distortion.  
     As can be seen, even the best digital pocket cameras can lead to frustration when photographing food.  Chefs that are attending college, like myself, operate on a very low budget.  This means that there barely is enough money to prepare food for a photo example.  The food and the photos have to be perfect the first time, every time, when doing things on a college student budget.  
     The best way to avoid food photo distortion complications is to use a Digital SLR Camera with a high quality wide lens.  The better the lens, the more natural the photo will look and color distortion will be eliminated.  I use a Nikon D90 SLR for outdoor photography and now it looks like that professional camera will have to be used for food photography too, especially when taking pictures of soups that are a bright orangish red color!
     Manhattan Clam Chowder:
     This recipe yields about 3 cups of chowder!
     The tomato puree should be acidic.  Canned tomato puree from Spain or California is best for this recipe.
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of finely chopped smoked bacon or salt pork.
     Gently sauté, till the grease is rendered from the bacon and the bacon is a golden brown color.
     Step 2:  Add 1/4 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of small chopped onion.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced white part of a green onion.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of small diced green bell pepper.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of small diced celery.
     Add 2 tablespoons of small diced carrot.  (optional) 
     Gently sauté till the vegetables are tender.
     Step 3:  Add just enough flour, while stirring, to barely absorb the excess grease and to create a thin roux.  (About 1/2 to 1 teaspoon)
     Step 4:  Add 3/4 cup of canned tomato puree.  
     Add 2 1/2 cups of clam broth.
     Add 1/2 cup of minced fresh clams or minced canned baby clams.  (Quahog, large neck or little neck fresh clams are best for this kind of chowder.) 
     Step 5:  Raise the temperature to medium high heat.
     Bring the chowder to a boil.
     Step 6:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add sea salt and white pepper to taste.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of Spanish paprika.
     Add 1 small pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of thyme.
     Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
     Add 1 pinch of minced Italian Parsley. 
     Add 3/4 cup of diced potato.
     Step 7:  Simmer the chowder till the potatoes are tender and the volume reduces to about 3 cups.
     Step 8:  Ladle the Manhattan Clam Chowder into a soup bowl.
     Garnish with Italian Parsley leaves.

     Classic Manhattan Clam Chowder!