Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! Save a turkey!

No turkey suffered to make this post. While the whole nation was feasting on millions of turkeys, we decided to save a turkey, and went for the other white meat. It happened to be pork.

We started with pork rillettes that I made in advance: I just cooked the hell out of a fatty porl shoulder, cut into cubes, seasoned with thyme, bay leaves, juniper berries, salt and pepper, covered with water. After about 6 hours of low and slow cooking, the pork was tender and easy to shred with two forks. I then strained and degreased the cooking liquid (save the fat), reduced it a little more, packed the pulled pork into small containers, spooned some of the reduce liquid over it to make jelly, chilled, and then sealed it with reserved fat. At the time of serving I scraped the fat off, and we spread the rillettes on slices of walnut bread and ate it with my homemade tarragon killer mustard. The mustard made me cry, but otherwise it was all good.

The crown roast of pork usually takes a few days to absorb flavors of a dry rub that you put on it. Of course, I wasn't planning well, so I got the 3.5-pound 6-rib roast just the day before Thanksgiving. No problems! Technology comes to a rescue: my new gadget, FoodSaver vacuum sealer, doesn't just extend the life of the leftovers, it also helps to reduce marinating time of whatever meats you vacuum-pack with it.

I vacuum-seal everything these days. It does increase my carbon footpring; I toss much more plastic every day than I used to. OK, I use my canvas shopping bags to offset the damage, but I'm not giving up vacuum sealing. It's fun, it looks cool, and now R. can take weekend dinner leftovers for lunches all week long.

I've made a paste of garlic, sage, and rosemary, finely chopped with salt and pepper. Cut part-way through between the ribs and the meat of the roast, seasoned it with the paste inside and out, tied it together between the ribs, as if nothing happened, and vacuum sealed the whole thing. When I cut the plastic and roasted it the next day, the flavors in the meat were distributed very well.

The roast took a little over an hour in a 400-degrees oven to come to internal temperature of 135 degrees. I took it out at this point, covered with foil, and let it rest for about 25 minutes. The meat came out completely cooked, no pink, but still juicy.

We did the modern classics for the sides:
- Mashed sweet potatoes with parsley root, apple topping (of course, I'm still dealing with the tons of apples from my friend's garden)
- Roasted Brussels sprouts
- Arugula salad with fennel, pomegranate, and toasted almonds, pomegranate vinaigrette dressing

Finished with a simple puff pastry apple tart, served with Three Twins ice cream, and a glass of Amontillado sherry.
The last six jars of my apple butter are cooling in the canning pot right now. I think I'm done with the apples for this year. The orange season is close...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Roasted pheasants

My friend K. doesn't just flood me with apples from his garden. He is also a hunter (about once a year), and in fall he sometimes supplies game for our dinner parties.
 Last year we had to figure out what to do with three wild geese. They ended up as a flavorful braise, made with prunes, wild mushrooms, and sherry.
 This time K. and his wire hound Martin got us three pheasants.

 Well, this one was easy: pheasants are very similar to chickens, these even had a little fat in them.

We rubbed them with salt and pepper, stuffed minced garlic, rosemary and thyme under the skins, put large slices of onions and garlic and a few juniper berries inside the birds, trussed them, and placed them in a roasting pan, surrounded by mixed cut vegetables (bell peppers, onions, garlic cloves, potatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes) - just like chickens. Since pheasant meat tends to be dry, we covered the breasts and legs with slices of apple wood bacon.

Roasted at 450 degrees about 20 minutes, then removed the bacon, took out those vegetables that were done, turned the birds over and roasted another 15 minutes. Then we decreased the temperature to 375, turned the birds breast side up again, and let them roast to internal temperature of 160 degrees. The potatoes and carrots had to stay in the oven for another 10 minutes to finish cooking.

I made a sauce with mushrooms, Marsala wine, shallots and cream to go with the birds.

One bird serves two.

The birds came out very tasty, and the breasts were juicy and tender, except a few pieces of lead that we missed while cleaning them; but the legs, although full of flavor, were tough. Next time, if we get pheasants again, the breasts will go on the grill, and the legs into a stew.

However, I am afraid that it may be a wild boar next time.

This is what I did with the leftovers.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

United colors of pasta

Fresh pasta is readily available in the refrigerator section of any supermarket. Love, fun and imagination are not.

So, let's get the palette ready (baked beet puree, butternut squash puree, chlorophyll extracted from spinach),

prep a canvass of semolina flour, bread flour, salt and eggs, and let the pasta fun begin.
Pasta sheets are like soft fabric; they are easy to cut with scissors, knife, or a pasta machine attachment into traditional (and not so traditional) pasta shapes.

My four-cheese, three-color ravioli are like no others.

Stracchi  means "rugs". Mine are colorful. How are yours?

Is pasta always the same color on both sides? It doesn't have to be!

I spent almost the entire day playing with my pasta and photographing it for the USPCA 2011 calendar (coming soon).

Thankfully, the gardeners came in the afternoon, and were looking in puzzlement at what I was doing. We shared a bowl of pasta, and there was nothing left to photograph.

Fall charcuterie

You don't think that just because I haven't blogged here for a while, I stopped cooking, do you? In fact, I was so absorbed in developing my Personal Chef business and bringing up the new USPCA Bay Area Chapter website, I just didn't have energy for my dear own food blog. But I'm going to change this. And I've been cooking all the time!

The changing season requires some cured meat. Simple country-style pâté can be a great comfort.

When it comes to bistro-style cooking I like to rely on recipes from Antony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. If Jamie Oliver is the naked chef, this is a chef, skin off. He takes classic recipes and strips them from all the bells and whistles, leaving just the bare 3-ingredient (well, sometimes 14) essence of the dish. And they work amazingly well!

Also, Bourdain's recipes withstand modifications very well. This is one of the very few cookbooks that I actually cook from. It's not just for browsing by the fireplace.

For my pâté de campagne I used chicken livers instead of pork liver. Marinated the livers, pieces of pork butt and pork belly with wine, cognac, and spices overnight, ground them using my old trusted manual meat grinder, and divided the meat into three portions. One I decorated with rosemary and thyme, the other with sage leaves, and the third with chopped almonds. Pictured here is the one with almonds. R. got both rosemary and sage ones to take to work for lunches during his crazy work week.
The sausages are pork with some beef. The red ones on the right have bright red, super aromatic paprika that a friend brought directly from Hungary. The ones on the left are mixed fresh herbs, and the light ones in the center are apple and cognac. If you are like me overwhelmed with tons of apples this season, check out my personal chef blog post on Dealing with all these apples for more ideas.
Here all three kinds of sausages are roasted and served with cannellini beans and tomato sauce.