Archive for June 2010

Research Mode

June 29th, 2010 — 8:48am

Plumeria in Bloom

I have been a little slow in posting here for the past several days.  There are a lot of excuses; travel to uninteresting cities with unremarkable food (Peoria), experimenting to develop a recipe for a meal I had in Buenos Aires (not going so well), and researching some recipes and techniques which may come to fruition soon.  Although the research has been interesting it will not yield too many results for awhile.  So I posted a picture of the only thing I have been able to accomplish of late.  After three years of constant care and worry, growing from a three inch stick to a three foot tree, my plumeria bloomed last week!  All good things do not necessarily come from the kitchen.

I have a couple of “go-to” references I use when beginning some research on recipes and techniques.  For general food reference and basic cooking techniques I go to the Time Life series “Great Meals in Minutes.”  This is an admission I would never have made in print earlier except that James Syhabout, who was recently chosen as one of the “Top New Chefs” by Food & Wine Magazine, admits that he refers to an earlier Time Life series for his food inspirations.  So now I am out of the closet about my Time Life Books series.  For all things Italian I go to The Italian Cookbook by Maria Luisa Taglienti.  It is not the prettiest or the most inspiring book in the Italian cooking genre. I like it because it was written post-World War II, and before the works of Marcella Hazan.  Much like Marcella Hazan the author married an American and eventually moved to the United States.  The book was first published in 1955.  There is nothing “nouvelle” about the recipes.  I go here for a reality check when I think we are making things a bit too complicated in the kitchen. 

During my research I also came across an interesting web site called “Library Thing.” You can enter in the title of a book and it will provide you with the basic description and publishing information about the book.  The nice thing about the site is that users of the site cross reference other books in their collections that relate to the book you are researching.  When I pulled up The Italian Cookbook, it cross referenced such books as Buon Appetito Your Holiness  (something I often say to Will when he is feeling full of himself), a book written by one of the cooks for the Pope, Lidia’s Italian Table, written by one of my other “go-to” authors Lidia Bastianich, and Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, by Pellegrino Artusi, written in the 1890’s as one of the first Italian cookbooks focusing on the science of cooking (and referenced in the book Molecular Gastronomy).  The latter book I am going to go ahead and order for my library.  Research is not without its cost.

You may be asking where all of this is leading.  Well, I am working on a few things.  It is going to take me some time.  The good news is that I have a full week away from work and I will be near the kitchen most of the time.  Before you know it some new recipes and ideas will be flowing onto the blog.  In the mean time start clicking on stuff on the “Library Thing” and above all else enjoy the picture of the plumeria.  It was three years in the making.

Comment » | Musings, Reference

Moist and Tender Pork Ribs

June 25th, 2010 — 8:00am

Pork Spare Ribs

If you have ever eaten any of my pork ribs you will realize that the title of this post is a bit of an oxymoron. My ribs tend to have overcooked, tough meat with some gloppy sauce on top to hide my mistakes. It has not been a pretty picture. Ergo we do not eat a lot of pork ribs around here.

Of course there was a sale yesterday on pork spare ribs. I was able to buy a whole rack for about $9. It was hard to pass up so I decided to do a bit of research on rib cooking. I have only eaten good ribs on a few occasions. They had a smoky flavor, they were of course moist and tender, and the sauce acted as a nice complement, not an overbearing gloppy mess.

I came across a food blog, Cooking for Engineers, which seemed to hold out some promise. Who better than an engineer to figure out the correct process for simultaneously smoking and cooking a nice spare rib? The basic premise was simple; cook the ribs on the end of the grill that is not over direct flame, and put some wood chips on the hotter end of the grill to add some smoke. You use a V-Rack, the kind you use for roasting a chicken or turkey, to hold the ribs upright while cooking. Other than not using enough wood chips for continuous smoke, the whole thing was relatively easy and the ribs turned out “moist and tender.” I know, it is hard to believe, but yes success in the rib arena was achieved last night.

Pork Ribs in V-Rack

You can find a very detailed set of instructions for the rib cooking process at the Cooking for Engineers web site. It calls for a dry rub. I had previously posted my recipe for a dry rub when making a pork loin roast. Now that I have mastered this I may go back and buy a couple of more racks just to see if I can really duplicate the process.

Comment » | Recipes

Something Fishy

June 23rd, 2010 — 9:09am

Fish Tacos

I have been coming across a lot of recipes for fish tacos. If you have ever been to Mexico a fish taco is a pretty simple affair. It consists of some kind of

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mild white fish seasoned with some lime juice and cilantro and wrapped in a tortilla. There is usually a bottle of hot sauce nearby if you want to spice it up.

The Americanized versions I have seen lately are more influenced by what part of the country you live in rather than the simple fish taco from Mexico. In the Northeast there was one which called for a beer-battered cod filet served with a spicy mayonnaise. Further south on the east coast the fish was grilled catfish. The mayonnaise was still prominent. The California version was true to form using avocado slices as part of the taco filling.

A Mexican fish taco can be a rather bland affair. So I was willing to give some of the ideas a try. I developed four different fillings/flavorings for the tacos to see which one I liked the best; a pico de gallo, a spicy mayonnaise, a spicy sour cream sauce, and some diced cucumber, tomato, and onion in some balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The last filling was decidedly more appropriate to an Italian fish taco.

In a truly unscientific method we tasted all four options last night. The winner was clearly the fish taco with the pico de gallo. The ingredients were fresh and light and did not overwhelm the fish. The sour cream flavoring came in second. The cucumber filling came in third. I think the fresh vegetables lent themselves to not overwhelming the fish. And the least favorite was the mayonnaise version. All you could really taste was the mayonnaise, not so much the fish. You can find all four versions with my fish taco recipe.

Comment » | Recipes

A Need to Grill

June 19th, 2010 — 8:00am

Grilled Mixed Vegetables

The summer heat is upon us and I cannot bear to turn on the cook top never mind the oven. I will be moving more and more of the cooking outside to keep the house cool inside. We have become pretty innovative in using the grill for grilling related cooking and not so grilling related cooking. Last fall I showed you how to make eggplant parmesan using the grill.

We are at the point in our seasons where the summer squashes and zucchinis are coming to a quick end to their fruiting. Once temperatures are consistently over 90 degrees they really do not seem to last very long. Yesterday I took up much of the remaining squashes, some eggplants, a red pepper and half a red onion and grilled them. Normally this would be enough for a tasty side dish. But I was intrigued when we were in Buenos Aires when a restaurant served a gratin where the squash, onion, and mushrooms appeared to be grilled. It had a very nice smoky flavor.

Grilled Vegetable Gratin

In order to try my hand at this technique after I grilled my vegetables I chopped them into mouth sized bits, added four fresh chopped plum tomatoes and some fresh basil leaves. I put them in a large ceramic casserole dish and topped them with some grated mozzarella and provolone cheese. I covered it, put it back on the grill, and in about 45 minutes I had a very nice grilled vegetable gratin. It had a very nice smoky flavor and the melted cheese added a bit of nice body and texture to the vegetables. It does not look like much in the pictures, but it tasted great.

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Après le Déluge

June 17th, 2010 — 8:00am

Heirloom Tomatoes

Our flood of tomatoes continues unabated. It was great when we were getting about one or two tomatoes per day. Our affinity for salads could keep up. Lately we have been averaging six to eight tomatoes per day. I gave some thought to putting them in my yogurt in the morning. But I think I would miss my granola.

We already explored tomato tarts which use about four tomatoes each. I opted to do a decidedly un-Busy Gourmand kind of thing and make a tomato sauce from scratch. (So much for “good food, little time”) If it did not turn out at least I would have reduced the tomato stockpile by eight tomatoes buying us one more day before they could be replenished.

Once more my internet research yielded some very strange versions of a tomato sauce. Sugar seemed to be a primary ingredient in many of these recipes. I suppose if you are using tomatoes from the grocery store sugar might be needed. But the last thing my tomatoes needed was sugar. So I shut off my computer and went to my old go-to girlfriend Lidia Bastianich. As with most of her recipes I used them as a guideline. While she enjoys singing opera while gently pressing her tomatoes in a food mill, I took the more direct route of the food processor. This method is a little more aggressive but certainly a time saver.

Spaghetti in Fresh Tomato Sauce

The results were delicious. We both sat back and said “just like Italy.” The sweet, mild, freshness of the tomatoes came through immediately. I was a bit generous with the basil which actually seemed to work well. I was worried that half the tomatoes were an heirloom plum variety and half were an heirloom called German stripe. It did not seem to make a big difference. And the color was so different from a canned tomato sauce; more toward the orange spectrum than the red. If you are up for a little bit of extra work the fresh tomato sauce seems to be worth the extra effort.

Comment » | Gardening, Recipes

“I’m Busy”

June 15th, 2010 — 1:26pm

The Ham Museum - Buenos Aires

I have been a bit remiss in adding new post for the past few days. I, unfortunately, have a real job, and I have actually been busy writing my guide to Buenos Aires. I know most of you will be heading there soon so I will get it done just as soon as possible.

I did find out when we were in Buenos Aires that guide books, restaurant reviewers, and (surprise, surprise) the people on the Travel Channel are not always very honest. I get a sense there is a little payola involved, especially at the Travel Channel. So you do not make the mistakes we made, I will give you “The Busy Gourmand” version of a review. Because I actually paid for all this stuff on my own. The overview of the guide is published. The rest will come out in dribs and drabs.

I just finished the “Restaurant” section of my guide. It has a nice overview of what to expect and I provide in depth reviews of six restaurants. Four of the restaurants are definitely “Highly Recommended,” one is a “Maybe,” and one is a “Do Not Bother.”

They break down as follows:

Highly Recommended:
Brasserie Petanque, French Cuisine, San Telmo
Omm, Bar and Tapas, Palermo Hollywood
Impetu, Porteňo, Palermo Viejo
El Timon, Porteňo, Palermo Hollywood

Campo Bravo, Parrilla, Palermo Hollywoood

Do Not Bother:
Café Tortoni, Café, Congreso

Tonight I am making tomato sauce from scratch. Wish me luck!

Comment » | Musings, Restaurants, Travel

Vegetable Pile Up

June 11th, 2010 — 8:00am

Tomato, Eggplant and Zucchini Tart

Along with the tomatoes ripening in droves we are also getting about two eggplants and two to three squash every day. Once again I am not complaining. But I like to eat these things immediately while they are fresh. Unless you like to eat ratatouille for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you have to come up with some creative ways to use them.

I decided to stick with the tart theme. Some of you will think I am going a bit daffy but the tart pictured above is actually very different from the previous tomato tart. This one includes thin strips of grilled eggplant and zucchini under the layer of tomatoes. I also opted for a little bit more cheese on this one and stuck with parmigiano reggiano because I wanted to use its salty flavor with the other ingredients.

This is one of the best things I have ever made in my life. The flavors of all the fresh vegetables meld well together while maintaining their own flavor profile. There is just enough cheese to help carry the other flavors but not so much that it tastes like a pizza. And, with the exception of the pie crust and the cheese everything was fresh from the garden. You simply cannot beat that. I am not sure what to call it, but for now it will be a tomato, eggplant, and zucchini tart. It is a little bit more work than the tomato tart, but the flavors are worth the extra effort.

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Tomato Avalanche

June 8th, 2010 — 8:36am

Tomato Tart

The tomato harvest has reached critical mass and we are starting to get overwhelmed with tomatoes.  Not that I mind very much.  But what do you do when you have five to six tomatoes coming in every day?  My usual recipes can not keep up. So I decided that a tomato tart would probably help me with the current predicament.

Once again my internet research led me down some enlightening and sometimes scary paths.  A search on “tomato pie” and “tomato tart” pulled up some interesting combinations with one basic recipe for a tomato pie circulating from web site to web site which I tracked down to Paula Deen.  It was easy to figure out that it was hers as mayonnaise figures heavily in the ingredient list.  Others took a decidedly French twist by adding Dijon mustard.  The crusts ranged from phyllo dough, puff pastry, bread crumbs, and a simple pie crust dough.

I was looking for something very basic.  I did not want to overwhelm the tomatoes with a lot of cheese or other ingredients.  I did want to support the sweet tomato flavors with some savory components.  So I opted for a little bit of cheese, some onions, and of course some basil to contrast with the fresh tomato flavor.  Over the next few weeks I will be trying many versions of the tomato tart (excluding the mayonnaise version).  I will keep you posted on the results.  But my version of a basic tomato tart really was delicious

Comment » | Recipes

Garden Update

June 4th, 2010 — 10:05am

Russet Potatoes

We are getting back into the normal routine after the trip to Buenos Aires.  While we were away it seems like the garden doubled in volume with everything growing like mad in the hot Texas air.  Tomatoes seem to be coming in droves.  We harvested our first cucumber ever.  The squash seem to be coming in at a brisk pace.

Will wanted to try potatoes this year.  We had tried to plant them a couple of times before with a very limited harvest.  It is now harvest time as the temperature rises about 90 degrees most days.  First up were the russets.  It was a small harvest of about six potatoes, but that was for one plant.  The good news is that they were delicious.  Very mild in flavor compared to the ones that are stored and then trucked across the country. 

Another observation is that the largest part of the garden was planted with home made compost with about 20% of the garden planted using compost purchased at the garden center.  The plants growing in our home made compost are significantly bigger than the ones planted in the other compost.  The fruiting of the plants in the home made compost seems to be significantly greater than the ones growing in the other compost.  I have also noticed that the areas of the garden using the home made compost have very few weeds.  I think the garden center compost comes full of seeds from sitting out in the open air before bagging. This goes to prove, at least in our case, that composting your own stuff is more productive than buying from the garden center. 

Barrel Composter

And speaking of compost we harvested our first compost from the barrel composter we bought a few weeks back.  This method of composting requires the added step of removing the compost from the barrel and placing it in another compost pen for holding until next spring.  Interesting thing though, the compost was fully broken down and it smelled really nice.  There was none of the sometimes garbage smell you get when composting the kitchen scraps.  I do not  think we will mind the added step.

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Un Dia Final

June 2nd, 2010 — 10:01am

Angel Statue, Recoleta Cemetery

Our last day in Buenos Aires arrived all too quickly.  We woke up a bit worse for wear having spent the night before with our new best friend in Argentina, Daniel Cabrejas.  He is the owner of Omm a bar and restaurant.  It seems that all roads lead to Omm and on this trip we spent three evenings there, either having drinks or appetizers, and talking about Buenos Aires with Daniel.  On our last evening he wanted to make it a bit special so he brought down a nice vintage Malbec from his secret stash in his wine cave.  And when we polished that off he asked us to taste a wine a vendor had left earlier in the day for sampling.  We were in bed around midnight and up early with a bit of a fog in our heads.

Our earlier days in Buenos Aires were a bit cloudy and foggy so I was not sure if any of the pictures I had taken would look so great.  So we retraced our steps and went back to revisit Recoleta Cemetery, and the rose gardens, and strolled down Avenida del Libertador taking in all the sights.  The sky was clear. The wind was brisk (it is almost winter down there).  The camera was clicking madly. (Above the first real picture from out trip.)

We finished our stay with a revisit to the restaurant El Timon, right around the corner from our apartment.  We had a very nice Buenos Aires lunch and took in all the local flavor.  All the kids from the schools in the area stopped by to buy their empanadas and pizzas for lunch.  The local old guys group looked like they were having their weekly lunch meeting proffering unlimited joking around and more than a few sips of wine or Quilmes.  And we were made to feel welcome despite the fact that the place probably has not seen someone from further than a few blocks away in many years.  This was the real Argentine lunch.

With heavy heart we went back to the apartment and changed to leave for the airport.  I have never been in a place like Buenos Aires where I felt right at home within a matter of hours.  I felt like the little neighborhood had become “our” neighborhood.  We gained more than a few lasting memories and hopefully a few new friends as well.  It is hard to believe that I am writing this from Dallas, Texas, when this time yesterday we were comfortably enjoying a foreign land.

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