Archive for January 2011

Local Flavors

January 28th, 2011 — 9:29am

Terra Verde Balsamic Vinegars

I have been working like a dog. This is an expression I have never understood as work is the last thing I have ever seen a dog do. I am going to go with it because I am too tired to think of another. I generally arrive home after 7 in the evening with the intention of going to bed rather than stand over the cooktop to prepare a meal. Will has performed valiantly over the past few weeks cooking up a wide variety of meals. A job, which as I know too well, often goes under-appreciated.

Will is also the one who picks up new ideas when he goes shopping. I am mostly a buy the same old thing kind of guy. He browses around and often finds new products that we need to try out. He also has an affinity for finding new locally produced products. As the trend to going local continues he seems to keep us on track.

I have to admit I was not a big fan of the Texas olive oil. It seemed just a tad bland to me. We live off the locally produced mozzarella. And there are actually some incredible wines from the state as well. His most recent acquisitions were two bottles of flavored balsamic vinegar. One a fig variety. The other a peach variety. With trepidation I used the fig in the dressing for a spinach salad. To keep it more on the savory side I added some mustard. I think this went well with the fig. The result was quite tasty. And after a long boring day at work it certainly piqued my interest. The peach variety I am not quite sure how to use it yet. I am thinking this may be more of a dessert application. You can buy them online from the Texas Hill Country Olive Company.

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Guanciale vs Pancetta

January 21st, 2011 — 10:18am

Bucatini all' Amatriciana with Guanciale

I know there are many pressing questions in the world. Should North and South Korea reunify? How can we speed up the rebuilding of Haiti? Will any one realize that the Kardashians are New Jersey’s version of white trash? But for me there was a very burning question. Is there really much difference when cooking with guanciale versus pancetta? I tasted guanciale in some pasta all’ amatriciana in Rome. But without a recent comparison with pancetta I really had no way of telling if there was much of a difference. It is also hard to come across guanciale other than by mail order. When I found some at Whole Foods I had to see for myself.

First the guanciale comes from the cheek of the pig. And like most cheeks they are full of fat, which is why our cheeks are so puffy. The fat versus meat content of the cheek is much higher than in the pancetta which comes from the stomach region of the pig. The one-quarter pound of guanciale when rendered leaves very little bits of intense flavor. I also found that the guanciale when rendered maintains its softness while pancetta can often tend to crisp up like it’s cousin bacon. It creates a different feeling in the mouth when you take a bite. It is a bit more succulent.

In the bucatini all’ Amatriciana the guanciale really made a difference in the flavor of the dish. With so few ingredients the sauce has to rely on the guanciale to give it some heft to stand up to such a substantial pasta. The pancetta almost melted away in the tomatoes, where as the guanciale stood up to the tomatoes and made them more interesting. At about $26 dollars per pound (on the low end) the guanciale is a bit of an investment. But when in Rome do as the Romans do. If you feel like splurging a bit your pasta sauce will be grateful for it.

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The Gratinator

January 13th, 2011 — 9:45am

Leek and Fennel Gratin

We are seeing a lot of really nice fennel and leeks coming onto the market around here. With such a rush of these two gems the organic versions are not much more expensive than the nonorganic versions. We have been having them in soups, salads and sauces. I have already posted a recipe for fennel gratin, which was followed by a recipe for leek gratin and now we have a fennel and leek gratin. “So whats up with the gratin thing?”, you may ask. It all boils down to limited preparation time, no stirring required, and they taste really good despite the limited effort.

The new version is a simple chopping and blending of two leeks and one fennel bulb. The mixture is seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. In order to help them steam while cooking you add a bit of chicken broth. You top the mixture with some cheese, cover, place in the oven for a bit, and then it is done. Not to mention it tastes great at the end and would give the appearance that a lot of thought and effort went into it. While it does not look like much on the plate, it tastes like a lot in the mouth.

Lest I be dubbed the “Gratinator” I will lay off gratins for awhile. Let’s face it they are not the best foods if you are trying to lose a few pounds in the New Year. But who could turn down a mouthful of cheesy vegetable goodness? Obviously not me.

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The Lentilist

January 9th, 2011 — 8:00am

Lentil and Quinoa Salad

We try to keep whole grains and beans or legumes in a large part of our diet. This is not so much because they are very healthy for you but much more because we enjoy eating them. When prepared in creative ways they can serve in a variety of forms from soups, salads, and even main dishes. I am a huge fan of lentils for a couple of reasons; they taste good and they fill you up without adding much fat or sodium to your diet. I do worry sometimes about getting enough protein in a diet where we are skipping a lot of meat and fish. To help make up for that I often turn to combining lentils and quinoa together. Quinoa provides the complete protein you need, one of only a few grains and seeds that can make claim to that. And lentils provide the fiber and array of vitamins which are important. When combined they are a complete meal.

We have already explored lentils and quinoa in a stew. Recently I decided to make a much more simple dish and use them together in a salad. The nice thing about this type of salad is that they are enjoyable warm or cold and you can make a big batch which can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days. We will often have them warm in the evening and then eat the salad the following day in its cold format.

This particular salad goes in the direction of Greek food with cucumber and feta cheese. You can take this salad in almost any direction you like; mediterranean with some tomatoes, olives, and basil or maybe more latin using some corn and cilantro along with some tomatoes. Cheese is always optional. Although I would stick with the varieties with a more briny taste. Eating healthy never tasted so good.

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A Sort of Barbecue

January 5th, 2011 — 10:35am

Oven Barbecued Chicken

As a breeze through past postings would tell you I have an affinity for buying things on sale and then trying to figure out what to do with them afterwards. My other impulse purchase is when I get some sort of craving in my head and I have to cook something to satisfy it. In this case both came into play when I had a craving for some sticky, sweet barbecue and I found chicken legs on sale.

Chicken legs are hard to cook for a meal. They do not have the heft of a chicken breast or thigh and they do not have the appetizer size of a chicken wing. They are in the no-mans-land of neither an appetizer nor a meal. You could of course fry them in batter (too much work) or turn them into the sticky, sweet barbecue that I had in mind all along. Barbecue won out.

I did some research on barbecue sauces for the dark meat of the chicken. I was leaning toward the trinity of barbecue; ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar. After digging around a bit I found a hybrid of several recipes that I thought would work. And while I was doing all this hard research work the weather had turned decidedly colder, meaning that I was no longer willing to stand outside and grill my chicken legs while freezing my own human legs.

The recipe then became an oven barbecue, a turn of phrase I have often skewered other people about; a la “oven fried chicken.” I do not mind becoming the caricature of the hypocritical gourmand as long as I am not cold. And although they lacked the smoky flavor of the grill, the outcome was decidedly sticky and sweet with a bit of savory thrown in for good measure. They were so good in fact that the first batch, which I made New Year’s Eve, were eaten long after I had gone to bed by the other adult member of the household who apparently got the munchies sometime in the middle of the night. While I would recommend cooking these on a grill, the sauce is such that if you want to pop them in the oven the sugars will caramelize nicely and give you an almost barbecue flavor.

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They Say You Want A Resolution

January 3rd, 2011 — 9:47am

Black-Eyed Peas in the Pot

With the New Year upon us I am relieved to find out that according to my birth sign, “after a long and arduous 12 years,” my luck is returning “with a fabulous vengeance.” When I read that I went back to bed, pulled the covers over my head, and waited for all the fabulous stuff to start happening. Unfortunately the cats needed to be fed, the laundry was piling up, and the refrigerator was full of holiday leftovers which needed to be thrown away. It is not supposed to get really, really fabulous until around my birthday. I guess I will just have to wait.

Although quiet on the blogging front we have been busy cooking and trying out new recipes. Some were variations on old themes; the bone-in pork loin roast, eggplant lasagna (the eggplant banishment has ended), quinoa and lentil salad, and a roasted barbecue chicken (which does not make sense but it was really good), to name a few. The year started with the requisite black-eyed peas. This year I made them, for the first time, the traditional way with smoked pork hock. I usually cop out and make black-eyed pea salsa. For not a lot of effort the traditional variety turned out pretty good. I think next time I will make them with a little more heat.

The only resolution I have made this year is not to make any resolutions other than the resolution not to make any. “After a long and arduous 12 years” I have pretty much lost all my resolve anyway. I am sure when my luck returns “with a fabulous vengeance” sometime around my birthday when I also become a “non-stop idea factory that refuses to rest” I will be more willing to try to make some real changes. Until then The Busy Gourmand will continue to lead a somewhat less than fabulous life eating fabulous food, drinking fabulous wines, and posting all of the nonsense right here. Stay tuned. Happy New Year.

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