Friday, August 29, 2014

Pastitsio

 Traditional Greek dish that with out the addition of the ground meat can be vegetarian, but is best with ground lamb

·       1/5 pounds ground meat, lamb or beef, but use lamb
·       2 lbs ziti
          best is a long traditional noodle, but only available in Greek markets
·       5 cups milk
·       2 tablespoons dry oregano
·       1 lb shredded mozzarella
·       1/4 lb shredded parmesan
·       1/4 lb feta, crumbled
          again the best cheese is a Greek Kefalotyri cheese, but only in a Greek Market
·       1 cup white wine (optional, but good)
·       2 tablespoons butter
·       1 tablespoon flour
·       2 eggs, beaten
·       1 onion sliced
·       1/8 cup butter
·       1/4 teaspoon allspice, ground
·       1 tablespoon cinnamon, ground
·       1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
·       1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Steps in order:
          cook the onions till just translucent and set aside
          brown the ground meat and add the onion and 1 tablespoon oregano
          salt this to taste
to make the b├ęchamel sauce:
take 1 tablespoon butter, melt it and add the flour to it, this is the roux, set it aside
beat the eggs and set aside
heat the milk on a low heat
start the pasta in salted water when the milk is hot
add the cheeses to the milk with 1 tablespoon oregano, black pepper, allspice, parsley and half the cinnamon
salt the sauce to taste
drain the pasta and mix it with the meat and onions
pour into two 9 x 12 pans
add to the milk: the eggs and the roux and mix well while keeping it on the heat
when it thickens, add evenly to the pasta meat mixture
sprinkle cinnamon over the top and bake at 350 F till just tan on the top.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Those strange, powerful herbs

Sage and rosemary, which in my estimation are misused by many, but i conquered rosemary by dicing it thin and putting just enough to enhance a dish and not overpower it.
I have a sage plant which bloomed wonderful purple/blue flowers last year, but i have hesitated using it for cooking.
Lauded by many, but the few times i tasted it from professional kitchens, i gagged.
The other problem is the plant, unlike rosemary does not smell good and so my hesitancy was reinforced by the plants aroma.
As usual, i experimented.  I had heard of smudge pots used by "spiritualist" to drive away negative spirits or cleanse a home of bad "vibes" and i wondered how bad it would smell if i burned a small container of dried leaves.
First, burning the leaves turned the unpleasant odor to a marvelous aroma.  No wonder people thought burning sage would do wonderful things, the transformation from ugly to beautiful was amazing.
On to cooking.
I used lentils as a base since i knew that lentils stand up to powerful Asian Indian spices.
Taking a few fresh leaves and using the chiffonade method to cut thin ribbons, i added just a half a teaspoon to a cup of lentils.  When the lentils were cooked, i tasted them to see.
there was a slight earthy odor that was a little sweet, but nothing overpowering.
Cooking the sage had transformed the awful odor (and dare i mention the bitter taste) to something very wonderful.
Sage is another of those strong spices i will add to my list of "to use in a sparing manner" when a dish calles for it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Lobster roll

I while back i went to a food truck(it will remain unnamed) practicing its craft in Stamford and had my first "lobster roll".  As the quotations indicate, i was very disappointed; the roll was soft and mushy, the lobster tough and overcooked and everything was dry with little "sauce, which may or may not have only been mayonnaise.
Fast forward, lobster rolls are a New England thing, as lobsters are plentiful and often on sale in the local markets.  So i pick up a lobster to use, it was pre-steamed and i threw it into the fridge.
I did a quick search for recipes, but they had no extra flavor, so i go back to things i like to use in a crab salad...Tarragon!  The crunch in the salad would be the fennel and celery growing in my garden with some chives.  To cut the sweet overpowering taste of the mayonnaise, i cut it with yogurt.
The bun was grilled so it was a golden brown and slathered with melted butter and the lobster salad piled on.
Okay for those of you who like such things, are you hungry yet?

Lobster salad:
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon fennel bulb, diced
1 tablespoon celery stalk, diced
1 teaspoon minced tarragon (also in my garden)
1 1+ pound lobster, cold with all the meat removed and saving any juice
mix well and salt to taste
The hot dog roll is traditionally the one split on top and i grilled all sides, then basted the inside with melted butter
Add lobster salad and top with crisp pepper cured Virginia bacon bits

The lobster had been steamed and was tender and moist, the bun crisp, the remainder of the salad added exactly what one wants, moisture and flavor!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A garden salad

I have a good abundance of fennel this year.  It is not what i see in the stores,
the base fans out instead of being a "bulb",but the stems are very edible, very delicious raw.

I have cooked with fennel before and when it is fried, it adds a slight, very faint licorice flavor, but reminds me more of a sweet onion than anything.  A person of French descent told me it was good with eggs that way and i tried it and found it was to my liking.
I have had fennel which was tougher previously and did not do much except cook with it, but this fennel is mostly tender (including the root, which i will use in a soup when the weather cools down) and is delightful raw.
Another friend told me of the wonderful flavors of rice wine vinegar and found that to my liking.

So a salad using fennel sounded good during this warm weather.

1 cup fennel stalks, diced
1 Fuji apple ( you can use your favorite apple here), diced the same size as the fennel
1 teaspoon of fresh, green, hot pepper, diced fine
1 cup chiffonade of arugula (Thin ribbons)
1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar
mix and keep cold until serving
Salt to taste on your own plate!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Not American Potato Salad

That creamy, sickeningly sweet, mushy "American" potato salad is not something i like.  There are times i have eaten it, there are times that i have made it, but i have to be in a very unusual and i think bad mood to do so.  I like "German" potato salad, which is usually served warm, but i had some ideas pop into my head because of some white wine that could only be used for cooking and some thoughts on how to deal with potatoes on a warm day.  I was suppose to boil some garlic with the potatoes, but forgot and the potato salad did not need it.

My own not American and not German potato salad

6 Yukon gold potatoes (best taste and size and shape do not have to be consistent)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup white wine (it might have been more, but it gets reduced)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh, hot, green pepper, diced
1 cup fennel, diced
1/4 onion, diced
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup Kalmata olives
2 or 3 strips of bacon (i have been using a Virginia pepper/smoke cured bacon, no salt for flavor)
salt added to taste in 1/4 teaspoons at the end of preparation
Optional: diced parsley

The potatoes are boiled until the smallest one is just soft and then removed from the heat
the white wine is reduced with the lemon juice and hot pepper to 1/4 of the original volume
fennel and onion is browned in the butter
bacon is crisped and the fat set aside for other uses, not in this recipe
Potatoes are removed from the water while still warm and diced into 1 inch chucked (the potatoes should not be completely soft)
Olive oil and the white wine reduction are added and mixed thoroughly
fennel and onions mixture is mixed in
celery and olives are mixed in
salt to taste
bacon is added just before serving to maintain crispness

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A question i posed and then answered

I asked the question, why are there not more chemists as chefs?
Then i thought about Alton Brown and knew the answer.
A chemist in the traditional sense tinkers and plays with things until it comes out the way he wants it
ro it comes out better.
So does a chef.
Alton is a food chemist, he makes good money...
Think of all the food chemist working in all the companies developing flavors and ingredients and they make good money.
Now think of the everyday chef in a diner, he does not make good money, he makes a living, barely.
that was the simple answer.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

labeling

From my profession as a chemist, i learned to try to always label things or keep them in the original containers.
Since i create a great number of things, labeling is a must along with the date created.

Sometimes i forget....

This morning i am planning to make my Kourambedies for a benefit concert at ST Andrew's Episcopal church on Saturday.  I keep my walnuts in the fridge so they do not go rancid.  I also found an old, unlabeled container with what appeared to be orange zest, something else i use.

There were ice crystals and so i smelled it and i worried that freezer odors had permeated the zest...
It was not orange zest.
It was diced Habenero peppers...
my mouth still burns...


Monday, August 11, 2014

hits and misses

For ages i have cooked pork ribs a certain way and they have always turned well.
I have always used baby back ribs and i use a rub and as i have said before, some rum for an overnight :flavor enhancement, but I have tried a St Louis cut twice now and they cook different.
the first time was a bit tough, but good.
The second seemed a bit dry , but feel of the bone.
The fun part is that there is extra meat that is not rib meat per say, loaded with cartilage (or white bones as my Italian friends would call it) and i made an awesome pulled pork from that.
It is strange, but i also did not like the beef short ribs i slow cooked at the same time, yet i created an awesome au jus.  This was a chemist's feat for i found the juice with too much black pepper and so i filtered it using coffee filters.  I would have preferred a buchner funnel to filter under vacuum, but do not have the set up at this time and a slow gravametric filter was just fine.  The awesome part, the black pepper flavor was minimalized and the au jus was clear!  it was beautiful to see and taste.
The pulled pork saved the day and so there was no 911 calls to the pizza joint.