Monday, February 22, 2010

Fresh Herb Salad with Shallot & Truffle Vinaigrette

It was April of 2009 and I had just finished brunch in a French bakery on the outskirts of Darmstadt, Germany. You won't find this bakery in any tourist guide book, so you'd do best to leave your English at the door. The menu, abundant with fresh seasonal cheeses, dairy, and eggs, was written entirely in French. The aroma of fresh breads and pastries was so thick, you could almost taste the yeast in the air. It was 9am and there was not an empty seat to be found. Strangers had begun sharing tables with those around them, groups of six crammed elbow to elbow around tables meant for four, and in the middle of it all was a 27 year old Chef from North Carolina who couldn't have wished to be anywhere else in the world.
It was in this bakery that I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of Vinaigre aromatise a la Truffe, vinegar flavored with truffles. Truffles are one of the rarest and most expensive foods in the world. They are exceptional mushrooms that grow 3 to 12 inches below the ground nearby to the roots of Oak trees. The temperature has been unseasonably warm this week, so I thought I'd construct a salad to compliment the refreshing weather. While rooting through my pantry for ingredients I came across this magnificent vinegar that has been aging in a dark corner for almost a year. The smell of this vinegar can really only be described as buttery velvet.

2 Tbsp. Mustard
2 Tbsp. Honey
1 Shallot, brunoise (finely minced)
1/2 tsp. Truffle Vinegar*
6 Tbsp. Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

1/4 C. Pumpkin Seeds, toasted

2 Radishes, paper thin slices
2 Tbsp. Bleu Cheese, crumbled
1/4 C. Cherry Tomatoes, halved Salad Greens**

*[The Truffle Vinegar in this recipe can be substituted with White Balsamic Vinegar]
For the herb salad, I've combined a mixture of salad greens with some fresh dill, rosemary, and endive.]

Over medium high heat with a touch of oil, salt, and pepper, toast the pumpkin seeds for about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool. For the vinaigrette, combine the mustard, honey, shallot, vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Whisk to incorporate and set in the fridge until ready to plate the salad. I don't like to toss the salad in the dressing because it will wilt the greens and I really like the greens to be light and crisp. Instead, in a bowl, drizzle the salad greens with a touch of olive oil and a hint of vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and toss to lightly coat. This is will give a bit of zest to each bite without overpowering the greens. To plate, I like to spread the dressing on the plate first and then pile the greens on top of the dressing. Scatter the tomatoes around, place the radish slices around the sides and top with pumpkin seeds and bleu cheese. All the raw flavors of these vegetables really make this salad light and aromatic.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Crispy Salmon w/ a Tomato Basil Beurre Blanc

Beurre blanc [burr BLAHNGK] Meaning "white butter," is a classic French sauce composed of a wine, vinegar, and shallot reduction into which chunks of cold butter are whisked until the sauce is thick and smooth. There are countless variations of this classic sauce. Perhaps every time I make a beurre blanc, I come up with a new variation to best fit the dish I'm working with. Sauces like this are the most fun to work with because they're not completely constrained to step by step instruction. This sauce is one of my favorites for fish, especially salmon or whitefish.

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Garlic, minced
1 C. Onion, minced
TT Salt
TT White Pepper
1/3 C. White Wine
2 C. Heavy Cream
1/4 lb. Butter, small dice
1/4 C. Basil, chiffonade
1 C. Cherry Tomatoes, quartered
2 lb. Salmon (8oz. portions)

Too often people fiddle with their food while it's cooking. They like to flip and swirl the pan. For crispy salmon, and fish in general, simply leave it alone and let it settle. I feel that salmon shouldn't be flipped more than once. Heat a touch of olive oil over medium high heat. Season the fish with salt and pepper and place it in the pan for about 7 minutes. The color on the sides of the fish should slowly change as the fish cooks. When the color has crept 2/3 of the way up the fish, flip it over to finish on the other side for about 3-4 minutes.

To simplify this sauce, there are four main steps. Caramelize, reduce wine, reduce cream, finish with butter. Saute the garlic and onion in oil over medium high heat until fragrant and light brown, season with salt and white pepper. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and reduce until almost dry. The wine will really intensify the flavors in the pan. When the wine is almost dry, add the cream and reduce by half. When the cream has turned from white to a pale yellow and reduced by half, remove the sauce from the heat and slowly add a small amount of the cold butter.

It is important that the butter is added in small amounts so as not to cool down the sauce too quickly. Once a small portion of the butter has been whisked into the sauce until it is melted, add another small batch until all the butter is gone. The basil and tomato can be added to the sauce and, if desired, put on low heat. The heat from the sauce will steep the basil and cause the tomatoes to begin to break down.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Twice Baked Potatoes

My good friend, Felicia, asked me to teach her how to make twice baked potatoes. It was such a fun dish, that I decided to turn it into a blog. The process is so simple that you really don't even need a specific recipe. Think of this blog as a step by step guideline rather than an exact measurement of ingredients. I like to switch up the ingredients often and try different combinations of flavors. This time around, we're making twice baked potatoes with onion, broccoli, bacon, and parmesan.

2 Potatoes
1 Onion, diced
1/4 C. Garlic, minced
1 Pack of Bacon, sliced
1 Bunch of Broccoli, shaved*
1 C. Heavy Cream
1/2 C. Sour Cream
1/4 C. Parmesan Cheese
Salt & Pepper

*The easiest way to shave your broccoli is to place the stalk upside down on a cutting board with the stem in your hand. Run a knife around the edges of the broccoli to shave off small florets.

Bake the potatoes in a 375 degree oven with a bit of olive oil and salt for 1 hour. Transfer the potatoes to the fridge to cool for a couple of hours. This can even be done a day ahead of time.

Cut the bacon vertically into thin strips. If you freeze the bacon, it'll be easier to cut. Cook the bacon until all of the fat has been rendered. (I like to cook the bacon in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to make sure that the fat is rendered evenly. When the bacon fat is foaming, it's done.) Drain the bacon from its fat and save a small amount of the bacon fat.

Saute the onions and garlic in the bacon fat until tender. Season with salt and pepper. When the onions are cooked, add the broccoli, toss, and set aside. Cut the potatoes in half and scoop out the flesh of the potatoes using a spoon. In a large bowl (or mixer) combine the potatoes, bacon, and the onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Add the heavy cream, sour cream, and parmesan cheese. Spoon the contents of the bowl back into the shells of the potatoes and top with more parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 more minutes at 375 degrees, or until golden brown.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cajun Spiced Pork Chop with Cranberry-Apple Chutney

Cliff's Meat Market sits across from the Carrboro Town Hall a few blocks from the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was visiting family in the area and decided to stop by. I left Chapel Hill in 2000 and was pleasantly surprised to see that Cliff's Meat Market was still in business. The front display case was full of beautiful cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and fish. I ordered two pounds of pork which were custom cut into chops with a reciprocating bone saw. There are some great grocers where I live now, but nothing is as fresh as the meat you'll find at Cliff's. With pork in hand, I called my father and told him to fire up the grill.
[I went to college in the mountains where fly fishing is very popular. This recipe first came about for use with trout. Trout is actually my favorite meat to use this recipe with. I'd never tried this recipe with pork until now, and am very happy with the results, but if you don't eat pork, you can still use this recipe, as it appears, on your favorite fish.]


4 Pork Chops

1 Tbsp. Salt
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
1/2 Tbsp. White Pepper
1 tsp. Oregano
1 Tbsp. Onion Powder
1/2 Tbsp. Black Pepper
1/4 Tbsp. Cayenne
1 tsp. Thyme
1 Tbsp. Paprika

1 tsp. Orange Zest
1 tsp. Lemon Zest
1 tsp. Lime Zest
1 tsp. Jalapenos, minced
1/4 C. Cilantro, chopped
1 C. Jellied Cranberry Sauce
4 Granny Smith Apples, small diced
6 Green Onions, sliced

Start by letting the pork chops rest and come up to room temperature. While the pork is resting, combine the salt, garlic powder, white pepper, oregano, onion powder, black pepper, cayenne, thyme, and paprika in a mixing bowl to create a dry spice rub. Season the pork with the dry rub and let sit to marinate while you make the chutney.

The flavors of the fresh fruit and spicy peppers are a great combination. The jellied cranberry sauce acts as a binder for all the ingredients. It also cools down the heat from the jalapenos. While the pork is marinated in the dry rub, prepare the chutney. Combine the zests, jalapenos, cilantro, apples, and onions in a bowl, mix well, and place in the fridge to set. It's best to cut the cilantro right before adding it to the chutney. The flavor stays strong and fresh without bruising or browning the cilantro leaves. You can also add a small amount of the citrus juice from the orange, lemon, and lime (optional).

With the chutney in the fridge, and the pork marinated, head over to the grill. I seared the pork on each side for about 2 minutes, then moved them to the cooler part of the grill to continue cooking. Once the pork is cooked, let it rest about 2 more minutes away from heat, top it with the cranberry-apple chutney and serve it with your favorite sides.

[Almost every cookbook I've ever read recommends cooking pork to 170-185 degrees. I promise that this will result in overcooked meat. The real danger in pork comes from Trichinosis, which is killed at 137 degrees. To leave a safe margin for thermometer inaccuracy, I strongly recommend cooking your pork to 150-165 degrees. The pork will be tender and incredibly juicy.]