Aluminium Falcon Cookery

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Recently Curt and I became the proud owners of a new Airstream Trailer, which has been a dream for quite some time.  We set out on our maiden voyage, eager to explore the rockies during the peak fall color season. During the welcome to Airstream tour at the dealership, our guide reluctantly showed us how the oven operated, but casually mentioned “no one uses them anyway.”  I took this as a challenge (OK, I admit that I can be competitive at times!) and en route, thumbing through my Molly Stevens braising cookbook, decided to tackle her Bisteces Rancheros (a fancy way of saying Shoulder Steaks Braised with Tomatoes, Potatoes & Poblano Peppers).
This dish is a meal unto itself and needs no accompaniment, but Molly suggests perhaps serving with a Boston lettuce salad with scallions and sliced radishes.

Serves 4-6, braising time about 1 1/2 hours

2 medium poblano peppers (about 8 ounces total)
2 pounds thin-cut (1/2″) boneless chuck or shoulder steaks, cut into 8 or 10 individual steaks
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 very large or 2 medium white onions (about 12 ounces total), thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
1 pound small red or white potatoes, scrubbed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Roasting the peppers: set the poblano peppers directly on a flame to high. Roast, turning with tongs as each side chars, until charred, about 8 minutes total. (If you don’t have a gas burner place under the broiler, turning with tongs until completely blistered. Transfer the peppers to a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, let cool until
    enough to handle.
  3. Peeling the peppers: When the peppers are cool, slip off the skins. Avoid the temptation to rinse under the faucet or you will wash away much of their flavor (I use a paper towel to remove.) Slice the peeled peppers open, cut away the stems, remove the seeds. Cut into strips and set aside.
  4. Browning the steaks: Season the steaks with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add half the steaks and cook, turning once with tongs, until they develop a ruddy brown exterior, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a large cazuela or other shallow bowl (I used my dutch oven) and brown the second batch. Add another tablespoon of oil and heat until it shimmers before adding the steaks.
  5. The aromatics and braising liquid: When all the steaks are browned, pour the oil out. If the skillet is blackened, clean it before continuing. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions, season with salt and pepper, stir, and saute until limp and beginning to brown in spots, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and coriander and cook for another minute. Pour the juice from the tomato can into the skillet. Break up the tomatoes and drop into the skillet.  Season with salt and pepper, stir, and simmer the juices to thicken them a bit, about 4 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper then remove from the heat.
  6. The braise: Slice the potatoes into 1/8″ thick rounds and layer them over the steaks. Stir the vinegar into the tomato sauce and spoon it over the potatoes. Top with the strips of peppers. Cover tightly with heavy-duty foil (or cover with the lid) and slide into the oven. Braise until the steaks and potatoes are fork-tender but not falling apart, about 1 hour.
  7. The finish: Remove the foil, increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and braise until the tomato sauce is brown and crusty around the edges. another 20-25 minutes.

So because we were in such high altitude, the braise took over 2 hours!  .. which is why I don’t have a photo of the dish plated .. we were so hungry we just dug in.

I’d highly recommend a visit to Ouray in the fall – it’s absolutely gorgeous!  My mom and dad joined us for a few days and there was plenty of room for us to share meals together in the Airstream.

A must-do if you ever make your way up there?  Stop in at Khristopher’s Culinaire right on Main Street.  The owner knows everything there is to know about brewing coffee, he’s got a huge collection of spices from around the world which are very hard to find, and is just a lovely person to visit with.

Classic Cast Iron

IMG_5117 (1)I’m a huge fan of having the appropriate tools to prepare food. This past weekend I came across an interesting story in the Wall Street Journal about the resurgence of cast iron and copper pots. Non-stick cookware was all the rage during my teenage years, and while a quality non-stick skillet comes in handy when preparing morning eggs, it’s uses are really limited. Check out this link to see my preferred non-stick skillet, and check out this link to see my blog post about copper pots.Ozeri skillet

I recently heard a respected TV chef answer the question “If you were stranded on an island with only one pot or pan, what would it be?” His answer kinda surprised me .. his pot of choice was a dutch oven. After giving it some thought, I totally agree!

Dutch ovenThese super versatile pots are the bees knees when it comes to kitchen tools. The heavy cast iron holds heat like none other, and the enamel makes them easier to clean than a non-stick skillet. The problem with non-stick? The finish cannot tolerate high heat, and at some point it deteriorates and starts peeling off (definitely not something I want to ingest!)

There are so many advantages to cooking with a good quality dutch oven .. here’s just a few:

Fond
You know those browned bits that are left in a skillet after searing meat or vegetables? They are full of flavor and an important element to a good gravy or sauce.

Braise
Molly Stevens taught me so much about techniques of braising. The heavy lid and overall design of a dutch oven make it the ideal choice for slowly cooking meat in liquid, guaranteed to tenderize those cheaper cuts of meat.

Stews
Sautéing aromatics in a dutch oven also creates a flavorful fond, adding significant flavor to any stew. Many recipes suggest “deglazing” your pan, which is simply adding liquid (wine or stock is my preference) to loosen those tasty bits and incorporate them into a sauce.

They’re heavy pots!
Today while browsing in the Le Creuset store, I saw a pot with a glass lid. The saleswoman explained that some shoppers complained that their dutch ovens were too heavy so the company started offering glass lids to make them more manageable. OK people, seriously .. they’re not that heavy! The best way to determine if you should be carrying a full-sized dutch oven is to grab the fat on the back of your arm. If it’s more than you’re happy with, stick to cooking with cast iron dutch ovens. And if you’re happy with what you see, still stick with cast iron to keep it that way!

Cast iron skilletsMy second tool of choice, if I were to be stranded? Without question, it would definitely be a cast iron skillet. I have three, and many times I wish I had more. My 12” iron skillet is my most used kitchen tool, hands down. A seasoned skillet is able to tolerate high heat, and its versatility and uses are endless. It works well on a cooktop, can easily be moved into an oven (frittata! yum!) in the smoker, or even my Santa Maria barbecue. Also, if you’re taking food to a friend’s house, transporting in a cast iron pot or dutch oven really helps hold in the heat.

So seriously, in the past few weeks, I’ve used this skillet for the following:

→ Searing beef chuck for a stew (check out this link for my favorite beef stew recipe, courtesy of Ina Garten)
→ Searing salmon on the cooktop, then transferring to oven to complete (check out this link to my favorite hoisin glazed salmon recipe)
→ Warming tortillas for pulled pork tacos
→ Sautéing aromatics (onion, celery, garlic) on the cooktop then moving to my Santa Maria wood-fired barbecue for a smoky barbecue sauce
→ Searing filet mignon steaks
→ Browning breakfast sausages
→ French toast
→ Stir-fried broccoli with prosciutto
→ Cooking mushrooms on the barbecue
→ Warming our homemade sausage

So, if you haven’t already invested in a heavy cast iron skillet and quality dutch oven, drop everything and go shopping!

Taking Cam & Lisa to Italy on the “cheap”

I love spending time with long-time friends .. folks that have been in your life for years and years .. just makes for a super fun evening.  Cam & Lisa were coming for dinner, and I decided to pull out “all the stops” and plan a creative menu that included things like ordering venison on-line and making a sorbet for a palate cleanser (I’ll post about this later!).

Venison Osso BuccoCurt ordered venison osso buco from an on-line source, D’Artagnan (they were having a free shipping offer, and we are all about finding a deal!).  Since I hadn’t yet gone out on a limb and made this before, I researched and read all sorts of recipes, but ultimately chose this one from the Madd Hatter’s Kitchen blog:

Venison Osso Buco
Serves 4

2 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
9 juniper berries
4 venison shanks, cut 3 inches thick
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1/3 cup shredded carrot
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
2 cups white wine
7 cups meat stock, preferably beef
1 orange, peel removed in large pieces and juiced
1 lemon, peel removed in large pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For gremolata:
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley
1 plump garlic clove, finely minced
Zest of small lemon, finely shredded

Place the bay leaves, cloves, rosemary, and juniper berries in a piece of cheesecloth and tie.

shanksPlace the venison shanks on a plate, standing on their cut ends. Tie each shank with a piece of kitchen twine tightly around their center, which will keep the meat from falling off the bone as it becomes tender. Trim the ends of the twine if needed. Salt the shanks lightly, with about 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Dredge the shanks in flour, covering all sides of the shank thoroughly.

Heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat in a dutch oven. Shaking off the excess flour, place all of the shanks into the hot oil, standing on their cut ends. Brown each side well, 3 to 5 minutes each side. You will do this not only for the cut sides, but around the edges of the shank as well. Once the shanks are thoroughly carmelized, remove them to a fresh plate and drain the vegetable oil from the pot, taking care not to burn yourself and leaving the bits of crust and meat at the bottom.

oso buccoPour the olive oil into the dutch oven, continuing to keep heat at a medium high temperature. Add the onions, and stir them around for 3 to 4 minutes, letting them soften and help release the crusted bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the carrot, celery, the cheesecloth packet of herbs, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are wilted.

Clear a space in the center of the pot, and drop in the tomato paste. Cook the paste for about 1 minute, then stir it into the vegetables. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a boil. Raise the heat to high, and add the wine. Cook for 2 more minutes at a boil to burn off the alcohol. Finally, add the stock, citrus zests and juice, and another 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and bring mixture to a boil.

Cripps Dinner - 07Return the shanks to the pot, coating them with sauce, then standing them on their cut ends. If necessary, add a bit more stock to bring the liquid level back to the top of the shanks. Place the lid on the dutch oven and cook the shanks for 1 hour, reducing the heat so the sauce is at a steady simmer. Turn the shanks about halfway through to ensure the ends don’t dry out.

Uncover the pot and cook for another hour at a steady simmer. This time turn the shanks every 10 to 15 minutes to keep the meat from drying out. After this hour, your shanks should be fork tender and your sauce should be reduced to at least half of what it was at the start.

Pull the shanks out and place on a plate, covering with aluminum foil. Keep warm.

Set a mesh sieve above a saucepan, and strain the sauce, pushing all the thick tomatoes and the cheesecloth packet to extract as much sauce as possible. Return the sauce to the stove to keep warm and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Combine the gremolata ingredients and set aside.

When preparing to make this dish, I checked in with my buddy Ron (who is an excellent chef!) to get his input, and his thought was that that shanks would need 3 hours of cooking time to be fork-tender .. he was right .. two hours just wasn’t enough time.

celery root The Madd Hatter’s blog suggested serving the osso buco over risotto, which would likely be an excellent side, but I went a different direction and served with a potato – celery root mash:

Celery root potato mash

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1 celery root, peeled and cut into wedges of about the same size as potato
milk
butter
cream cheese
sour cream
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

Place the potatoes and celery root into a pot, cover with water, sprinkle with salt and bring to a boil on the stove.  Cook until tender, then drain and return to the pot.  Add a bit of butter and cream cheese, and mash with a potato masher.  Stir in some sour cream, salt & pepper.

Yum!  This was so good, even as ugly as a celery root is, I plan to always have one on hand when I make mashed potatoes!

To serve, place the meat standing upright on the plate; mound some potatoes directly adjacent; spoon 2-3 ladles of sauce over the meat & plate; top the venison shank with a sprinkling of gremolata, and voila .. dinner is served!

One final note about the shanks .. Curt has since decided he wants to order the tiny forks so he can retrieve the tasty bone marrow to spread on toast rather than let our Saint Bernard, Bentley, get it all!

Overdone Christmas Party Meatfest, part 2: Estofat of Wild Boar

Wild BoarIt’s a rainy day here in San Francisco, so rather than stepping outside for last-minute Christmas shopping, I’d decided to stay in and share with you my experience with preparing wild boar.  In our quest for an interesting culinary experience for our party guests, Curt found a meat supplier, D’Artagnan, to ship us wild boar shoulder roasts. I found this recipe on the D’Artagnan website, and although you have to begin preparations a couple days ahead, it is so worthwhile!  … and, you can always turn the prep work into a party!  My friend Sandra was sweet enough to come over a few days ahead of time to help.

Ingredients
5 pounds D’Artagnan boneless wild boar shoulder
1 bottle (750 ml) full-bodied dry red wine, such as a Syrah
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, sliced
1 onion, thickly sliced
1 tablespoon dried Mediterranean oregano
2 bay leaf
2 teaspoons juniper berries
1 teaspoon bruised black and/or white peppercorns
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, chopped, for garnish

Preparation
Trim the BoarTwo days in advance, trim any excess fat from the wild boar and cut the meat into 24 pieces of approximately equal size. Gather all the trimmed fat and set aside.

Everything is better with cognacIn a flameware casserole, bring the wine and cognac to a boil over medium-low heat. This would be the time to pause and remember where you stashed away that kitchen fire extinguisher!  Turn off the heat and ignite, averting your face.

Ignite the alcohol When the flames subside, cover the casserole to keep the liquid hot.  Generously season the wild boar with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large conventional skillet (of course I pulled out my go-to cast iron).

Brown

Sauté the meat in batches over medium-high heat, turning, until nicely browned all over, about 5 minutes. Be sure not to crowd the skillet, otherwise the meat will steam and not brown!  As they are done, add each batch of hot meat to the hot wine in the casserole. Let stand for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, add the trimmed fat to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, onion, oregano, bay leaves, juniper berries, peppercorns, garlic, vinegar, and 1/4 cup water. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Scrape the contents of the skillet into the casserole.

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Ladle 1 cup of the liquid from the casserole into the skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits still clinging to the bottom of the pan. Boil over high heat until reduced and syrupy, about 5 minutes (sipping on a nice glass of wine will help here … it’s important to be patient and not rush through this step). Ladle another cup of the marinade from the casserole into the skillet and again boil down to a syrup. Return this reduced syrupy liquid to the casserole.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Set the casserole over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil. Cover with a sheet of crumpled parchment paper and a tight-fitting lid and cook over low heat for 30 minutes.

Transfer the casserole to the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the lid but not the paper and continue to cook for 2 hours. Transfer to a wooden board or folded kitchen towel to prevent cracking. Discard the paper and use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat to a bowl.

Strain the liquid and vegetables through a fine sieve set over a conventional saucepan. Press hard to get every drop of liquid. Skim off some of the fat and boil the juices over high heat until reduced to about 3 cups. Let cool; then cover and refrigerate the sauce and meat separately.

A day or two later, remove the meat and sauce from the refrigerator and let stand for about 2 hours to bring the meat and sauce back to room temperature. Meanwhile, brush a shallow baking dish with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the boar in the baking dish. Remove the fat from the surface of the sauce. Gently reheat the sauce in a conventional saucepan. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper and pour over the boar. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve hot.

The D’Artagnan recipe included an almond & chocolate picada, and I had every intention of making this, but simply ran out of time … I decided I really did need to take a shower before our guests began to arrive!

Why the heck would I go to so much trouble to prepare wild boar?  I’ve pretty much stuck to making the same 5 meats my whole life … chicken, turkey, pork, fish, and beef.  Now that I’m 50, I’ve been at this for a while!  Technique of this dish was so unique, I just had to try it.  Not that I’m a wild boar conisseur, but I’ve read that because they are fed acorns it gives the meat a richer taste.  The meat is lean and pork-like, but darker in color and has a tighter grain.  It pairs nicely with a bold red wine or strong ale, which you typically can’t do with a traditional pork dish.  Next time I’ll serve with a nice zinfandel.

As for the taste, YUM!  It’s as rich as a duck, but drier (and not greasy) … lean and tries to be as dry as a turkey.  Wild boar would never be confused for any meat you would find from a grocery counter.  Next time, I’ll serve this dish over hot buttered egg noodles.

Enjoy!

Chicken Fricassee

So I consider myself to be a safety-aware chef … but recently I really blew it.  Since autumn has finally arrived in Pasadena I was drawn to one of my favorite cookbooks, All About Braising by Molly Stevens.  While slicing onions on my mandolin to make chicken fricassee, my thumb got a little too close to the blade, and … ouch … I lost a few layers of skin!  I won’t make that same mistake twice.  Yawwwwch!

In spite of the thumb incident, this dish turned out beautifully and I’m anxious to share Molly’s recipe with you.

Chicken Fricassee with Artichokes & Mushrooms
One 3 1/2 to 4 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces or 2 3/4 pounds legs and thighs
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour for dredging
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
One 14-ounce can artichoke bottoms (not hearts) drained, rinsed and quartered
3/4 pound (12 ounces) button mushrooms, quartered
1 medium yellow onion (about 6 ounces) thinly sliced
1/4 cup Cognac, or other good brandy
1 1/4 cups dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Two 2- to 3-inch leafy fresh thyme sprigs
One 2- to 3-inch leafy fresh marjoram sprig
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/2 lemon (optional)

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Dredging the chicken: rinse the chicken pieces and dry well with paper towels. Generously season with salt and pepper. Spread the flour in a wide shallow dish. Dredge chicken pieces, turning to coat both sides.
  3. Searing the chicken: Heat the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the butter stops foaming, add half of the chicken pieces skin side down and cook until the skin is an even blond color but not at all brown, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook the second side until blond, another 4 minutes or so. Transfer to a large plate or tray to catch any drips. Cook the second batch of chicken; set aside with the rest.
  4. The aromatics: Return the pot to medium heat; add the artichokes, mushrooms and onion; season with salt and pepper. Cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the platter with the chicken.
  5. Flaming the Cognac and building the braising liquid: Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the Cognac and carefully ignite it with a match. Be careful as the flames can be high. Let the flames die down, about 2 minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pot as the Cognac boils to dislodge any lovely browned bits. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Simmer to reduce by one quarter, 8 to 10 minutes.
  6. The braise: Add the chicken pieces to the pot, setting the breasts on top to protect them from overcooking. Add the vegetables, along with the thyme, marjoram, garlic and any juices that have collected on the platter. Cover the pot with parchment paper, then cover tightly with the lid. Slide onto a rack in the lower third of the oven and braise gently for 15 minutes. Turn the breast pieces over and continue braising until the chicken is fork-tender, another 40-45 minutes.
  7. The finish: With a slotted spoon or tongs, lift the chicken pieces and most of the mushrooms and artichokes from the pan; transfer to serving platter. Skim as much surface fat as you have the patience for from the braising liquid. Set the sauce over medium-high heat and bring to a strong simmer. Lift out and discard the herb sprigs. Let the sauce simmer vigorously to reduce in volume and concentrate in flavor for about 5 minutes. Add the creme fraiche and continue to simmer to reduce to the consistency of a thin cream soup, another 5 minutes or so. Taste for salt and pepper. If the sauce tastes flat, add a squeeze of lemon.

I served the chicken with spaghetti squash and braised cabbage (another excellent Molly Stevens recipe).