Recipe: Pork Wonton Soup a la Tala

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I’m going to tell you a secret: There’s a French-style butchery in San Francisco’s Dog Patch neighborhood that has the best quality meat in the city with a price tag that won’t make you balk. It’s called Olivier’s Butchery, and they don’t have a single freezer in their whole shop. You can browse their amazing selection of fresh pre-cut meats, roasts, and groceries, or special order any cut of meat you like and Olivier will cut it to order. This place has been my go-to since I learned about it, and I’ll never go to Whole Foods again.

Occasionally, Olivier will offer a “Meat Box”; for a set price you receive a menagerie of meat products of his choosing. The draw is that you save money (15%-20% off retail) by purchasing in bulk. Everything is vacuum-sealed so it can go right into your freezer. This is a great way to force yourself to branch out and try cooking something new, as I did with the ground pork that came in my Olivier’s Meat Box. After a bit of googling, I decided that an Asian-style dish would best showcase this ground pork. I settled on Pork wonton soup, as I had some home-made tonkotsu broth in my freezer.

Before we begin, let me clarify one thing: There is absolutely nothing authentic about this recipe. It’s my creation, utilizing local ingredients, heirloom vegetables, and stuff I found in my ‘fridge. You can adapt it any way you like – change the filling of the wontons, use a different kind of broth, top it with anything you like. If you’re a purist, it’s probably not the recipe for you.

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Pork Wonton Soup
Serves 2, with plenty of leftover wontons to freeze and enjoy later
Prep time: 30 min + 1 hour of waiting
Cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
Wontons-
1 package square wonton/potsticker wrappers
1 lb ground pork
1 small head of cabbage (I used savoy), sliced very thin
2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled & grated
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. peanut oil

Soup base-
4 cups low-sodium or unsalted broth (I used pork tonkotsu broth, but you could substitute chicken or anything else you have on hand)
Splash of Shaoxing rice wine (optional)
Soy sauce, to taste
Salt, to taste

Toppings-
Handful of watercress or thinly sliced green onions
Drizzle of sesame oil
Drizzle of hot chili oil

Method:

  1. Heat a medium skillet or wok over medium-high heat.
  2. Add 1 tbsp. peanut oil and heat until it shimmers.
  3. Add thinly sliced cabbage to the pan and sprinkle with a little salt to get it to release it’s liquid (you could also throw in a splash of Shaoxing rice wine to get it going). Turn the heat down to medium, toss in the pan, and cook until tender (approx. 8-10 minutes).
  4. Remove cabbage from the pan and set aside to cool.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the ground pork, grated ginger, minced garlic, green onions, cooled cooked cabbage, 1 tsp. sesame oil, and 1 tbsp. soy sauce. Use two forks to mix the ingredients until well-combined. Put in the refrigerator for 1 hour to let the flavors meld together.
  6. Meanwhile, heat your broth in a small saucepan. Add the rice wine, salt, and soy sauce to taste (it should be salty, but not too salty. If you over-salt it, just add some water). Turn heat down, cover, and keep hot. This is your soup base.
  7. Prepare the work surface to make your wontons. You will be making them in batches (I did 10 at a time), so your work surface should be large. Put a big plate or cutting board off to the side to place your finished wontons on after you make them.
  8. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add 3 tbsp of salt and keep it hot until you’re ready to cook your wontons.
  9. Get a small bowl of water and place on your work surface – you will be using it to wet your fingertip to seal the wontons.
  10. Lay out 10 square wonton wrappers on your work surface.
  11. Remove your wonton filling from the refrigerator and spoon it into the center of your wonton wrappers. I found that 1 heaping teaspoon of filling was the right amount for the size of my wrappers – yours may be a different size, so just be sure not to overfill (they will be hard to seal if they are overfilled).
  12. Start to make your wontons. I do them systematically in batches of 10 – you will save a lot of time this way. You can fold them any way you like, there are a million ways to do it. This website explains 10 different ways (I used the “samosa with a twist”).
  13. Set your finished wontons aside and continue on to the next batch until you run out of filling or wrappers.
  14. Next, put enough wontons for two people (I can eat 7 or 8 of them, they are so delicious!) into the pot of salted, boiling water. Cook for 7 minutes. (Side note: You are going to have way more wontons than you can eat, and they freeze beautifully. Flash freeze your extra wontons by putting them onto a cookie sheet and into the freezer, uncovered, until frozen. Then put them into quart size mason jars or freezer bags and return to the freezer until you’re ready to eat more wontons.)
  15. Divide the cooked wontons between two large soup bowls. Ladle the hot soup base over the wontons.
  16. Top the soup with a drizzle of sesame oil, hot chili oil, and a handful of watercress or thinly sliced green onions. Enjoy with a yummy beer like Sapporo or TsingTao.

Using Your Gas Grill as a Smoker

I have been on an outdoor cooking kick lately, thanks to our beautiful spring weather. It all started with a side of local king salmon, which needed to be cooked within a day since it can spoil very quickly. My husband and I both love smoked salmon, so I became determined to figure out how to do it on my own.

As I was perusing the interwebs for electric smokers, I became discouraged by the high prices of well-reviewed models. $300 for an appliance that I will probably only use a couple times per year seemed unreasonable… I am not a fan of “one-trick pony” appliances or gadgets, and as a rule I don’t buy them (my kitchen is very small, and I don’t like clutter). I began to wonder if I could use my existing gas grill to smoke, and a few hours of googling around both confirmed my suspicions and made me feel confident that I could do it on my own.

Smoking is pretty straightforward. You are basically cooking food at very low temperatures with indirect heat while inundating it with flavorful smoke. There are two types of smoking: hot smoking and cold smoking. Cold smoking is not something most home chefs should take up – it requires long periods of smoke time at low temperatures, which could put your food safety at risk. Hot smoking is a different story, as it occurs at a higher temperature and is therefore safe to do at home – that’s what we are doing here.

So how does one hot-smoke on a gas grill? It’s pretty simple, though time consuming. A lot of it depends on the type of gas grill you have. Mine is pretty big and has two grill levels (a main grill over the burners, and a second narrow grill about 6 inches above the main grill towards the back). It also has three burners with individual controls, which makes it much easier to use for smoking. If your gas grill only has one burner, it can be a bit more complicated – more on that later.

So let’s assume you have a gas grill with multiple burners and individual temperature controls for each burner. You need to use indirect heat to smoke, so you can turn on a burner to the far right or far left, and put your food on the opposite side of the grill. Every grill is different, so you will have to figure out the perfect spot to cook your foods. For example: If I am using my grill to smoke, the grill surface adjacent to the flame doesn’t get very hot at all, and I have to use the raised grill surface to smoke my food. I assume this is because heat rises, and the heat all gets trapped in the dome of the grill. It works perfectly for me, but you might have to move your food around to find the perfect spot. The cooler grill surface in my grill is perfect for smoking foods that don’t need to get hot in the middle, such as tofu.

Here’s how I do it. You will probably have to tweak this process a bit to make it work for your grill.

Ingredients/Tools:
Gas grill with multiple burners that have individual temperature controls
Wood chips for smoking (I used applewood), available at places like Home Depot & Lowes
Large bowl
Water
Aluminum foil
External read-out meat thermometer (If smoking meat or fish, this is very handy. I didn’t use one this time because I was smoking ribs, and I know when they’re done. I did use it for my smoked salmon.)

Process (for a multi-burner gas grill):

1. Soak your wood chips in a bowl of water for about an hour.
2. Remove a large handful of wood chips and place onto a large square of aluminum foil, mounding in the middle.
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3. Place another similar sized square of aluminum foil on top of the mound of wood chips and fold the edges to seal it into a square packet.
4. Poke holes in the top of the packet, which will allow the smoke to escape (I took the photo below before poking my holes).
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5. Place the packet of wood chips on top of a grill burner off to the side, in a spot that will get hot enough to create smoke. For my grill, I had to remove the grate and place the packet directly on top of the v-shaped heat diffuser. Gently folding it over increased the surface area in contact with heat and gave me a steady smoke. Depending on your grill, you may be able to just place the packet over the burner, but that did not work for me.
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6. Turn the burner up to high until your packet begins to smoke, then turn it down to low to maintain the cooking temperature you would like. (I was doing pork baby back ribs, so I got my grill at a steady 220F, which is the lowest mine seems to want to go. Fortunately this is the perfect temperature for slow-cooking pork.)
7. Move your meat/tofu/whatever to the grill, placing it in an area where it’s not in direct contact with the heat.
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8. Close your grill and keep a close eye on it to make sure your packet continues to smoke. (You want a little bit of smoke, not a lot. If it’s smoking like crazy, your temperature is too high or your wood chips are too dry.)
9. Add new wood chip packets as the old ones burn out (every 1-2 hours).

*Side note: Do not block off the vents on your grill. They are there for a reason and ensure the burners function properly.

That’s it! It is a total hack, but it works just fine. I am sure electric smokers are easier to use and maintain the proper temperature, and maybe one day I will buy one. For now, this works fine for me, as I am always experimenting with new cooking methods. I ended up smoking this side of baby back ribs for about 6 hours. They could have gone a little longer, but we were hungry and it was 9pm, so we ended up eating them as they were. Although they were not quite falling off the bone, they were still fantastic. Next time I’ll start smoking earlier in the day, or cut them into smaller pieces.

Now, if you have a gas grill with only one burner, you can still use it to smoke. The process involves putting a pan of water over the burner to temper the heat, but I didn’t have to do this. Just do a little research online like I did, and I’m sure you can find a process that will work for your grill.

Recipe: Honey Sriracha Chicken Wings

honeysrirachawingsI’ll tell you a secret – I love a good chicken wing. Love isn’t a strong enough word to describe how I feel about a succulent, crispy, perfectly seasoned wing. So many places get them right, and I’m not ashamed to say I love the wings at Hooters and Buffalo Wild Wings. One problem with those places, however, is the quality of the meat they are using. I’m sure those chickens did not come with their papers – chances are they are mass produced, factory-farmed, miserable little creatures. Winelandia believes in eating locally and sustainably, so we try our best to eat responsibly-farmed meat. Pasture-raised chicken tastes better, is healthier for you, and better for the environment. The other issue is that wings in restaurants are almost always deep-fried. It’s bad enough wings are full of fat – frying them isn’t helping the situation.

Leave it to me to try and health up and green-wash a chicken wing party platter. They may not technically fall into the “health foods” category, but they are certainly better than what you get at Hooters. After several attempts at getting these wings just right, I’ve finally found enough success to share the recipe and technique with you. First of all, these wings are baked – not fried. We roast them at a high temperature on a wire rack over a cookie sheet with only salt and pepper on them – no oil. They have enough fat in the skin to baste themselves, and we want to render all of that fat out so they aren’t getting soggy in a pool of their own fat while they cook. The elevated dry-roasting at a high temperature also breaks down the connective tissue so that the meat just falls off the bone, making them easier to eat.

We finish them off with a yummy honey-sriracha glaze, adapted from a FoodNetwork.com recipe. If you’ve never heard of Sriracha sauce, it’s a Thai chili-garlic sauce originating from Thailand (but lots of it is produced in California). I cut back on the butter in the glaze and changed up the cooking method, so it’s not quite the same recipe. I left the proportions of honey and sriracha the same, though, because I felt it was already perfectly balanced between spicy and sweet.

To pair wine with your chicken wings, look for an off-dry Riesling, off-dry Gewurtztraminer, off-dry Chenin Blanc, or an inexpensive sparkling wine with a little bit of residual sugar. You could also pair an aromatic dry white wine, because the wings have enough sugar on them already to temper the heat. A slightly sweet wine will pair better, but a dry wine would be just fine as well. I paired a delicious Blanc de Blanc Champagne from Jacques Lassaigne, which was totally uncalled for and absolutely perfect. If you want to splurge and enjoy your wings with a bottle of real Champagne, go for it – you won’t regret it.

Honey Sriracha Chicken Wings
Author: Tala Drzewiecki
adapted from FoodNetwork.com

Ingredients:
2 lbs. pasture-raised chicken wings, tips removed, cut into two pieces (wings & drumettes)
1/3 cup local honey
1/4 cup sriracha chili sauce
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. lime juice
salt & pepper

Special Tools:
Baking sheet
Wire rack (about the same size as the baking sheet)
Non-stick cooking spray
Aluminum foil

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F
  2. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  3. Spray your wire rack with non-stick cooking spray and set on top of the foil-lined baking sheet.
  4. Pat your wings dry, and toss them in a bowl with plenty of salt and pepper.
  5. Put the wings on the wire rack and bake at 400F for 40 minutes, turning once halfway through.
  6. While the wings are roasting, prepare the sauce. Combine the sriracha, honey, butter, and soy sauce in the pan over medium heat until it starts to bubble. Turn the heat off, add the lime juice, and stir. Set aside.
  7. Remove the wings from the oven and toss them in a bowl with half of the sauce. Put them back on the wire rack over the baking sheet and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
  8. Remove the wings from the oven and toss again in the same bowl with the other half of the wing sauce.
  9. Garnish with parsley or sliced green onions, and serve with your favorite sparkling or off-dry white wine.

 

Recipe: Spring Lamb Chops with Herbes de Provence

P2010142Lamb is especially delicious in the spring, and this dish is meant to highlight the ingredient. The preparation is a snap, and the cook time is 10 minutes or less! High-quality lamb chops are not inexpensive, but they impress a dinner party, or a special someone. We got ours from Olivier’s Butchery, in the Dogpatch. We highly recommend their always-fresh products – they carry poultry, beef, pork, lamb, and include a variety of both well known and lesser-known cuts. Check ‘em out!

Mourvèdre is most often grown in the Provence and Rhone regions in France, and are described as having a “garrigue” quality. Garrigue is the scrub on the land in that area, similar to our chapparal in California. This dish is meant to pair with the 2012 La Clarine Farm Cedarville Mourvèdre. We use herbes de Provence, a French herb blend that evokes garrigue, as the spice on these chops. That integrates the flavor evoked by the wine into the flavor evoked by the dish, making them truly complementary.

Prep time: 1 hour, active time 15 minutes
Serves 4 as an entree
Author: Colleen McGarry

Ingredients:

8 lamb chops – about 2 lbs. (2 per person)
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. herbes de provence
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil

Method:

  1. Peel, then mince the cloves of garlic. Sprinkle the salt over the garlic, then using the blade of the knife like a spatula, rub the salt into the garlic. Once the mixture resembles a paste, move the paste into a small bowl.
  2. Add the pepper, herbes de provence, and olive oil to the garlic paste and mix well.
  3. On a large plate or cutting board, lay out the chops flat. Pat dry if there is any surface moisture.
  4. Divide half the paste evenly onto the surfaces of the chops, and rub the paste to coat evenly. Flip each chop, and divide the remainder and rub to coat the other side of the chops. Set the chops aside on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour.
  5. Heat a cast iron pan or skillet on high on the stovetop for 5-10 minutes, or until it is searingly hot. Add 2-4 chops the hot pan, being careful not to crowd the pan you’re using. We did 3 at a time in a 12” skillet.
  6. After about 3 minutes, when there’s a brown crust on one side, flip the chops. Cook for 2-3 minutes longer, to achieve medium doneness.
  7. When done, move to serving plate and tent loosely with foil if you have additional chops to sear. Serve immediately.

Recipe: 3-Grain Asparagus & Mushroom Risotto

P2010144Asparagus and mushroom risotto is a perennial spring dish, making use of the best the season has to offer. We kicked up the seasonality of the dish by incorporating green garlic, an ingredient that shares it’s season with asparagus and mushrooms. In order to make it a little more visually interesting and healthful, we decided to riff on it with multiple grains – this version has classic carnaroli or risotto rice, plus pearled barley and quinoa. You can swap in myriad other grains too, if you have a personal favorite. The grains are cooked separately to maintain their structural integrity, and the risotto is prepared in the traditional way – with lots of stirring. The veggies are sautéed and then everything comes together at the end. This risotto is a match made in heaven with the 2012 Radoar “Etza” Muller-Thurgau (featured in our winter wine club collection), a grape that is known to pair with asparagus – a very difficult-to-pair ingredient. Its acidity and depth match both the asparagus and the creaminess of risotto.

Prep time: 1 hour
Serves 4 as side dish
Author: Colleen McGarrry

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pearled barley
1/2 cup quinoa (we used rainbow, any will do)
1 cup risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli, etc.)
4-6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 stalks green garlic, sliced into thin rings
1 small yellow onion, diced
4-6 oz. morel or black trumpet mushrooms, chopped
1/2 bunch asparagus, cut diagonally into 1” pieces
2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 cup fresh shredded parmesan salt

Method:

  1. Bring a 2 or 3 quart pot of water to a boil, with 2 tablespoons of salt added. Once boiling, add the pearled barley. Cook the barley over a simmer until it’s hard in the middle, but beginning to give on the outside, about 10-15 minutes. Then, add the quinoa to the same pot and cook until both grains are tender, about 10-15 minutes more. Drain in a fine mesh strainer so the quinoa doesn’t escape. Set aside.
  2. In a large dutch oven or pot (at least 5 quarts), melt one tablespoon of butter and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once sizzling, add the diced onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the risotto and stir constantly until the grains are translucent but not brown, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the chicken or vegetable stock in a separate pot until hot but not boiling, and leave at that temperature on a back burner on your stove. We used a quart of stock and 2 cups of water, but you will need anywhere between 4 and 6 cups of liquid.
  4. Once the rice is translucent, add the wine and stir constantly until almost completely absorbed.
  5. Commence “risottoing!” Add a ladleful of the hot liquid and stir every few seconds. Lower the heat to achieve a low simmer, and adjust the heat as needed to keep it there. Stir every 30-90 seconds, and when the liquid is almost absorbed, add another ladleful. Keep doing this while you proceed to step 6.
  6. In a skillet or sauté pan, combine the remaining tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the green garlic and sauté until soft, 1-2 minutes more.
  7. Add the asparagus and sauté for 1-2 minutes, then add 1/4 cup water to the pan, put the lid on, and let steam for another 1- 2 minutes. Remove the lid, keep the heat at medium or medium high, and evaporate the remaining water. Remove the pan from the heat, moving the contents to a bowl, and set aside.
  8. Keep adding liquid and stirring the risotto until the rice is al dente – a tiny bit of chew in the center of a grain, but mostly soft and creamy. This will take somewhere around 20-30 minutes. Taste for salt and texture periodically along the way.
  9. Once the rice is about where you want it, add back in the barley and quinoa to allow the flavors to meld. You’ll want to add another ladleful of liquid to compensate for the additional grains. You’re aiming for a loose texture – looser than you think – because it will tighten up between the stove and the plate. Add the asparagus/mushroom mixture and stir, then turn off the heat. Stir in the parmesan and pepper, and taste for seasoning one last time. Serve immediately.

6 Great Tips for Holiday Entertaining

PC210024_webThe end of the year is often a hectic time for people from all walks of life, but especially for those of us who get a kick out of entertaining and hosting. Too often we will decide to have “a few” friends over for drinks and snacks, and it quickly snowballs into something about as manageable as cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people.

I love to entertain, and at times I feel like it’s what I was born to do. A weird calling in life, for sure, but I really do enjoy it. I throw a lot of parties, mostly centered around food and wine. I’d like to take a moment to share with you some of the tricks I’ve learned over the years to help make entertaining as affordable and easy as possible for the gracious host, so you can spend more time with your guests.

  1. Get as much of your prep done ahead of time as possible. This is something caterers have known for ages – sometimes preparing (and freezing) ingredients weeks in advance. Many recipes will tell you what can be done ahead of time, and that combined with some common sense is a great way to get ahead of the curve. Chop all of your veggies, juice your lemons, make your salad dressings, purée your dips, mince your garlic, make your soups, and anything else you can think of the day before. Focus especially on things that are time consuming, like snapping the ends off your green beans.
  2. Find ways to make ingredients stretch and repurpose leftovers. Entertaining for a large group of people can be very costly, and nobody wants to ask their guests to chip in to help with the cost of food. Did you cook a pot of beans earlier in the week? Turn the leftovers into bean dip. That stale, day-old bread? Crostini. Last night’s risotto? Arancini. Restaurants do this, so why can’t you? My favorite trick: Go pick up some fresh pizza dough from your local grocer and make flatbreads with all the odds and ends in your refrigerator that need to be used up. Just because it’s left-over, doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious and worthy of a spot on your table.
  3. Don’t wait until the last minute to sort out your menu. Seasoned pros do a lot of planning, so if you are feeling overwhelmed it’s probably a good idea to plan everything out ahead of time. I like to use spreadsheets to keep track of the dishes I’m preparing, what ingredients I need, URLs to recipes, what I need to buy vs. what I already have in my kitchen, etc. Spreadsheets can be color-coded and are a great visual planner, and if you upload it to Google Docs you can also use it as your shopping list. It’s a good way to organize your thoughts and to prevent forgetting things like tarragon.
  4. Prepare things that are rich, filling, comforting, and inexpensive. One of my favorite family-style appetizers is ricotta cheese topped with honey. The two ingredients on their own might not be especially inexpensive, but they are super rich a little goes a long way. All you have to do is plop the cheese into a bowl, cover it with honey, and serve it with bread or crackers. Another idea is to serve a fresh, sliced baguette with a side of olive oil and sea salt, like you get an Italian restaurant. Home-made hummus can be prepared ahead of time, and garbanzo beans are very inexpensive. Make a big platter of carrot sticks, celery, and other dip-worthy veggies as vehicles for your hummus or bean dip (your paleo friends will thank you!). Make a huge, healthy arugula & shaved fennel salad to cut the richness of your cheese plate.
  5. Ask your friends to help out by bringing a dish or a bottle of wine to share. It’s easy to take it all on head-first and not ask for any assistance – believe it or not, your guests are more than happy to help. If you want to deal with the food, ask your guests to help out by bringing a bottle of wine or a fancy beer. If you blew your budget on exotic wines and cocktail provisions, ask your friends to help out by bringing snacks to share. My point is, if you crowd-source your parties, your life becomes much easier. It’s way classier than asking people to chip in a few bucks as well.
  6. Be aware of the food allergies and dietary restrictions of your guests. I have several friends who have serious seafood, nut, and dairy allergies, along with a smattering of vegetarianism. While you don’t have to make everything nut, seafood, meat, and dairy free, it’s a good idea to make notes of what has what in it and to make sure you alert your guests if your dishes contain any food allergens. If I have a vegetarian friend coming, I ensure that nothing meat-related is touching the foods s/he can eat, and I also make sure that there is no cross-contamination during preparation. Your guests will be thankful that you went out of your way to accommodate their needs.

PC210053_webDo you have any awesome tips for being a great host? Most of what I know, I learned from others. Share your knowledge and entertaining tips in the comments!

Recipe: Wild Mushroom Risotto with a Poached Egg

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s winter, which means there’s an abundance of wild mushrooms at the market. One of my favorite wild mushrooms is the hedgehog mushroom – a ‘shroom which has “teeth” under the cap instead of gills. They taste very much like a chanterelle and are typically cleaner and cheaper than a chanterelle. They have hollow stems, so they weigh less than the average mushroom, which makes them quite economical to cook with.

One of the best ways to showcase the earthy, foresty flavors of wild mushrooms is by using them in risotto. Contrary to common belief, risotto is very easy to make and hard to screw up. There is definitely a technique to it, which I will describe below. Mostly, it just requires a lot of attention and stirring, but it’s not hard to make. Risotto is a very versatile dish, and you could substitute any of the ingredients here with similar ones. Instead of veggie broth, you could use chicken or mushroom. Instead of shallots, you could use an onion. I used dry white vermouth instead of white wine, because that’s what I had on hand. If you can’t find hedgehog mushrooms, use chanterelles, creminis, king trumpets, or porcinis. Don’t be afraid to adapt this dish to whatever ingredients you have available to you.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow you may ask, why the egg? Well, it’s a cheap and delicious source of protein for one. Secondly, they are a classic pairing with wild mushrooms. Third, I like to eat risotto with something “saucy” on top, whether it be ossobucco, pork ragu, or some other sort of braised meat with a rich sauce. I don’t always have 5 hours to slow-cook a veal shank, so the ooey-gooey center of a perfectly poached egg is a great substitute.

The single most important factor in good risotto is the quality of the stock being used to cook it with. Home-made stock is best. If you’ve never made your own stock at home, now is a good time to start. Vegetable stock takes just a couple of hours (vs. chicken stock which can take 8 or 9 hours) and you can use whatever you’ve got kicking around in the fridge. If you have time for chicken stock, you can find my recipe for it here. Otherwise, you can use low-sodium stock from the market in a pinch. Just be sure it’s low-sodium, because you are cooking off a lot of the liquid and the risotto can easily wander into too-salty territory before you know it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next point of consideration is the variety of rice to use. I always use arborio rice, an Italian variety of startchy, short-grained rice commonly used in risotto here in the US. There are other types you can use, but arborio is the easiest to find. Carnaroli is considered to be one of the finest and creamiest varieties. If you can find some of that, let me know so I can get some too.

Be sure to read this recipe from start to finish before you begin. I’ve written it in such a way that everything will be perfectly timed. You will be poaching your egg while your risotto finishes cooking, so there is a little multi-tasking involved. Be sure that you understand how to poach an egg before you begin (I’ve included a link to my poached egg tutorial below). If you are not comfortable poaching an egg, you can fry one over-easy for a similar result. Most of all, don’t forget to stir! Risotto is all about constant stirring, and while you can rest for a minute or two at a time, be vigilant so you don’t burn it.

Wild Mushroom Risotto with a Poached Egg
Serves 2 (dinner-sized portions)
Prep time: 15 min.
Cooking time: 20 min.

Ingredients:
1 cup arborio rice
5+ cups home-made or low-sodium stock (vegetable, chicken, or mushroom)
6-8 oz. wild mushrooms, sliced (hedgehogs, chanterelle, porcini, king trumpet, cremini, etc.)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or other hard Italian cheese
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1 large or 2 medium shallots, finely diced
2 very fresh eggs
2 tbsp. vinegar (any kind will do, but I tend to use white wine vinegar)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Salt & pepper

Method:

  1. Heat the stock in a small pot and keep it hot (but don’t boil it).
  2. In a small skillet, heat 1 tbsp. of butter until it foams.
  3. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pan with a sprinkle of kosher salt (this helps draw the moisture out) and cook for 5-6 minutes until most of the moisture cooks off and they begin to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. In a large skillet, melt 2 tbsp. of butter over medium heat until it foams.
  5. Add diced shallots to the pan and sprinkle with kosher salt to prevent browning.
  6. Cook shallots, stirring frequently, until they turn translucent, but don’t allow them to brown.
  7. Add the arborio rice to the shallots and butter. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes until the edges of the rice grains become translucent. This step is important and will result in creamy risotto.
  8. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Add the white wine or vermouth to the rice and stir constantly until mostly absorbed.
  9. Add a ladle-full (or 3/4 cup) of the hot stock to the rice and stir constantly until mostly (but not completely) absorbed. The mixture should be bubbling, but not sizzling. Keep repeating this step, it will take 15 minutes or so to get through all the stock. Keep stirring, stirring, stirring, and be sure to taste it as you go, testing for done-ness.
  10. When you are about halfway through your stock additions, fill a tall-sided skillet or low-sided saucepan with 2-3 inches of water and heat it until it simmers.
  11. Add the 2 tbsp. of vinegar to the simmering pot of water.
  12. Back to the risotto – keep stirring, tasting, and adding hot stock. You will notice the liquid changes from brothy to creamy when it’s approaching done-ness.
  13. Once the risotto is almost done, you can add your eggs to the small pot of simmering water to poach. Click here to read my full tutorial on poaching eggs. Once they are in the water, cook them for 3 minutes until the yolks are still soft to the touch but the whites are cooked through. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  14. Add the cooked mushrooms to the almost-finished risotto and stir.
  15. At this point, your risotto should be done or close to it. Keep going until the consistency is perfectly creamy but not over-cooked. You want it to have enough liquid so it’s just slightly soupy. Once it’s done, add more stock to make it a little creamier, if needed.
  16. Turn off the heat. Add the grated cheese and season to taste with salt & pepper. You will probably need quite a bit of salt if you used home-made stock. Don’t be afraid of salt, but taste it as you go so you don’t over-salt it.
  17. Plate your risotto in a large bowl, mounding it in the center. Make a little well in the middle with your spoon, then lay the poached egg in the middle. Sprinkle the hot egg with a little salt, some fresh black pepper, a little extra grated cheese, and finally sprinkle with chopped parsley.

 

You’re done! It should look a little something like this:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are eating this for breakfast, you have won at life. If you’re eating it for dinner, be sure to pair it with some dry bubbly wine, such as an inexpensive crémant or even a real Champagne if you’re feeling fancy. I would even go as far as pairing it with a French sparkling rosé of pinot noir, to compliment the earthy mushroom flavors. I would avoid any wines that are excessively fruit-forward, erring on the side of mineral.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy risotto? Do you have any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments!

Recipe: Nobu Miso Black Cod

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Most people who know me know that I am not much of a traditionalist. Although my father’s side of the family was devoutly Catholic and from Eastern Europe (tradition, anyone?), my mother’s side of the family was very much a bunch of rough-and-tumble ‘Mericans from Oakland, CA. I was the third generation in my family to be brought up in Oakland, and as a result I feel that most of the “culture” I have is a mish-mash of old-world sensibilities rooted in the soils of the Bay Area.

So, what does that mean exactly? For one, it means I don’t cook turkey on Thanksgiving. It’s a ridiculous holiday to begin with, and I cringe every time someone wants to go around the table to say what they are thankful for. Come December, my Christmas tree is adorned with disco balls, chickens, and Star Trek memorabilia. I shop for holiday wrapping paper in the Birthday section. My husband is Jewish, so every year we throw a Christmukkah party (although this year, it was Thanksgivingukkah). My point is, we don’t follow any rules, and we have a great time.

Today I am going to share with you one of my favorite Winter dishes. I’ve served it twice as the main course for Thanksgiving. Anyone who has spent T-Day with us and experienced this Miso Black Cod will tell you about the time a crowd of people stood in my kitchen after dinner was finished, picking the leftover scraps of black cod from the serving platter. I made it again this year, but with a more all-encompassing Japanese theme. Turkey can suck it.

The great thing about this dish is the ease of preparation. It may seem fussy (3 day marinade? Searing in the broiler?), but I assure you that it’s not as hard as it sounds. It’s all about patience and technique. The 3-day marinade changes the fish in a way that is hard to explain – it becomes firmer while still being melty, tender, succulent, and other-worldy. I’ve tried to speed it up and do a 1-day marinade, and it really isn’t the same. So give yourself as much time as you can – 2 or 3 days is ideal.

blackcod_freshThe most important thing to consider when making this dish is the freshness of the black cod. You are going to be marinating it for 3 days, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t touch 3-day old fish with a 10 foot pole. My working theory is that the salt in the miso acts as a sort of cure, slowly drawing the moisture out of the fish. My advice is to get your black cod right from the source (fisherman), or as close to the source as you can. I get my fish from One Ocean Seafood – the owner does FREE home delivery, and if you work with him you can find out what days he gets his fresh-caught local fish on. My Thanksgiving black cod (from Monterey) was caught on Tuesday morning and served on Thursday evening.

Black Cod, also known as Sablefish, is a very oily fish that is not actually cod at all. Because of it’s high oil content, it is difficult to over-cook. This is a great recipe for people who are not normally comfortable cooking fish. We get it locally here from Monterey and Half Moon Bay – buy the local stuff if you can.

Anyhow, here’s the recipe. It’s from Nobu Matsuhisa, a celebrity chef who owns the high-end Nobu restaurant chain. If you’ve ever seen the $30 “Miso Black Cod” on the menu at any Japanese restaurant (many places serve variations on this dish), this is what you’ll get – although yours will be better and much cheaper.

Nobu Miso Black Cod

Ingredients:

For Saikyo Miso Marinade
3/4 c. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
1/2 c. saké (Japanese rice wine)
2 c. white miso paste (aka shiro miso)
1-1/4 c. organic white sugar

For cod
4 black cod fillets, about 1/2 lb. each
3 cups prepared Saikyo miso

Method:

Make the Saikyo miso marinade

  1. Bring the saké and mirin to a boil, and boil for 30 seconds (this cooks off the alcohol).
  2. Lower the temperature to low and add the miso paste. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
  3. When the miso has dissolved completely, turn the heat back up to high and add the sugar.
  4. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  6. Reserve a small amount of the miso marinade for serving.


Prepare the black cod

  1. Rinse the black cod fillets and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Trim any ugly bits from the fillets.
  3. Place fillets into a non-reactive bowl or container and slather with the cooled Saikyo miso marinade.
  4. Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator.
  5. Flip the fillets once during the 2-3 day marinade.


Cook the black cod (2-3 days later)

  1. Pre-heat your broiler.
  2. Remove the fillets from the container and wipe off the excess miso (but do not rinse).
  3. Cut the marinated fillets into 4-5 oz serving-sized pieces.
  4. Place the fillets skin-side down on a broiler-safe, foil-lined, low-rimmed dish or on aluminum foil.
  5. Place fillets into your pre-heated broiler and broil for 3-5 minutes, or until the tops of the fish begin to blacken and caramelize (see photo). Remove from broiler.
  6. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place fillets into the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes.
  7. Remove the bones from the cooked fish with a pair of tweezers prior to serving, or just warn your guests that there will be small bones in the fish.

That’s it, really! You can serve this with a little bit of the miso marinade you reserved on day 1 on the side. Nobu recommends serving with a stalk of Hajikami, which I have never been able to find commercially (I make my own). You could serve it with pickled sushi ginger instead. This dish is also complimented well with cooked greens such as spinach. The slight bitterness is a nice counter-point to the sweetness of the fish.

As for wine pairing, any white wine with little or no oak would be great with this. I would suggest something with a tiny bit of residual sugar (but not a sweet wine) and medium to full body. Our 2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc comes to mind. It would also be fantastic with Champagne.

Let us know if you have any questions about this recipe in the comments.

Recipe: Pie Crust a la Rose (Levy Beranbaum)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s Thanksgiving, so let’s talk about pie crust, y’all. I started making pie crust with my grandma – affectionately called Yakima Grandma, because, well, she lives in Yakima, WA. Yakima is in the agricultural heart of Washington state, so I grew up making apple, peach, and other fruit pies with her. We always used a shortening-based crust. That’s just how I learned. I remember the finesse with which she moved her hands and manipulated the dough, and how perfect the pie came out – every freaking time. As I got into cooking myself, I became attracted to the science-based work of Alton Brown and Harold McGee, and eventually, Rose Levy Beranbaum. I think actually Shuna Lydon first led me to Beranbaum, but I’ve never looked back. I’ve got at least two of her cookbooks, and my copy of The Pie and Pastry Bible is well-worn and commonly spotted on the counter. I can’t get enough of it. She really knows the hows and whys of flour and all the great things you can do with it. And her pie crust recipe works for me, every time. It’s specific, hoo boy, but if you follow it, the payoff is great. I’ll re-post her recipe here, with some details, tips, and tricks to guide you through the process. This recipe does require a food processor. I’ve tried to do without, in a pinch, and it really just doesn’t work the same. If you don’t have a food processor, stick with whatever recipe is working for you so far!

Rose’s Favorite Flaky and Tender Pie Crust
(An update of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s original cream cheese pie crust from The Pie and Pastry Bible)

Ingredients
Enough for two single-crust pies, or one double-crust pie

6 oz frozen butter (12 T)
10.5 oz frozen pastry flour
4.5 oz cream cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 T heavy cream
1 T cider vinegar

A note on ingredients: there are only 7 ingredients in this recipe, which means each one counts. You should get the best of each one that you can manage, but definitely buy the absolute best butter, heavy cream, and cream cheese you can find and afford. The better taste will reward you in the final product, I promise.

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A note about the coldness: It’s your pie crust’s best friend and the secret to all your success here. The ingredients really do need to be as cold as possible. Start by slicing your butter into cubes, then put the cubes on a small plate and freeze them for about 20 minutes. Make sure your heavy cream and cream cheese are coming straight from the refrigerator. As for your pastry flour, I just keep a small bag in the freezer for pie crust time. It’s easy and convenient.

Method
Measure your flour, salt, and baking powder, then  combine them in the bowl of your food processor. Run the processor for about 10-20 seconds to combine the dry ingredients thoroughly.

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Slice the cream cheese into 3-4 small chunks, and add them to the bowl of the food processor all at once. Close the lid, leave your hand over the spout to keep the processor from bouncing all over the counter, and turn it on. Let the processor run for about 20 seconds. You want the cream cheese to get fully integrated at this point, the the final product will look like damp sand, and you won’t be able to find any cream cheese chunks. You want chunks of butter in the pastry, not chunks of cream cheese. The cream cheese just ups the flavor and fat content of the dough.

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Once the dough looks like it does below, you’re ready to add the butter. See how it looks fluffy, like fresh snow or damp sand? You can’t see any cream cheese, but you know there’s something adding moisture and fat to the flour mixture, which is exactly what you want.

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Next, add the frozen chunks of butter to the food processor. Generally, I add about 2/3 of the butter, pulse for about two seconds, then add the second batch. From here, you’ll want to pulse it somewhere between 10-20 times or so, total. Start with 5, then take the lid off. Grab a fork, and toss the mixture around a little. Does it look like there are massive boulders of butter in the bowl? If so, you’re not done yet. Pulse again 5 more times, and toss. Keep going until the pieces you can see are, as Beranbaum says, the size of peanuts. Below, we are about at the peanut stage. You don’t want to over mix, so go gently and carefully along, a few pulses at a time, tossing and checking.

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Once you get to the stage here, with the butter peanuts, it’s time to add the liquid. Take the lid off the processor, and add in the heavy cream and the cider vinegar. Pulse a few times (say, 3-5) to combine. Toss with the fork and check to make sure all the liquid is integrated. Scrape down the sides and the corner edge of the food processor bowl, because liquid can collect there. Give it 1-2 more pulses, and you’re done. That’s it! What? It doesn’t look like pie crust? It looks more like crumble topping? I know, I know. This is where the magic happens.

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Take a small chunk of the crumbly mixture in your hand, and squeeze. Does it hold together in a ball, like play-doh? If it crumbles apart, you should run the processor for 1-2 more pulses and check again. If it still won’t hold, add a half tablespoon more heavy cream and pulse 1-2 more times. Once it will hold together, you know you’re golden. It should look like this.

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Since the recipe we just made is for a double crust pie, you’ll need to divide the dough into two separate ziploc bags. I am a fanatic, and I weigh the contents. This dough will come out to around 21-22oz, so approximately 11 oz per bag is where you want to be. Dump your portioned crust into the ziploc bag, and start kneading – hands on the outside of the bag, dough on the inside. Use your palms and knuckles for this job. You’re incorporating the moisture further, and also developing gluten, which will help it hold together and become flexible and workable when rolling. It will take about 2-3 minutes of kneading to get the dough to form into a ball, and you’ll be surprised and impressed when that bag of crumbs turns into a disk, almost as if by accident. Once you can make a ball with the dough, you will want to flatten it into a workable disk. You can then take the disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, put it back in the ziploc bag, and store it in the freezer for several months. Or, since Thanksgiving is in a few days, just throw this bag into the refrigerator and pull it out 15 minutes before you need to start rolling your crust.

Did I answer your questions? Are you now a newly competent and confident baker? Do you have other worries? Let me know in the comments!

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Seven Perfect Seasonal Foods for Fall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday, I took a drive down the coast to visit the new Bonny Doon Vineyards tasting room in Davenport. They closed down their Santa Cruz location back in May and moved up into a new space about 10 minutes north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. The proprietor, Randall Grahm, is somewhat of a bad-ass in California wine history, and I have a lot of respect for him for popularizing Rhone wines in California. After all, some of my favorite varietal wines are made from Rhone varieties, and if it weren’t for Randall we might be in the dark about these delicious wines.

Unfortunately, the people operating the tasting room would not allow me to take any photos because they weren’t finished furnishing the place. Really guys? Your website says you are open for business and I just drove here from San Francisco! Anyhow, all I got was this crummy photo of their sign on the highway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo why is this blog post titled Seven Perfect Seasonal Foods for Fall? Well, if you’ve ever driven down Highway 1 in the fall, you know how many farm stands selling local produce there are all along the way. My travel partner and I decided to make the best of the situation and do some farm-standing along the way back home. I will review the beautiful fall vegetables we encountered along the way, along with some lovelies I came across at the Farmer’s Market this weekend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurban Squash! These aren’t as great for eating as they are for looking at, but in the fall you will see them taking over the coastal pumpkin patches in California. They are an heirloom variety, dating back to to the 1800’s.  The flesh tastes vaguely of hazelnut and they make an excellent soup. You can also roast them whole and use them as a large soup tureen. I would probably just leave these mutant squash as-is and add them to my home as part of my holiday décor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPo-ta-toes! Boil’em, mash’em, stick’em in a stew. While these are available year-round, I tend to eat them more in the fall because they lend themselves best to hearty, warm, savory dishes. We are fortunate to have many heirloom varieties at our disposal here in the Bay Area, and every time I buy potatoes I try a new variety. My favorite way to prepare them is to wash them, leave them un-peeled, chop into bite-size pieces, toss with olive oil & fresh herbs, then roast at 375 degrees until tender and crispy around the edges. You can use these roasted potatoes in salads, as a simple side dish, as an accompaniment to eggs, or all by themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASunchokes! What the heck are these, anyway? Also known as the Jerusalem Artichoke, they are actually the tuber of the sunflower. They are ugly to look at, but if you find these rarities at the market be sure to snatch them up while they are available. They are as delicious as they are ugly. I like to chop them, toss in olive oil, and roast like I would a potato. The flavor is nutty and artichoke-like and they would be great paired with something a little sweet to offset their savory personality.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARadicchio! This is my favorite bitter leafy vegetable of the fall & winter. While it’s generally available year-round, I think it tastes best this time of year. You can slice a radicchio in half and grill it, or use it raw in a salad mixed with arugula and sherry or balsamic vinaigrette. It’s important to use a sweet-ish dressing with this in a salad, as it can be quite bitter and needs a little balance. It tastes great with bacon, too. It’s festive color is perfect for the season and will be a lovely compliment on your Thanksgiving table.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWild mushrooms! This year we have a huge bumper crop of mushrooms, and it’s only fall. Prices are at rock bottom right now and you can find some pretty exotic varieties at your local wild mushroom purveyor. These shown in the photo, above, are called Violet Chanterelles, or Pig’s Ears. They have a lovely texture and earthy/pungent flavor that is perfect to accompany roasted game birds or pork. Other delicious mushrooms to try are Porcini, King Trumpet, yellow Chanterelle, Black Trumpet, Hedgehog, Matsutake, Maitake, Pioppini, and Yellowfoot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPersimmons! While I don’t have much experience with these, I do know how prolific they are around here in the fall. I had neighbors in Oakland with a whole orchard of them in their back yard. They are gorgeous when still on the tree, as they are late-ripening and the tree loses it’s leaves before the fruit falls off, making a silhouette that looks eerily like a scraggly Christmas tree full of bright orange ornaments. I know we have two major varieties here in CA; the sweet & friendly Fuyu persimmon, and the astringent Hachiya persimmon. To make them more palatable, my dad used to put his persimmon into a coffee mug and cover it with a small plate for several days. This would accelerate the ripening process, and he would eat it when it was practically rotting. Gross, Dad. There are some varieties indigenous to the United States, and they were a staple food of the Native Americans and early “American” settlers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApples! There is no fall food more perfect than the apple, especially here in California where we have access to a zillion different heirloom varieties. Right now there is a bounty of fresh apples all over the place and there’s a reason apple pie is so popular in the fall. Some of my favorite heirloom varieties include Pink Pearl, Grenadine, Rome, Wickson and Sierra Beauty. Pink-fleshed apples like Pink Pearl and Grenadine are not only beautiful, but in my opinion the most delicious. Perhaps it’s my mind playing tricks on me because of the seductive color, convincing my brain that they somehow taste better, but that Grenadine apple really does taste just like grenadine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoodbye tomatoes, basil, sweet corn & zucchini. Say Sayonara to sweet peppers. Summer is O-V-E-R, make room for fall foods! What are some of your favorite fall fruits & vegetables?