Saturday, August 29, 2009

Couscous and Fruit Compote

I mentioned in an earlier post that August hit us hard and fast in Chicago, July was pretty mild followed by several days of 90+ degree weather. The hot weather wasn't at all unusual for this time of year except for the fact that it hadn't been hot really at all until then. Well now it is the end of August and the weather is almost fall like.

This morning I had a few minutes to make breakfast, I think you will be happy to know that it did not include Chorizo or Tortillas. I wanted something filling and, for lack of a better way to put it, warm. By "warm" I don't mean above 75 degrees I mean something, like oatmeal, that that makes you feel warm on the inside, something that can counter the fall like weather. I made Breakfast Couscous with fruit Compote. I enjoy Couscous often, it is simple to make, can take on almost any flavor and I love the light fluffy feel of it in my mouth. This morning I topped some couscous with a fruit compote made from dried fruit.

The grocery store that I like to shop at has containers of all kinds of things that a family might NEED, they have 4 color wasabi mix, (my favorite) Gummi Bears (my son's favorite) along with a huge assortment of nuts, candy and assorted dried fruit, vegetables, seeds and other snacks. This last weekend I picked up a box of dried fruit, I can't name everything in it but it included dried apples, apricots, currents, mangos, pineapples, raisins, figs and some other fruit that I am unable to identify. The breakfast that I made today had:

Fruit Compote:
3/4 Cup Assorted dried fruit, big pieces cut up
3/4 Cup water
2 Tbs Brown Sugar
Splash of Lemon Juice
1 Tea Bag

I put the dried fruit and water on the stove and brought it to a boil then added the brown sugar and lemon juice (about a Tablespoon). After it boiled for 5-6 minutes I turned off the burner then put in an bag of Earl Grey Tea and let it steep while I made the Couscous.

The Couscous was easy I put 3/4 cup of dry Couscous in a bowl then added three slices of preserved lemons to it, they were cut into 1/4 inch dice. Then I added 1 cup of boiling water and about a Tablespoon of Olive Oil. At this point I put a plate on top of the bowl of soaking Couscous to let it steam for about five minutes. After the Couscous sits for about 5 minutes I fluff it with a fork, this stops the cooking process and keeps it light and fluffy.

At this point you are ready to dish up take the Couscous and top with the hot fruit compote. Perfect for a cool fall morning!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Roasted Corn

One of my favorite indoor/outdoor cooking vessels is my 7" Iron Skillet. I am not sure where I got it, I think it may be stolen from one of my college roommates and has been in my possession ever since. Being an Iron Skillet it is almost indestructible, I have used it on the grill, the stove top, baked in it and burnt too many things to count on it but in the end I can soak it, scrub it, season it and it is ready to go again. I keep my iron cookware well seasoned so the surface is virtually non-stick now. To clean and season it I will wash it with water, if there are some stubborn burnt on thingies I will use some salt to scrub it with, I never use soap. Then heat it up on the stove top and put a little oil in the bottom and let it sit for a few minutes then turn off the heat, wipe out the inside and let it cool slowly.

Since the iron skillet is virtually indestructible I often use it on the grill, unlike the rest of my cookware I can open or close the lid to control the heat or smokey flavor that I want. This is always a good tasting and simple side dish when you are cooking out. Corn picks up a sweet taste when it is roasted, the kernels caramelize as they cook giving you an almost candy like sensation when you chew and it has enough flavor and texture to hold some spice as well. The ingredients are:

1TBS Clarified Butter
1 Small Onion Diced
1 Jalapeno Pepper Diced
1 Pound frozen Whole Kernel Corn
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Fresh Ground Pepper
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper

I use Clarified Butter because, with the impurities removed, it can be cooked to a higher temperature that some other oils and it tastes so good. Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in an Iron Skillet on the grill then add the Diced Onion and Diced Jalapeno Pepper once the onion is translucent add the Corn and saute together for several minutes, depending on the heat from the grill it can take 15-20 minutes more or less. You can close the grill lid for a while to cool this down some, and it helps get a smokey flavor. You want to hold off on adding the spices until it is close to done they can easily burn. When the corn is golden brown it is ready to serve.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Caprese, Mole

Since I put in the upside down tomato planter I have been working on this idea in my head. Something simple and elegant like a traditional Caprese Salad but with a twist. The traditional Caprese Salad would have Fresh Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, Basil (whole leaf or chiffinade, depending on your taste) and this would all be drizzled with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar maybe Fresh cracked pepper. I love Caprese Salad for a summer appetizer or light snack, it looks beautiful and the flavors are wonderful together.

As wonderful as it is I think that everybody has had a Caprese Salad... I wanted something a little different. I went to one of my favorite cuisines for inspiration this one is this one is Fresh Roma Tomatoes from my "Garden" I sliced a couple up and layered them with Queso Fresca, and drizzled it with a Mole Vinaigrette that I put together and chilled.

Every thing on here is pretty self explanatory except for the Mole Vinaigrette. The tomatoes were sliced about a quarter inch thick as was the Queso Fresca. I have to explain something here, I think that everyone should make a Mole sauce from scratch, it is a wonderful experience and a really well made Mole sauce is wonderful and has a depth of flavor that is hard to describe. It also takes hours... The first time I made a scratch Mole Sauce I was working at a little Southwest restaurant, a lot of nights I would start prepping my Saturday special on Friday as things started to wind down. That night I was looking at the recipe that the owner gave me, it clearly said prep time 3-3 1/2 hours. I did not believe it, "how could that be?" I said to myself "that must include time to grind stuff on rocks or something,"and I started pulling the 27 ingredients together. So at about 11:00 as my last guests were enjoying their house made Churros and Flan I started soaking Ancho Chilies in water, breaking down Dark Chocolate, toasting Sesame Seeds and so on, here is a recipe from Epicurious if you want to go that route. The thing that I want to note here is that at 3:20 am I put my 6 cups of Mole Sauce into the cooler and immediately pored myself a 16 oz carry out cup of leftover margaritas for the trip home.

I mentioned recently that being summer and living with wonderfully active kids I don't have time to mix flour and fat for a pie crust let alone spend half of a day shopping for and then preparing a sauce for an appetizer. I went to the Mexican grocery store in my neighborhood and picked up a jar of Dona Maria it has always been a favorite of mine, it is simple to prepare and has that wonderful flavor that Mole should.

The Vinaigrette that I made has
1 cup of Mole Sauce (following the directions)
1/2 cup Olive Oil
1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar

I put that into a blender and mixed until smooth, I let this set until it was room temperature and then drizzled a little on the salads.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Breakfast Tacos

This weekend, my Mom came to visit before school starts. My Mom's visits tend to follow the same pattern when she comes. She gets up here Saturday afternoon we play in the pool for a while then have dinner, then play in the pool some more. On Sunday we usually play in the pool again then have brunch at our house. This all means that on Saturday morning I have time to make a big breakfast, one that can be my only meal until dinner because it often is. Kris was kind enough to point out, while I was making my breakfast this morning, that I tend to cook Chorizo often when I do make myself a big Breakfast. I am a fan of Mexican Chorizo it is spicy enough to accent a meal and sticks with you for a while. Today I made Breakfast Tacos, probably an abomination for an authentic Southwest, Mexican Chef, but fun and really good.

The ingredients for 2 tacos were:
1/4 pound Mexican Chorizo
1/2 Small Onion Julienned
3 Eggs
1 TBS minced Cilantro
2 Roma Tomatoes diced
a small hand full of Cheese
2 6" Flour Tortillas

I cooked the Chorizo and Onions together in one pan, while they were cooking I diced the Tomatoes and Chopped the Cilantro for later. When the Chorizo and Onions were about done I scrambled the eggs in another pan. While the eggs were cooking I put the Flour Tortillas, one at a time, on top of the Chorizo to soften. When everything was done I assembled them. I laid out the Tortillas then added the Eggs, Onions, Chorizo, Tomatoes, Cilantro and Cheese then put a spoon full of Salsa on the side.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blueberry Pie

I start this post the same way that I have started so many others, I went grocery shopping with my son last weekend. As soon as we walked in the door there were the produce specials I saw 1 pint of Blueberries for $3.77 and right next to them 2 pounds of Blueberries for $3.55. I grabbed the larger package on impulse and put them into the cart, as we were doing the rest of the shopping for the week I was thinking about what I could make with 2 pounds of blueberries.

I have to stop for a second to say I am not much of a dessert person, after a good dinner when the kids have asked me "whats for dessert" my thought is, "well more dinner." It isn't that I don't appreciate a well made Creme Brulee or a perfectly done Mousse, I just don't think about them until after I have eaten the real food and then it is kind of too late to start.

As we were going through the store I was thinking of savory applications for these blueberries, I have made blueberry vinaigrette to toss with a flank steak salad or I could make a honey blueberry glaze for some duck... as I went on I couldn't think of anything that really did it for me. So I started to put the blueberries back, which got the enthusiastic response that I thought it would, "NO! Daddy! I need those!" Which was fine except I had to figure put how to get him to eat these things.

When I got home I was saying to Kris that I bought 2 pounds of blueberries and had no idea what to do with them, she suggested Blueberry Pie. Which makes sense but I was a little wary because I hadn't baked a pie in probably 15 years and as I remember that wasn't one of my most successful culinary adventures. I started to poke around for different pie recipes that might work for me, a relative novice. Most of what I found didn't involve fresh ingredients, after a little bit study I came up with this this:

1 1/2 Cups Blueberries (Fresh)
3/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Flour
Grated Zest of 1 Lemon about 1 1/2 tsp
Juice from same lemon
tsp Vanilla extract
Put all of these ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix well, be a little rough on them as you want some of the berries to smash a little so you have some liquid. Set the bowl aside and let it stand while you deal with the crust. Now is a good time to preheat the oven to 400.

I want to say that I made my crust from scratch, but I didn't, I really was going to but when I was at the store to get the ingredients my son was a wild thing. I just knew it wasn't going to happen. I looked for the pie crust disks, but couldn't even find those. Go figure that I can find Empanada dough at my local grocery store, but not Pie Crusts, I stopped at another store on my way home and picked up the Pillsbury 2 pack. One crust I balled up on the counter then rolled flat, the other I filled with the tempered blueberry mixture. I cut the crust that I rolled out on the counter into strips and wove them on top of my pie. Once it was all together I painted it with a mixture of eggs and milk and baked it for about an hour and twenty minutes. After about 45 minutes I wrapped the outer crust with a double layer of foil to protect it from burning.
There are different thoughts on my house as to whether this was a successful adventure... I liked it, it wasn't too tart or sweet, the flavor had a surprising depth for so few ingredients, there was almost a nutmeg flavor to it that surprised me. Kris thought it wasn't sweet enough and that nutmeg flavor was odd, but the crust was good (I probably should have let her think I made it but I fessed up). My 7 year old said YUK! made a spitting noise and left the room. Take the comments for what they are.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons can be used in many dishes primarily North African and Moroccan Cuisine. Actually the idea to do this at home came from work, we were making a Tagine for a special that called for preserved lemons and gave us a bizarre recipe that involved cutting lemons almost into quarters (cutting then about 3/4 of the way through) then packing them in Kosher salt, submerging them in water and microwaving them for 5 minutes. I looked at that recipe and said to one of the other Chefs that I work with "That can't be the traditional recipe handed down for generations." Turns out Preserved Lemons are something that he uses all the time at home, so we spent a little time talking about how he prepares them.
I won't go into the details of the conversation because, I am told, that I can be really dull when I talk about food like that. I took the information from him, did some additional research and came up with the method of preserving Lemons that I used.

When I made them I used
10 Lemons
2/3 cup Kosher Salt
1/4 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Olive Oil

Blanch 5 of the Lemons in boiling water for about 5 minutes then set aside until cool enough to work with. Cut them into 8 wedges, be sure to pick the seeds out but leave as much of the flesh intact as you can, you need that for the juice. As you slice the lemons put them into a large bowl. Once they are all cut toss them with the salt and sugar until well coated and pack them into a quart jar with a tight fitting lid. Take the remaining 5 lemons and squeeze the juice out of them and add to the jar (make sure to remove any seeds from these too). Once you are done the lemon rinds should be submerged in juices. Shake the jar up to mix everything and set it on the counter. I set mine next to my coffee pot so that I would remember to shake it once or twice a day for the next 6 days. After the 6 days on my counter they were ready to use, so I pored the Olive Oil on top and put them in the refrigerator.

These Lemons are delicious! They are very aromatic and have such an intense citrus flavor that just a few slices are enough to taste throughout a dish. They can be tossed into salads or a pasta dish for that wonderful lemon flavor or in braised chicken for a bright pop of flavor. I have a few recipes that I will post this week.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Basics "Mince"

I understand that all of us come from different backgrounds and I use Kitchen Language or technical terms that maybe not everyone is familiar with so I have composed this series of posts to show what I am saying. That way I don't have to reference Wikipedia when I use culinary language.

There isn't an exact definition to "Minced" like there is for Julienne or Brunoise it is a more loosely defined cut. Garlic, Ginger and many spices are minced so their flavor will be distributed more evenly throughout an mixture. Also the mincing process releases oils and flavors that really only come out through that process.

I am mincing Garlic here, it probably comes up the most often. First I cut the bottom off a Garlic clove then with the side of my French Knife I smash it to break it up a little, then the last bit of paper comes off pretty easily. After that, using a rocking motion with the French Knife I finely chop it up until it looks like it does above.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Smothered Ribeyes

Several years ago I was the Executive Chef/Manager of a small upscale Southwest style Restaurant. The owner would tell me that a sure fire way to sell more of a special was with the menu title... Duh, we all know to make things sound better to sell better, but one of the key words for my demographic was "smothered" you know "Chili Rellanos stuffed with Chicken and Chihuahua Cheese Smothered in a Fire Roasted Tomitillo Sauce." An easier use was something like "Smothered Ribeye Steak... Lightly Seasoned, Grilled to Perfection and Smothered in Seasoned Chutney with Tomatoes, Onions, Fresh Bell Peppers and our Southwest Spice Blend." For some reason the owner thought that sounded better than "Ribeye Steaks that nobody wanted three days ago with a bunch of leftover vegetables dumped on top."

He could be uptight sometimes, since then every time I see smothered anything on a menu or especially as a "Special" I think of that and kind of laugh. Anyway, as funny as it can sound in the restaurant setting it is a reality that most of the time when we cook we have items left over that don't go into the dish and we have to use them somewhere or they will end up in the back of the fridge moldy and unrecognisable in a while. My family, like most of yours, has felt the current economic issues, so throwing away food that can be used just isn't something I want to do. I used some ingredients from past posts to top my steaks. Ribeyes are one of my favorite cuts of beef, they are tender and have a flavor that holds up well with other food on a plate. Also it is usually well marbled so it stays moist when cooked with dry heat.

The toppings on this Ribeye are:
1 TBS Olive Oil
1/2 Can of Tomatoes (the first half I used in the black beans)
1 Red Bell pepper Julienned (for the Julienne post a few days ago)
2 cloves Minced Garlic (made for a post yet to be published)
1 small Onion Julienned
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper

I put the Olive Oil in a Sauce pan (not one of my favorite pans because I just cooked it all on the grill) then added the Garlic and Onions and cooked those until transparent. Then I added the Bell Pepper and Sauteed until it was all tender, moved the pan to a cooler spot on the grill and added the Tomatoes and Cayenne Pepper. I let this set on the grill top for about 20 minuted before I put the steaks on. Once the Steaks came off the grill I topped them with the... I will call it Southwest Tomato Chutney. Really it tasted bright and fresh and I can have the slightly smug feeling of being frugal.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I think in every family, when they start out bring together their traditions and recipes and work them into something new, accepts them or loves them. Kris and I had to work together to figure out how our family would celebrate Christmas for instance, her traditions and mine were different and together we came up with great things that worked for us. Recipes have worked like that too in some cases, recipes that were great for me have changed a little over time to suit our family better sometimes separate dinner entrees are appropriate if one of use gets a craving for something bizarre (OK "someone" in this sentence refers to me) and some of our recipes that have been new to the other but are perfect the way they are and have stayed exactly the same. This post is about on of those meals.

Kris showed me how to make Kaldomers a couple of years ago, she learned it from her Grandmother who passed it down. That is such a cool way to learn a recipe, passed down through generations. I haven't experienced that, partly because my family was a bit "traditional" in that Boys didn't play in the kitchen so much, partly because my love for the kitchen came after my mom stopped cooking.

Kaldolmars are a Swedish dish, simply a Cabbage Roll, probably brought to Sweden through the Mediterranean; the first Swedish publication of the recipe was in 1755 and contained Grape Leaves, later changed to Cabbage because it was available. Kris' Recipe Contains:

1 Cup Rice
1 Pound Ground Beef
1/3 Pound Ground Pork
1 Small Onion finely diced
1 Head of Green Cabbage
Butter or Margarine

Start by Cooking the rice, that is one cup of rice and two cups of water with a little butter in it, bring it to a boil and turn burner down, let that cook for 20 minutes.

While the rice is cooking. boil some water in a large sauce pan and blanch the Cabbage leaves, a few at a time, for a couple of minutes each. When they are easy to work with take them out and set aside.

This is the hard part for me... mix the Beef, Pork, Onions, Salt and Pepper together then add the Rice when it is cool enough to handle. I tend to mash it together into meatballs which doesn't work as well, Kris manages to, for lack of a better word, fluff these ingredients together. So the Beef, Pork, Onions and Rice are well blended but loosely packed.

Take the meat mixture about 1/4 cup at a time and roll in the softened Cabbage Leaves. Line them up in a casserole pan top each roll with a pat of butter and bake in a 350 oven covered for about 45 minutes then uncover and cook for an additional 15.

We serve these as dinner by themselves I like the whole thing (love cooked Cabbage) Kris and the kids set the cabbage aside and enjoy the meat rice mixture with a little butter. In my quick study of this dish I hear that they go well with Potatoes and Loganberry Jam.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Summer finally hit us here in Chicago land the way I expected it to several weeks ago, July was a cool month for the most part. August on the other hand hit us fast and hard, it is about 90 degrees outside and so humid it is hard to breathe. Of course weather like that only makes me think if the best cold drink ever, the Margarita!

A really good Margarita is so easy to make and so superior to any mix that I have come across that I can't imagine using one of the bottled ones. I found limes on sale at the local produce store 20 for $1.00. I know it is like the forces of the universe wanted me to make them. I squeezed them all and got a couple of cups of lime juice. With the only work involved in this drink out of the way I was ready to go. I use a 1.5 oz jigger and poor the ingredients into a shaker full of ice.

The measurements are:
3 Parts Tequila (has to be 100% Agave Tequila)
2 Parts Lime Juice
1 Part Triple Sec
I put some Kosher salt onto a small plate for the rim, this time I added a little sliced Jalapeno and it's juice for an added kick (if you don't like the burning lips sensation leave the jalapenos out). Dip the rim of the glass into a little Simple Syrup (holds the salt a little better than just water) then the Salt and stand upright.

Shake the Margarita for a minute until ice cold and strain into the glass, Look at it, is perfect for a hot day. Makes me want to sit outside and pretend the back yard is a beach the kids pool is a little like the ocean right? There are two in the picture the second is a Blue Margarita, exactly the same except I used Blue Curacao instead of Triple Sec.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Basic Black Beans

Black Turtle Beans have always been one of my favorites for a side dish or even center of the plate sometimes. It is a dense bean with a meaty texture and a flavor a little like a mushroom. I think those factors make it pretty versatile. If I am making this a center of the plate entree I usually add ham or another meat because I like to. If you don't it is a great veggie item. The ones pictured here are made with just a few ingredients and served over rice, it has:

3 Cloves Garlic minced
1 Small Onion Diced
about 1/4 cup Diced Red Bell Peppers
1 TBS Olive Oil
1/2 can of Diced Tomatoes (about 1/2 #)
1 can of Black Beans
1 tsp Cumin
Saute the Garlic, Onions, and Peppers in Olive Oil until the onions are translucent then add the tomatoes, Black Beans and Cumin stir it all together cover and let simmer for a while so the flavors marry nicely, I probably let it go for about half an hour. If you feel like it you can make this ahead and reheat (I think it tastes even better!)

The Rice I am serving it over was even easier. I minced one clove of garlic and about a TBS of red bell peppers together in oil and sauteed, then put in 1/2 cup of rice and cooked over high heat until everything was coated and hot then I added 1 cup of water covered and turned the heat to low for about 20 minutes.

When the Rice was done it was ready to serve, isn't it beautiful? The tomato covered thing in the background is the steak I made to go with this dish I will talk about that in a couple of days.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Basics "Knife Work"

I understand that all of us come from different backgrounds and I use Kitchen Language or technical terms that maybe not everyone is familiar with so I have composed this series of posts to show what I am saying. That way I don't have to reference Wikipedia when I use culinary language.

I am working with a few terms today the first is Batonett; that is basically a "French Fry Cut" a Batonnet is 1/4" X 1/4" X 2 " it is one of the basic cuts. First this potato is cut into planks about 1/4" thick then those are broken down further into the Batonnet strips.

A correctly made Batonnet cut is just a little bit bigger than the rivets on the handle of your knife and if done properly can stand on its end when done.

Once that is done you can cut a "Small Dice" that is 1/4" X 1/4" X 1/4"

Nothing complicated there... to take it a step further Julienne is a cut 1/8" X 1/8" by 2" The process is the same; 1/8" planks are broken down to Julienne strips.

Once you have the Julienne cuts they can be taken down another step to make a Brunoise cut that is 1/8" X 1/8" X 1/8" Most of the time when a recipe asks for Julienne cut it means something more casual that doesn't require a ruler to get right.