Sunday, June 3, 2012

Basics: Homemade Granola

Yogurt has become more and more popular in the US over the last several years (although still substantially behind France and many European countries in daily consumption per person).  The most recent craze is Greek-style yogurt, with its thicker, more dense consistency.  Brands such as Fage and Chobani are now commonplace in supermarkets, Targets, and even many convenient stores.  And also my fridge.  I usually buy Fage, but I'm hoping that Whole Foods starts making the Greek-style yogurt in its 365 brand soon. 

Aside from its breakfast appeal, Greek yogurt is a wonderful ingredient in the kitchen (just make sure to buy the plain variety and not one of the flavored/sweetened varieties).  Try subbing it in recipes for your favorite homemade salad dressings and dips, which commonly rely on mayonnaise for that creamy texture.  Also think of Greek yogurt for meals that call for sour cream (e.g. chili, tacos, etc.).  It's not really all that different from sour cream in terms of absolute calories/fat, but it does offer its probiotic benefits.  And like sour cream, yogurt is available in full fat, low-fat (2%), and fat-free.  What's great about fat-free Greek yogurt is that because of its thick texture, it makes you think you're eating something deliciously fatty even though you're not.

Onto the actual topic for this entry.  Granola!  Delicious, decadent granola.  The perfect topping for yogurt, granola is a combination of oats, baking spices, sugar, nuts, and raisins/dried fruit.  A blend of very nutritious ingredients that offer a great, natural balance of carbs, fat, sugar, and other nutrients.

The first step is to buy quality ingredients. King Arthur (link) offers the best rolled oats I've ever tasted.  From there, it's all about personal preferences.  I love adding almonds, cashews, and pecans.  You could toss in walnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, or any other favorite nut.  The one thing I would probably leave out would be peanuts.

For the sweetener, I love agave.  It's a great sugar substitute made from the agave plant (the same source as tequila), and it doesn't boost your blood sugar levels as dramatically as cane sugar.  Also, it's a liquid, so it makes for easier mixing/stirring in many recipes. Other options include honey and maple syrup (the real stuff...none of that sugar-water with maple syrup flavoring), which each offer a unique flavor and texture for the granola.

I love tossing in unsweetened shaved coconut and dried raisins.  Feel free to skip the raisins, or add a different dried fruit, such as cranberries, currants, chopped figs, blueberries, etc.  The dried fruit offers a nice sweet, chewy texture, different from the crunchy granola and nuts.

Last tip - make sure to stir every 15 minutes while baking.  You don't want your granola to burn, and with the added sugar, it does tend to stick to the baking sheet.  Enjoy some freshly baked granola on a bowl of Greek yogurt tomorrow!


3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup cashews, slightly crushed
1/2 cup pecans, slightly crushed
1/2 cup shredded sweet coconut
1/4 cup agave
2 T real maple syrup
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 250 F.
2. Combine all ingredients, except raisins (or other dried fruit), in a large bowl.  Stir well.
3. Pour into a single layer onto a large baking sheet (preferably one with ridges to prevent the granola from spilling onto your oven).  You might need two baking sheets.
4. Bake for at least 1 hour 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours (until it smells delicious and has a nice roasted color & texture; sampling is encouraged).
5. Place in a large bowl and let cool, then add raisins. Place into an air-tight storage container(s).  Can be stored at room temperature for quite a while (I've had mine in the cupboard for over a month before).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Quick Lettuce Wraps

Thanks to a generous invitation, we enjoyed a long, relaxing weekend in Maine with a great group of friends.  Long days on the beach, plenty of fresh air, and of course lots of seafood!  

Lobster, whether served chilled in a hot dog bun (called a "lobsta roll") or cracked out of a steaming shell, is a classic Mainer meal.  Chowda is another local favorite, which is a delicious combination of cream, potatoes, bacon, and the obvious...clams.  Yum.

Back in Jersey, we were in the mood for some bold flavors, but also something light (lobsta is also served with butta & Mainers also love their blueberry pie).  Cooking Light has a lot of recipes that fit this bill, and are surprisingly tasty despite the reduction in tasty tasty fat. 

We settled on a lettuce wrap recipe that featured tofu, fresh veggies, and a spicy peanut-hoisin sauce.  The watery crunch of the crisp lettuce gives the meal a natural lightness.  

The bold Asian flavors of this dish help you forget about the missing bun bread, tortilla, etc. (or in this case, even the meat).  If you don't like tofu, feel free to swap in finely diced chicken breast.  But give tofu a chance...we're still learning to appreciate it.  One tip is to buy the extra-firm tofu, which improves its texture substantially.



1 tsp canola/safflower oil
1 T minced shallot (or sub red onion)
1/3 cup water
2 T peanut butter (preferably the 'natural'/non-Skippy kind)
4 tsp hoisin sauce
Dash crushed red pepper, or more to taste
1 T fresh lime or lemon juice

1 (14oz) package extra-firm tofu, drained and crumbled [see note in directions]
1 T. dark sesame oil
6 green onions, thinly sliced in 1" pieces, divided
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
3 T soy sauce
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp agave (or 2 tsp white sugar)
1/2 tsp Sriracha, or more to taste
1 cup carrots, julienned
2 cups rice (served hot)
8 lettuce leaves (select fresh, undamaged lettuce; Bibb, Green Leaf, and Romaine are good options)


1. Cook the rice.  Wash and dry the lettuce leaves.

2. Spread crumbled tofu in a single layer on several layers of paper towels; cover with additional paper towels. Let stand 20 minutes, pressing down occasionally.

3. To prepare sauce, heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add canola/safflower oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shallots/onions, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add 1/3 cup water and peanut butter, hoisin, and red pepper flakes, and stir with a whisk. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in lime/lemon juice.

4. To prepare tofu sauté, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sesame oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add half of the green onions; sauté 1 minute. Add tofu; sauté for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 2 tablespoons cilantro, soy sauce, ginger, sugar, and Sriracha; sauté 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in carrots and remaining green onions.

Serve with rice, peanut-hoisin sauce, cilantro, and lettuce leaves.  Spoon a little rice onto each lettuce leaf, then top with a couple big spoonfuls of the tofu mixture.  Add the peanut-hoisin sauce and sprinkle with cilantro.

Hope you enjoy this delicious dish just as much as we did.


A little more love for/from Maine:

For the original recipe, check out the Cooking Light recipe link.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Pantry: A Meal’s Building Blocks

After a yearlong hiatus, I finally found the time and energy to return to my food blog.  Over the last twelve months, I graduated from NYU, got married, enjoyed a summer off with my wife, and started a new job in Midtown Manhattan.  Oh, and we moved into a new place in northern New Jersey.  The beautiful part of NJ, not the concrete jungle depicted in the Sopranos, nor the sadly portrayed version in the Jersey Shore.  While I continued to make time for cooking (and eating), and I didn’t do the same for maintaining this blog. 

As a way to kick things off, I am sharing our pantry with you.  

For most of us, life no longer resembles the 1950s.  Dual-career households are now the norm.  And we are all simply too busy in life.  By creating and maintaining a well-stocked pantry, you will have significantly more flexibility in what you can cook without needing to buy countless items every time you run to the grocery store.  It also allows for more creativity.  For example, if you just finished eating a beef roast and have a pound of leftover meat, you could add canned tomatoes and beans, along with a few spices, to make a delicious chili.  Or with those same tomatoes, add quartered potatoes, carrots, celery, and/or mushrooms, a couple cups of stock, and transform leftovers into a beef stew.  My favorite option is to shred the beef, sauté it with garlic, onions, tomato paste, lots of flavorful spices, and serve it in corn tortillas with fresh guacamole and salsa.

Here are my top items, which not surprisingly, are very common & inexpensive:

1. Olive Oil: Nothing is more important in your panty than high-quality olive oil.  From peppery to fruity, to the herb and spice infused varieties, olive oil comes in many forms.  While the “right” olive oil depends on its intended use, I recommended buying Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or as Rachael Ray calls it, EVVO).  Also look on the label for "cold-pressed."  The more interesting olive oils usually identify their source, of which Tuscany is my favorite.  Australia, Spain, and California also make delicious olive oil.  I use it in nearly all forms of cooking, except Indian and Thai cuisines.  It’s supposed to be healthier than other fats, and adds an additional layer of complexity to dishes.

2. Canned Tomatoes: Whole, diced, crushed, and paste - tomatoes are my favorite raw ingredient.  I usually buy Whole Foods 365 organic brand, which retails for $1.99 per 28oz. can.  They’re organic, delicious, and well-priced for this level of quality.  Tomatoes are the base ingredient for any Italian red sauce, several Indian dishes, and chili.  They’re also great for stews, braises, soups, homemade BBQ sauce, and homemade Bloody Mary’s.

3. Onions: Savory, pungently flavored, the onion is an incredibly versatile ingredient.  Plus they last for weeks in a cool, dry spot in your cupboard/closet.  I usually keep a variety of onions on-hand.  My preferred onion is the Vidalia Sweet Onion, perfect for sautéing and caramelizing, as well as on top of a burger.  Red onions are also wonderful, as they are not as pungent as yellow or white onions, nice for salads and other raw onion dishes.  Shallots are awesome too.  Green onions/scallions and leeks are other onion-like options, but I do not buy them as routinely because they tend to have poor "shelf" lives.

4. Garlic: If onions are #3, then garlic has to be #4.  All my favorite cuisines – Italian, Indian, Thai, American BBQ, Mexican – appreciate the strong flavor of garlic.  In addition to the fresh heads of garlic that sit next to my onions, I always have garlic powder and dried garlic on-hand in my cupboard.  It’s also really tasty in olive oil; look out for garlic-infused stuff.

5. Eggs: The incredible, edible egg.  Eggs are a marvelous ingredient.  While delicious on their own, scrambled, hard-boiled, or over-easy, eggs are essential emulsifiers and binders in food.  Mayonnaise wouldn’t be possible without an egg, nor would Caesar dressing.  Angel Food cake and macaroons rely on the magic of egg whites.  Meatballs, as well as many baking recipes, require an egg or two.  I try to always keep a dozen eggs in the fridge.  Like my other “top” ingredients, eggs last quite a while.

6. Butter: My second favorite fat is butter.  I feel bad for vegans missing out on this delicious dairy product.  While I use it much frequently than olive oil, it’s essential for baking.  I also love butter for fresh bread, popcorn, and cooking eggs (see eggs!).  Italian dishes are great when you mix butter and olive oil together when you are sautéing onions and garlic.

Other items I frequently have on-hand include lemons, peanut oil, canola oil, duck fat, celery, carrots, pinto beans, vegetable stock, Jasmine rice, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, leftover white wine, buttermilk, and anchovy paste (for Caesar salad).  And of course baking ingredients, such as flour, sugar, baking powder/soda, yeast, and rolled oats.

Did I miss any of your favorite staples?  Comment below.  Maybe I'll have to add yours to my weekly shopping list.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Easter Dinner - Southern-style BBQ

Beautiful Tulips in DC - Easter Weekend 2009

Living in New York, far from my home in Wisconsin, there are certain holidays that are always celebrated with family, namely Christmas and Thanksgiving.  Everyone flies or drives home to be with one another, enjoying home-cooked dinners, a bottle of wine or two, and of course sharing stories, both old and new.

For one reason or another, other major holidays do not hold the same place as Christmas and Thanksgiving.  Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and other great American holidays are hard for people living a flight away from their home.  While I become a little down that I'm not home, firing up the grill with my family or childhood friends, there is a bright side to these holidays.  In places such as New York, there are many others also not able to make it home.  As a result, little "families" are formed, coming together to share their individual family traditions, foods, and stories.  

Starting last year, we have hosted a couple of our good friends in New York for a Midwestern style Easter dinner.  We baked a honey ham and buttermilk biscuits, steamed green beans, and of course served a cheesy casserole (diced potatoes, cream sauce, and cheese).  Another Midwestern tradition was the twelve layer Jello salad, which is six different Jello flavors made two ways (one plain, one with either a dab of sour cream or evaporated milk), and poured onto one another in a 12" x 9" glass pan.  It takes time and lots of patience...but it's beautifully delicious.

This year, we had the same little "family" over for Easter dinner, except one of the two friends was traveling in Europe for he had to celebrate from afar.  The three of us enjoying a Southern-style BBQ meal.  Our friend brought over a refreshing spinach salad, served with a creamy poppy seed dressing, with fresh strawberries and red onions tossed in.  

Pork Shoulder Braised with Apples, BBQ Spices, and White Wine

I slow-roasted a lovely cut of pork shoulder, which I later shredded and coated in a homemade smoky barbecue sauce.  I served the BBQ pork on kaiser rolls with a creamy cole slaw.  On the side, we enjoyed another classic America holiday dish (common in the Midwest), green bean casserole and a healthy grapefruit-red onion-cucumber quinoa.  And like any good BBQ meal, we had homemade BBQ baked beans and cold beer. 
BBQ Pork Sandwich topped with Creamy Cole Slaw; sides of green bean casserole & quinoa

For dessert, we served angel food cake, topped with my mom's classic cinnamon cream sauce.  Yum!

Happy Easter and Passover (belated at this point) to everyone!  I hope you were able to enjoy a meal with your friends and family, either at your childhood home or wherever you call home.


BBQ Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder Sandwiches


3 to 4 lb. boneless pork shoulder, brined, rinsed, & dried
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, sliced
1 apple, sliced
1 cup water
1 cup dry white wine
BBQ spices: 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp celery seed, 1 T chili powder

1-2 cups barbecue sauce, or more to taste
1 cup cole slaw or fresh red onion slices
4 kaiser rolls

1. If you have time, brine the pork for 3-4 hours; remove from brine, rinse, and pat dry.  If not, it will be okay...but brining will produce a more moist final product.
2. Preheat oven to 275 F.
3. In a large round casserole dish, place onion on the bottom.
4. Mix BBQ spices together, then rub into the pork.
5. Place the pork onto the onions in the dish.
6. Pour water & wine into the dish, careful not to pour it directly onto the pork (this would wash off some of the BBQ spice rub).
7. Add the garlic, apple, and bay leaves around the sides of the pork, placing them in the liquid.
8. Cover with aluminum foil.  Bake for 6-8 hours, or until the pork is very tender and falls apart easily.
9. Remove from the oven, and place pork in a large bowl.  Using a fork, shred the meat.  Remove any large pieces of fat while shredding.
10. Place shredded pork into a large pot, add 1/2 cup of the liquid in the roasting dish.
11. Add 1 cup barbecue sauce.  Mix well.  Simmer on low for 10-15 minutes.
12. Add more barbecue sauce to taste.  Add salt or other spices (e.g. cayenne for more kick) to taste.
13. Serve on kaiser rolls, topping with cole slaw or fresh red onion slices.

Barbecue Sauce

1 slice bacon, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. tomato paste
2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. dry mustard
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp chipotle pepper powder
1/2 tsp ancho chili pepper powder
1/2 tsp ground oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Salt, to taste
1 T. Olive oil

1. Heat a large sauce pan to medium; add oil
2. Add bacon; fry for 1-2 minutes
3. Add onion
4. Saute for 4-5 minutes, or until onion softens
5. Add tomato paste; stir into onion-bacon mixture
6. Add vinegar; stir
7. Add all the other ingredients; stir very well
8. Simmer on low for 25-30 minutes
9. Taste the sauce and adjust to your taste
10. Once its to your liking, turn off the heat and place in a food blender
11. Puree until smooth
12. Place in a glass bowl and refrigerate until chilled

Creamy Cole Slaw

6 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups shredded carrot
1/2 cup mayo
2 T. vinegar
1/2 T. brown mustard
1/2 tsp celery seed
Salt & Pepper

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl
2. Taste and adjust mayo, vinegar, mustard, salt & pepper to taste
3. Chill for at least an hour before serving

Green Bean Casserole (French's recipe)


1 (10 3/4 oz.) can Cream of Mushroom Soup
3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 lb. fresh green beans, cut in 1" pieces and steamed
1 1/3 cups French's Fried Onions


1. Mix soup, milk and pepper in a 1 1/2-qt. baking dish. Stir in beans and 2/3 cup French Fried Onions.
2. Bake at 350°F for 30 min. or until hot.
3. Stir. Top with remaining 2/3 cup onions. Bake 5 min. until onions are golden.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Tribute to Japan and its Cuisine

This past month has been awful for Japan and its people.  The earthquake that ravaged Japan on March 11, 2011 left thousands dead, with many more still missing today.  And the nuclear disaster that followed has only added to their misfortune.  My thoughts and concerns are with the Japanese people, hoping they can rebuild, just as they did after the 1995 Kobe earthquake.  If you haven't already, please consider donating to the Red Cross effort to help the Japanese (Link: Donate to Japanese Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami).

As a tribute to Japan, this entry is on a traditional Japanese cooking technique...teriyaki.  The beauty of teriyaki dishes is in their simplicity.  Soy sauce, sugar/honey, and mirin/vinegar comprise the "sauce."  The cooking method is typically grilling or broiling.  My favorite is salmon teriyaki, but I also love chicken and steak teriyaki dishes.

Teriyaki is the combination of two meanings.  Teri refers to the shine or luster given by the sugar content, and yaki refers to the cooking method of grilling or broiling.  

Teriyaki Salmon, served with steamed carrots & green beans and mashed squash with crispy shallots

I found this recipe a few months ago while I was hoping to do something different with a pair of salmon fillets from Whole Foods.  Rachael Ray's website,, had this delicious recipe laid out for "super crispy salmon teriyaki."  Like most of Rachael's recipes, there are not too many necessary ingredients and it was fairly straight-forward.  I also liked the idea of crisping the skin, which I learned a year or so ago, is completely edible (and even healthy for you).  

If you look closely, it's an adaptation of a traditional Japanese teriyaki recipe.  Rachael adds garlic (not commonly used in Japanese cooking).  But like many of my favorite recipes, a few simple tweaks and changes can make a good recipe great!  It's all about changing it to fit your palate (or the palate of your friends & family).

Japan itself, while certainly not the largest country in terms of land size, it has over 127MM people living on its soil.  That makes it the 10th most populated country in the world, nestled in between Mexico (11th) and Russia (9th).  Japanese cuisine is also impressive.  The Michelin Guide has awarded Tokyo with more Michelin stars than any other city in the world (in fact, it has more than London & Paris combined!).  Sushi, teriyaki, and Japanese noodle soups (ramen, udon, or soba) have become commonplace in major cities around the world. 

Many of my friends (especially Shelly & Anne) in New York love the various Asian soup restaurants, serving up steaming hot bowls (very large bowls) of ramen, udon, or soba noodle-based soups.  A bowl of Japanese soup and a cup of hot tea are perfect for a cold, rainy day.  

As we continue with our day-to-day activities, enjoying Japanese cuisine either at home or in at a favorite restaurant, let's take a moment to think of those people in Japan rebuilding their lives.  Donate if you can.  At minimum, thank them and their ancestors for creating such delicious food and sharing it with the rest of the world.

Super-Crispy Salmon Teriyaki


Four 6-ounce skin-on salmon fillets

Teriyaki Sauce:
1/3 cup soy sauce 
3 T. honey
1 T. rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, finely chopped 
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
2 T. vegetable oil 
1 scallion, thinly sliced


1. In a saucepan, combine the soy sauce, honey, vinegar, and red pepper flakes (if using). 
2. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the garlic.
3. Season the salmon on both sides with salt. 
4. Preheat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. 
5. Add the oil, swirling to coat, then add the salmon, skin side down, and cook undisturbed, until the skin is very crisp, about 6 minutes. 
6. Turn and cook until opaque at the thickest part, 1 to 3 minutes.
7. Drizzle serving plates with the sauce, place the salmon, skin side up, on top and sprinkle with the scallion.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Roast Pork Shoulder and Potato-Gruyère Galette

In May, Rachel and I will be moving out of our NYC apartment and moving across the Hudson to New Jersey.  We’ll definitely miss living in Manhattan, with all its markets, amazing culinary shops…not to mention the restaurants.  Anyway, one of our current challenges is in our freezer.  As a CSA member of 8 O’clock Ranch in upstate New York, we have a freezer full of lamb, pork, and beef that needs to be consumed before we move out. 

With only a couple months to go, I’ve been trying to find new and delicious ways to cook up the different cuts of meat.  Last week, I pulled out a pair of pork shoulder steaks (bone-in).  I love slow-roasting pork at very low temperatures, allowing it to break down into tender, juicy bites that fall apart with just a fork.  It does take a lot of time, typically 6-10 hours, depending on the cut, temperature, and size of the meat.  But it sure is worth it.  Sometimes I’ll cook it overnight, which ends up leaving me dreaming about food while I’m sleeping.

Adding the sherry and shallots to the pan
To spice up the pork last week, I used a combination of fennel seeds, juniper berries, black pepper, sumac berries, and olive oil.  I ground the spices in my Magic Bullet, which I love.  Then I drizzled some spicy Tuscan olive oil on the pork, tossed on the spice mix, and rubbed it into the meat.  In a ceramic baking dish, I placed a layer of carrots.  To help the pork stay juicy, I seared it first on the stove and then added some sliced shallots and sherry at the end to give it some extra flavor.  From there, it all went on top of the carrots in my dish.  I added a little white wine and a bit more sherry, covered it with a lid, and placed it in the oven.  One of my favorite parts is the aromas that come out of the oven over the next several hours.  Yum.

Also, I highly recommend brining the pork for a few hours before roasting.  It helps keep the pork even juicier and allows for some really complex flavors to seep into the meat itself.  For pork and chicken, I always brine unless I am short on time.

Pork Shoulder from 8 O'clock Ranch (NY)
While the pork was baking, I looked in my fridge to settle on the sides.  I saw that there was a chunk of Gruyere cheese (you could also use Provolone cheese, which is a lot cheaper than Gruyere), a little bacon, and fresh herbs.  I sliced a few gold potatoes, and layered them with grated Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano, along with thyme, rosemary, and olive oil.  I also placed a layer of bacon on the bottom of the dish to give it a little smokiness.  My recipe was inspired by Chris, a fellow blogger that writes the Pantry Raid, a fun blog on creative cooking.  It looks like she hasn’t blogged in a year or so, but she has some great recipes on her site.

View from Artesa Winery in Napa, CA (Los Carneros AVA)

To drink, I popped a 2005 Artesa Merlot Reserve from Napa.  The soft red fruit, firm acidity, and slight earthiness of the Merlot paired very well with the fennel and juniper flavors of the pork.  Artesa Winery makes some great red wine (Cab Sauv, Merlot, and Pinots are all superb).  Their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are good too…but only if you love the big, oaky California style. 


Roasted Pork Shoulder

1 to 1.5 lbs pork shoulder steaks (previously brined, rinsed, and dried)
2 carrots, cut into 3” sticks
2 shallots, finely sliced
2 T. white wine
¼ cup sherry, divided into two 2 T. portions
Olive oil

Spice mix:
  2 T. whole juniper berries
  1 T. fennel seeds
  1 tsp. black pepper
  ¼ tsp. ground sumac berries (or you could substitute lemon zest)

1. Brine the pork for 2-3 hours (add some juniper berries and whole allspice to the brine)
2. Preheat the oven to 200 F
3. Mix spices together in a food processor and grind into a powder
4. Drizzle the pork shoulder with olive oil, rubbing it into the meat
5. Add spice mix to the pork, rubbing it into the meat, ensuring it is well coated
6. Heat a grill or skillet to medium and add a little olive oil to the pan
7. Sear the pork on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side, or until slightly browned
8. Add the shallots and half the sherry, using the sherry to deglaze the pan
9. Place the carrots in a baking dish with high sides (I use a 2 ½ quart Corningware dish)
10. Add the pork and shallots to the dish, layering on top of the carrots
11. Add the remaining sherry and white wine
12. Roast, covered, for about 6-8 hours, or until it easily shreds with a fork
13. Remove from the oven, pull out pork and carrots separately, careful to not mash the carrots
14. Serve

*Note – if you brined the pork, you shouldn’t need to add any salt

Potato and Gruyère Galette

4 medium yellow potatoes, sliced in ¼” slices
2 slices bacon, cut into 1” pieces
1 T. fresh thyme, minced
1 T. fresh rosemary, minced
¼ cup Gruyere cheese, shredded (or sub Provolone)
2 T. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper

1. In a ceramic baking dish (such as another Corningware casserole dish), place the bacon on bottom
2. Add a layer of potatoes
3. Drizzle with olive oil, top with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of fresh herbs
4. Add a layer of Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano
5. Repeat until you finish with one last layer of potatoes on top, then drizzle with olive oil, add salt & pepper, and a dash of the herbs (I didn’t put any cheese on top)
6. If cooking along the pork, roast at 200 F for about 90 minutes.  If roasting separately or with another dish, roast at 350 F for about 45-60 minutes.  The potatoes should be soft and slightly browned.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Baking Challenge: Croissants

From talking to other people that also love to be in the kitchen, I feel we generally fall into two categories: those who love to cook and those who love to bake.  For whatever reason, it seems to be rare that someone is interested in both.  My theory is that cooking attracts those who enjoy more free-form expression, adding a little of this and a dash of that.  Conversely, bakers are those who love structure and appreciate a recipe, treating the entire process as a scientific process where each and every ingredient is carefully measured.  I mean, you can’t just throw in a bit of yeast or water when baking bread. 

Realizing how little I knew about baking, I decided to venture into this more structured universe, away from my comfort zone of cooking.  Starting with simple things, such as a basic yeast bread, buttermilk biscuits (see my Beef Stew and Buttermilk Biscuits entry), and pizza dough, I began to appreciate the art of baking.  Of course I made mistakes, and I continue to learn a lot about baking. 

For example, when making biscuits, it’s critical to not over-mix the dough.  Otherwise the biscuits become dense and lose their delicious flakiness.  With pie crust, there is a careful balance between lard, water, and flour.  The perfect angel food cake is all about whipping the egg whites just enough to form the proper peaks. 

Seeking a challenge, I decided to bake homemade croissants and pain au chocolat (bread with chocolate).  This was one of the most difficult dishes I’ve ever attempted.  Croissant dough requires careful folding, rolling, and refolding layers of dough and butter, always keeping it at a cool enough temperature to prevent the butter from liquefying.  More than once I had to place the dough in the fridge when the butter oozed out.

All the work was totally worth it.  The croissants were flaky and absolutely decadent.  The pain au chocolat was superb, with bittersweet chocolate cradled within a roll of croissant dough.  Yum.  If you want to make the pain au chocolat, simply make the croissant dough (see recipe below), and roll the dough into a large square.  Then cut individual 4" squares, drop in a dozen bittersweet chocolate chips, and roll them up (see picture above).

Make sure you have plenty of counter space, a good rolling pin, and a bit of patience.  Also remember to use unsalted butter.  The recipe is challenging, and very intricate.  It's helpful to read through the entire thing before starting out.

Bon appétit!

Recipe (from Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary edition)