Tag Archives: cooking

Clemenza’s Pasta Recipe – Herbed Meatballs – The Godfather

I love The Godfather.  It’s one of those movies that whenever it’s on, I’ll switch to that channel and watch it through to the end (yes, even though I own it on DVD). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it.  Back to the Future, Pulp Fiction, and of course Shawshank are on that list as well. So good.

Do you remember when Clemenza was teaching Michael how to make pasta sauce (or if you’re from Jersey, spaghetti gravy)?  Maybe this will jog your memory:

“Hey, come over here kid, learn something. You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys someday. You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; you make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs, eh? Add a little bit a wine… and a little bit a sugar… and that’s my trick.”
– Peter Clemenza, The Godfather

Ah Clemenza, you fat, lovable, cannoli-loving mafioso.

Anyway, here’s my rendition of Clemenza’s sauce.  You’ll find many different versions out there on the internet machine, but I really think that this is a recipe you can’t refuse.

Let’s start with the sauce.  It’s pretty similar to the tomato soup recipe I just posted, but this time we’re gonna start with some pancetta:

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The next steps are pretty similar to the tomato soup recipe from a a few weeks ago… but let’s review:

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1. Render the fat outta the pancetta, then remove, saving it for later.
2. Remove some of the fat, leaving about 2-3 tbsp, then add 2 tbsp of butter, melt.
3. Fry your garlic, your onions, your bundle of thyme sprigs.
4. Add the tomato paste, and as Clemenza said, make sure it doesn’t stick!
5. Add a little bit of wine.
6. Toss in your tomatoes, some chicken broth.

Clemenza’s trick: the teaspoon of sugar

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And here’s a trick from goodwilltasting: the parmesan rind.

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You’ll remember these next steps if you’re a faithful GWT reader:

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1. Remove the parmesan rind and thyme sprigs
2. Turn off heat
3. Immersion blend (or puree in batches in a blender)
4. Add the pancetta back to the sauce, wise guy!

And that’s it, that’s the sauce. Believe me it is incredible.

Now for the meatballs, bambinos. Start with the bread crumbs.  I had some stale bread so I made my own, but you can definitely just buy them from the market.

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Add some milk to the bread crumbs, let it get mushy.

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If you don’t know what loosely packed means, this here is loosely packed:

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Just lay the leaves in there, don’t stuff the cup, when you fill the measuring cup you’re done.

Next we bring out our good ol’ food processor for the onions, garlic, and herbs. Chop it good. And spend time with your family. A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

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Okay here we go with the assembly. Basically just combine all the ingredients together in a big bowl, and don’t forget the cup of fresh grated parmesan. BE A MAN. USE YOUR HANDS.

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Now we make the balls. Here’s a tip, wet your hands with water so the meat doesn’t stick to your hands and so you can get perfectly round meatballs. I make them about 1-1.5″ in diameter.

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Okay here’s where it gets a little tricky: when you fry them, make sure you have enough space between them so you can roll them around and they don’t stick together.

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Once they get a nice brown on the bottom, start rolling them all slowly in one direction, then leave them to cook, until they get browned all over. I’m going clockwise because I assume that’s how the Corleones’ do it.

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Once browned on all sides, place on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 more minutes to complete cooking.

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Cook your sausage however you want. I just fried em up.

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Shove in all your sausage and meatballs. Notice I took some of the sauce out. I’m doing this because I want to freeze some for later. Yes I’m freezing half the meatballs too.

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Boil your spaghetti per the package directions, combine with sauce, top with some parmesan, and you’ll be part of the family.

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Now that’s gangsta.

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TOMATO SAUCE
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 oz cubed pancetta (2 tbsp grease)
2 tbsp tomato paste
8-10 sprigs thyme, tied together tightly with butcher’s twine
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tbsp butter
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 parmesan rind

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat, add the pancetta and brown until most of the fat has rendered out. Remove pancetta and save for later, discard all but 2 tbsp of the pancetta grease. Add 2 tbsp of butter, then add onion, garlic, and thyme, and saute until the onion becomes translucent but not brown, 6-7 minutes. Add your tomato paste and brown for 3-4 minutes. Deglaze the pot with red wine, then add your tomatoes, stock, and water.

Now for Clemenza’s trick: add 1 tsp of sugar. And goodwilltasting’s trick: add 1 parmesan rind

Bring sauce to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Sauce should be reduced by about 20%. Remove from heat.

Remove parmesan rind and thyme sprigs. Using an immersion blender, blend up sauce until smooth.  You can also puree sauce in batches in a blender or food processor. Add pancetta back to the sauce. That’s it!

HERBED MEATBALLS
1 lb ground beef (I used 85/15 ground beef)
1 lb lean ground pork
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup freshly grated parmesan reggiano 
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil (see picture above)
1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic
2 large eggs
salt and pepper

If making your own bread crumbs, make sure you let the bread sit out overnight and dry completely, or you can put it in the oven at 250 degrees for about 30 minutes to dry. Pulse in the food processor until crumbs are even size. Add the milk to the bread crumbs and let it soak for 5 minutes.

Place onions, garlic, basil, parsley, and thyme in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (see picture above).  Add this chopped mixture to the beef and pork in a large bowl, as well as your parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Squeeze out any excess milk from the bread crumbs and add to the bowl. Add the eggs and, using your hands, combine all ingredients until they are all well-incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Take the meat mixture out, wet your hands, and start rolling the mixture into 1.5″ diameter balls. When you have all your meatballs formed, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add enough olive oil to the skillet to get a thin coating over the surface, and start frying your meatballs. Make sure you have enough space between them so you can roll them around.  Once they get browned on the bottom (about 2-3 minutes), roll them slightly just until the next portion of raw meat on the meatball is in contact with the cooking surface. Continue rolling the balls around until it is browned all around.

Place your browned meatballs on a cookie sheet, bake for about 10-15 minutes until they are cooked through. Makes about 45 1-1.5″ meatballs

ASSEMBLY:

Fry up some hot italian sausage in the skillet, cut into slices, and add the sausage and meatballs to your tomato sauce. Simmer for another 15 minutes so all the flavors incorporate.

Meanwhile, boil your spaghetti according to the package directions until JUST al dente, or even a little bit undercooked. If you’re pro, add a ladle full of pasta cooking water to your tomato sauce, (this will make your sauce even more velvety). Drain pasta and return the spaghetti to the pot. Add your sauce and mix well over low heat. The spaghetti will continue to cook in the sauce and really absorb the flavor.

Serve with grated parmesan.

Beer pairing recommendation: Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. Spicy, peppery, fruity notes complement this bold, sweet sauce and herby meatballs.

I’ll leave you with these words from Clemenza: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” 

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Wonton Soup

So… this happened yesterday:

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This winter is turning into that awkward friend who just won’t leave your house long after the party has ended. It just won’t take a hint! Look man, THE BEER IS GONE, THE HOUSE IS A MESS, JUST GO HOME SO I CAN SLEEP!  This is the LAST time I invite that guy.

Anyway it’s a good thing I have some of these handy:

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Those are frozen homemade wontons my friends. Mrs. Willtasting and I made a batch of them earlier this winter and I think they’re just what I need to forget this bizarro winter-in-April.

First, you’ll need some ground pork:

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Next some peeled, deveined shrimp. I got lazy and bought mine already peeled, but chances are you’ll find fresher and cheaper shrimp if it hasn’t been peeled. Your call, boss.

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Chop up the scrimps (or however you want to pronounce them) and add to the pork. Green onions come next.

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This is important, folks: the rice wine. This is also important: do not drink this.

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Sesame oil, egg, mix.

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Your wonton filling should look like the above picture… YUMMYYYYY. Everything should stick together, not crumble apart, almost like a dough. If it doesn’t look like that, slowly add more sesame oil and rice wine until it does.

Now, check it. This is how you fold your wontons:

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Wet one corner of the wonton skin, place about a half tablespoon of meat filling off center towards that corner, then fold over and pinch the edges together to make a triangle. Bring one of the smaller corners up to the larger corner and pinch together, then do the same with the other corner. That’s it! If you want to freeze some (which you most likely will, since this recipe makes A LOT of wontons), wipe a little oil over the surface of a large dish, place the wontons on the dish, and freeze in the freezer.  Once they are frozen you can keep them in zip lock bags and they will keep for 6 months.

To cook, just boil them in some chicken broth for about 10 minutes, or until the skin is tender and the wontons float to the surface.

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Serve with some green onions and thinly sliced fried egg, and quit beating around the bush and tell winter to go home already.

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WONTONS:

1 1/2 lbs ground pork
1/2 lbs shrimp
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced (about 6 green onions, both white and green parts)
1/4 cup Shaoxing cooking rice wine
2 tbsp sesame oil
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 egg
1 tsp white pepper
2 packages of wonton skins

DIRECTIONS:

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mix well until the filling sticks together like a dough. To assemble wontons, place skin in one hand, wet the edges of one corner, place a half tablespoon of filling off-center towards that corner.  Fold skin in half, pinching edges together to form a triangle. Bring one side of the triangle up to the top corner, pinch together, then do the same with the other side. Or just look at the pictures up top because this is getting really hard to explain in writing.

SOUP:

2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup baby spinach, loosely packed
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 egg, beaten and fried into a thin crepe, then sliced thin.

To cook, boil 2 cups of chicken broth to boil, then add 12 wontons and boil for 10 minutes or until they float to the top. Put spinach in bowl and pour hot soup on top. Garnish with sliced green onions and egg.

Eat your winter blues away.

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Tomato Parmesan Soup – Grilled Cheese Crouton

Ah, the after school special. Was there anything better than coming home after a long day of physics tutoring, marching band practice, and hours of working on your friend’s failed cable access television show than a hot bowl of tomato soup and grilled cheese? Okay, maybe your high school experience was different from mine, but I’m sure your feelings are the same for the soup and sandwich.

Well, we’re not in high school anymore, so it’s time to put away those Campbell’s condensed tomato cans and make yourself some big boy soup. Lucky for you, it’s a pretty easy recipe it will make enough soup for days. DAYS!

So I usually don’t spring for the San Marzano’s because, well, I’m cheap. But since the tomatoes are really the star of this soup those extra 3 bucks per can are gonna be worth it. Plus these were on sale so it was actually only an extra buck per can. Totally worth it.

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Start with the butter onion, garlic, and thyme. Tie the thyme sprigs together with some butchers twine or just string without any dyes. You’re gonna need to fish that out later on and tying them together will make your life a whole lot easier. Don’t worry about how big or small you chop everything, since that’s gonna be all blended up later on.

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Once the onion is translucent, add your tomato paste. Brown that junks and it’s gonna give you flavor for days. DAYS!

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Add your tomatoes, some broth, some water, and let the magic begin.

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Oh yeah, don’t forget the secret ingredient: Parmesan rinds! Sounds weird but those things are totally edible.  I mean, I wouldn’t eat them straight up, but it’s great to add some body to soup or… stews. I don’t really know what else. If I think of anything I’ll let you know. So they sell these now at Whole Foods for like $50 or something ridiculous because it’s Whole Foods and they think they can sell you essentially kitchen scraps for top dollar.  They make me so mad sometimes!

…anyway I got these at Whole Foods.

If you buy fresh parmesan regularly (which I strongly suggest you do), you can always save the rinds yourself in the freezer and you’ll be good to go.

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After simmering for an hour or so, fish out your thyme and parmesan rinds.  The parmesan swells up, darkens in color, and kinda looks like pork belly at this point, but do not be fooled! It won’t be pleasant to bite into.

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Just got this immersion blender and I love it. Just a standard $30 Cuisinart, nothing fancy. It’s awesome.

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Add a little more parm, some S&P, let simmer a little longer, and you’re all set.

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It might be a little dumb to put up instructions on how to make a grilled cheese, but there are a few tricks I’ve picked up over my many years of grillin’ up cheeses that not all my know.

First thing: butter your bread FIRST. That way you’ll get a nice even brown on both sides with less chance of burning.

Second: I usually prefer good ol’ American cheese for my grilled cheese because it’s classic and when it’s melted it’s just so damn good. But since I’ll be cooking this a bit longer to make it crisp up, I’ll be using a sharp white cheddar that melts slower and will actually give you a nice crisp crust the longer you cook it.

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Remember: Butter side out!!

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Cut it up into crouton-sized bites, throw it on some foil, pop ’em into your oven.

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The more you know.

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TOMATO PARMESAN SOUP:

2 cans whole San Marzano tomatoes
10 sprigs thyme, tied together with butcher’s twine
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup basil leaves loosely packed
2-3 Parmesan rinds
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp sugar
2 cups beef stock
6 cups water
Salt and Pepper

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add thyme, onion, and garlic. Cook until onion is soft and translucent, 10–12 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add tomato paste. Keep cooking, stirring often, until paste browns in spots, about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes with juices, sugar, beef stock, and water to pot. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a simmer. Add the parmesan rinds and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until soup thickens and reduces by 20%, about an hour. Turn off heat and let cool. Remove thyme sprigs and parmesan rinds, discard… or eat… or do whatever you want with them. Add basil leaves, then using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth, about 45-60 seconds.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, work in batches and purée soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pot. Heat and bring back to simmer for 10-15 more minutes.

 

GRILLED CHEESE CROUTON:

2 slices crusty italian bread
1-2 slices of white cheddar cheese
Butter

Pre-heat an oven to 250 degrees.

Heat a skillet on medium-high heat. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place one slice of bread, butter-side down on the hot skillet, put cheese on top, then place the other slice of bread butter side UP on top of the cheese. Butter-side always OUT!

When the cheese is slightly melted and the bottom slice is evenly browned, flip the whole sandwich over and brown the other side.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Cut up the sandwich into crouton-sized bites, place on cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until the bread is dried and crisp.

SERVING:

Ladle soup into bowls, top with 2-3 croutons, garnish with fresh chopped parsley.  Enjoy with some Lifetime Original After School Specials.

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Rotisserie Chicken Jook

There are many names for this dish. Rice porridge, congee, jook, Chinese Risotto. Okay I made that last one up, but whatever you want to call it, this stuff is comfort in a bowl. So delicious and perfect for a winter dinner. Or breakfast. Or lunch. It’s just so versatile!

Lets start with the rotisserie chicken stock we just made.

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Throw it back in  the pot, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, rinse some rice with cold water.

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Add the rice to the pot, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and boil. The rice will puff up and the liquid will thicken. Next add some more broth to thin it out.

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When it looks like picture 4, it’s perfecto. Garnish with some thinly sliced scallions, thinly julienned ginger, and if you have leftover rotisserie chicken meat, slice it up and throw it on there, playa!

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ROTISSERIE CHICKEN JOOK/CONGEE/RICE PORRIDGE/ETC

Ingredients:

6 cups home-made rotisserie chicken stock
2 more cups store-bought chicken broth
1 cup short-grain rice, rinsed
Salt

Garnish:

ginger, thin julienne
rotisserie chicken, sliced
green onions, thinly sliced
white pepper powder

Directions:

Bring the rotisserie chicken stock to a boil, add the rice, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 40-50 minutes until the rice is puffed and liquid is thickened. Add 2 more cups of store-bought chicken broth to thin out liquid, cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add salt to taste.

Serve in bowls with garnishes

beer pairing recommendation: Hitachino Nest White Ale

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Porter Braised Short Rib – Wild Mushroom Risotto

Listen. This MIGHT be the best thing you will ever make. Unless you are a real chef, in which case this might be something you make in your second week of culinary school. In any case, this dish is just comfort on a plate.  If this dish were a style of beer, it would probably be a winter warmer.

A couple things to note: you need to step up if you’re going to attempt this dish, and probably set aside a good 2.5 hours of active prep/cooking time. You’ll also need some stamina since you’ll be continuously stirring that risotto for a good 30 minutes. So clear your calendar for the night, pound down a couple Clif bars, and let’s get cooking.

We’ll start with the short rib. You can usually get about 3 pounds at Costco for $20-25. Here I cut them into thirds:

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Season LIBERALLY with salt and pepper. This is pretty much all the seasoning that’s going into this dish so make sure you get a nice coating on all sides.

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Dredge in flour, shake off excess, throw in a hot pan over high heat. For those of you who read my searing tutorial, this is the real way to sear. IMPORTANT: To sear the meat, it has to be in direct contact with the cooking surface, so you’ll have to do this step in batches. Don’t crowd the pan or you won’t get the browning and caramelization you want.

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When it looks like this, take it out and start the next batch.

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See this? This is concentrated beef flavor. Don’t waste it.

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Throw your onions and garlic in without cleaning the pan, sauté and add a little more flour. Keep cooking until the flour browns a bit.

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Add your beer. Just a quick note on the beer: I have tried this recipe with a number of dark beers and found that milder, less boldly flavored porters or stouts work best. Try not to use any imperial beers, because they tend to leave a little more bitterness at the end of cooking, and really you don’t need to be spending that much money on a beer that you’re going to cook down anyway. Definitely don’t use a porter or stout that has added flavors, like a smoked porter or a maple-vanilla-coffee-bourbon barrel aged stout. Keep it simple!

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Return meat to the pot. Don’t forget those sweet sweet drippings.

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Throw in some thyme and some bay leaves, cover, and let the magic happen.

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2 hours later… (I tasted it and added a little brown sugar because it tasted a little bitter. I think that’s the last time I’ll use an imperial stout for this recipe)

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Great on it’s own… or of course with some risotto.

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While the short ribs are cooking, you best be making your risotto.

Start with some dried wild mushrooms:

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This was the first time I ever tried cooking with dried mushrooms and it was a REVELATION. So delicious. Even just adding the warm water/broth to the mushrooms created this deep, rich, umami smell. Believe me, I hate using the word umami but I’ll use it here. So yeah like I said, soak in warm water to hydrate for about 30 minutes.

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When it’s re-hydrated, take it out of the liquid, squeeze gently, and if you want (and I highly recommend this), strain and retain that soaking liquid.

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I’m using a paper towel in the strainer to make sure absolutely no grit remains.

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You can use this liquid in the risotto, in a mushroom soup, or just to add some savory flavor to a gravy or other sauce you might make in the future.

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Now for the actual cooking. Start by bringing some stock to a simmer:

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Next, saute the mushrooms, starting with the fresh criminis.

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When they look like this, add the wild mushrooms.

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Take out the mushrooms, melt more butter, then add shallots.

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Add the raw rice and stir to coat with the butter.  When the grains start to look translucent on the tips, that’s when you add some broth.

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When most of the stock is absorbed (as below), add more. You’re gonna be doing this for a while.  Don’t stop stirring.

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After about 15 minutes, add the mushrooms back in.

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After another 10-15 minutes, your risotto should be al dente. Add some parmesan to finish it, and get ready for a party in your mouth.  Not some lame dorm floor party with pretzel chips and Smirnoff ice, but a sophisticated, scotch and smoking jackets type party with smooth jazz and local celebrities.

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There it is.

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Porter Braised Short Rib:

2-3 pounds boneless beef short ribs, each cut into thirds (2-3 inch segments)
1/2 large Vidalia onion, sliced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz bottle of a mild porter or stout (such as Anchor Porter, Yard’s George Washington Tavern Porter, or if you’re in a bind, Guinness)
5 sprigs of fresh thyme tied together with butcher’s twine, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tsp brown sugar
1 cup flour for dredging
Salt and Pepa
Olive oil
Chopped chives, for garnish

Season the meat all over with salt and pepper.  Don’t be bashful.  Coat the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot with olive oil and heat on high until very hot.  Add flour to a shallow dish and dredge each piece of short rib in it, shaking off excess, and add to the pot (do this in batches, you should brown the meat in a single layer and DON’T CROWD THE POT).  Cook all sides of each piece until the flour becomes a brown crust, then remove from heat.  Continue cooking all the meat this way until it is all browned and then reduce heat to Medium-High.

Remove any excess oil from the pot so that 1 tbsp of grease remains, then add the garlic and onions to the pot, stirring until the onions just become slightly translucent.  Add another tablespoon of flour to the pot and let it brown. Add the beer, and as it begins to simmer add the meat back into the pot. Add the bay leaves and thyme.  Lower heat to low, cover pot and cook for 2 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.

After 2 hours, give the sauce a taste. If it is a little bitter, you can add a bit of brown sugar to balance it out. That’s it.

Wild Mushroom Risotto:

1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 oz dried wild mushroom mix (I think mine had porcini, morel, wood ear)
10 oz fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced
8 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup finely chopped shallots
4 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan or grana padano

Soak the dried mushrooms in about 1-2 cups of warm water for 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and squeeze gently to get rid of excess moisture.  Chop roughly.  If you want, you can strain and reserve the soaking liquid, which is now super flavorful and can be a great addition to soups or sauces.

Bring 7 cups chicken broth to simmer in medium saucepan and keep warm.

Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add fresh crimini mushrooms. Sauté mushrooms until tender and beginning to brown (3 minutes), then add the wild mushrooms. Sauté a bit longer until most of the moisture has evaporated but before the mushrooms get too brown.  If needed, at a little olive oil so they don’t burn. Transfer mushrooms to a separate bowl.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter with olive oil in the same saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallot and sauté until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add rice and increase heat to medium. Stir to coat the rice with the oil until edges of rice begin to look translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 3/4 cup warm chicken broth; stir until almost all broth is absorbed, about 1 minute. Continue adding broth by 3/4 cupfuls, stirring until almost all broth is absorbed before adding more, until rice is halfway cooked, about 15 minutes.

Stir in sautéed mushrooms. Continue adding broth by 3/4 cupfuls, stirring until almost all broth is absorbed before adding more, until rice is “al dente” (tender but still firm to bite) and risotto is creamy, about 10-15 more minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Transfer risotto to serving bowl. You’re done.

Assembly: Place risotto in a shallow dish, top with 2-3 pieces of braised short rib as well as some of the braising liquid (which is delicious), and garnish with chopped chives. It should bring a tear to your eye.

beer pairing recommendation: let’s go with a big stout for this one, like Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout.

(Wild Mushroom Risotto recipe adapted from Bon Appetit)

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(Sort of) Pan Seared Chicken Breast

Okay, so technically this isn’t searing.  Searing is cooking your meat on a very hot surface for a few seconds on all sides to develop a crispy crust, then usually finishing the cooking process in a different medium at a lower temperature, like in the oven or in a braise. This tutorial isn’t that.

Here I’m just going to show you how I like to quickly cook a chicken breast so it’s flavorful, juicy, and tender, with a crispy outer crust. Whatever, I’m just gonna call it a seared chicken breast.

Contrary to popular belief, searing does not “seal in the juices” of your meat.  Here’s a good video about how they figure that. Sure, Alton Brown’s experiment has a small sample size, but similar experiments have been performed by plenty of others with the same results. Despite this, people are still searing their proteins.  Why? Because it’s delicious playa! Come on! Searing creates that beautiful caramelization and crispy crust on the outside, creating more complex flavors and a difference in textures between the outside and inside that makes your food interesting.

All “science” aside, I still like to think that the way I cook this chicken does help to retain a little more juiciness than more traditional searing methods, so without further ado, here’s how I do it:

First, you gotta start with a thin cut of your meat.  A whole chicken breast is way too thick and will probably burn on the outside before cooking all the way through the inside, so I cut it in half horizontally (or in the transverse plane, for you anatomy geeks). Here is a single breast, cut in two with the tenderloin separated, and well-seasoned on both sides:

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Get your pan hot on medium-high heat, add a little oil, and thrown those suckers on there. You should hear a sizzle as soon as it hits the pan.

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As soon as they’re in the skillet, cover it with a tight-fitting lid. You’ll immediately see the lid steam up, and this will allow the meat to essentially steam in its own juices will getting a nice sear on the bottom. Let this cook for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes.

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Once the lid is off, you can already see that the top of the chicken is starting to cook even though it hasn’t touched the cooking surface yet. Check it!

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Flip those bad boys over, cover the skillet again, and cook for another 90 seconds or so.

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You’ll end up with a nice, crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside, beautifully caramelized and flavorful chicken breast that you can chop up and toss into a salad, throw between two buns to make a sandwich, or just snack on if you’re trying to bulk after doing some squats.

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Here’s the recipe for the kale salad above, in case you’re interested!

This is a great way to cook any protein filet: chicken, fish, steaks, pork chops, etc. Give it a try, why don’t you.

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Know Your Knives: Grip

What’s the most important tool in the kitchen? Your knife, you say? NOPE. It’s your hands. You could have a world-class chef’s knife made by Hattori Hanzo himself, but if you don’t know what to do with your hands it’s not gonna do you any good. So let’s talk about how to use your knife, mmkay?

The most popular knife grip in the kitchen is called the pinch grip. Here you pinch the spine of the knife right above the handle between your thumb and curled forefinger, then wrap the rest of the fingers around the handle. This grip gives you control, power, and precision during your knife work.

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Now it’s just as important to know what to do with your other hand when chopping, because you don’t want to end up with bits of your fingers in your meal.

While you’re chopping away with your knife in your dominant hand, the other will of course be guiding the food. Now if you don’t get anything else out of this post, please remember this one thing: FINGERTIPS IN!!! I had to learn this the hard way, but you are MUCH more likely to nick yourself if you guide the food with your fingertips spread out, rather than tucked in under your knuckles. Keep the fingertips in, and the knuckles can rest comfortably against the flat side of the blade, and that is a winning combination for no cuts.

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Happy chopping.

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(source: Knives Cooks Love, by Sarah Jay)

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Pesto Couscous Salad

So I actually just made this recipe up as I went along and it turned out to be pretty good, so I decided to put it up on the blog. Sorry I didn’t take any prep pictures, but… it’s a salad.

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Pesto Couscous Salad

2 cups couscous
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, hot
½ bunch of kale, tough stems removed, chopped
½ cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise
¼ cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil (or more to preference)
¼ cup basil-arugula pesto
1 ½ tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a 2-qt saucepan over medium-high heat. Toast the couscous for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned, then add hot chicken broth. Lower heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 12 min, or until all the liquid is absorbed. The couscous should be firm but tender, like the Old Spice guy. Or like al dente pasta.

As soon as the couscous is cooked, and while still hot, add the chopped kale and toss until it is wilted and bright green. Add all the other ingredients and toss, season with salt and pepper, serve at room temperature.

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Smokey Roasted Red Pepper Salsa

The Super Bowl is coming. You’re gonna need salsa. And if you’re gonna bring salsa, you gotta bring it like a MAN.

Back in San Francisco, there was a taqueria called Papalote.  They had decent burritos, but the thing that kept bringing me back was their crazy delicious salsa. Now that I live on the opposite side of the country, this recipe has held me over.

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Roasting your own peppers is really pretty easy, if not a little time consuming.  All you need is a gas stove (or any broiler) and some tin foil.

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You steam the peppers in foil pouches for 10-15 minutes after charring them on the stove, then the skin should peel off easily under some running water.

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Seeding and removing the white pith of the peppers is really easy after roasting. You can use a knife or your hands, but just a quick word to the wise: if you decide not to wear gloves while handling the inside of the jalapeño or the chipotles (which are essentially jalapeños that have been smoked and dried), do yourself a favor and DO NOT rub your eyeball for the next hour or so afterward.

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Fire-roasting the rest of the ingredients is a little simpler, you just gotta keep an eye on them under the broiler.

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When your veggies look like that, they’re ready! (Note: I already peeled off the burnt layer of onion on top, but it basically looked like the tomatoes)

Cilantro is kind of a controversial herb.  People either love it or hate it.  I really don’t get the hate, I think cilantro is the best, and you should too. Cilantro is usually pretty dirty when you buy it, so a quick way to wash it is to put it in a bowl, fill it with water, shake the cilantro around and let it soak for a few minutes, then take it out.  You’ll see all the dirt and sand that sunk to the bottom of the bowl when you dump the water.

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Now the fun part. Chop everything up (minus the cilantro), throw it in a food processor, add some lime, and have at it.  By the way, if you don’t have one of these lime juicers you do not know what you are missing.

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Process to a pulpy consistency, chop the cilantro and add that in, then turn the processor back on. This time add a little olive oil while it is processing, similar to making pesto.

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ORALE!!

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Smoky Roasted Red Pepper Salsa

2 medium-sized tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
1 jalapeño pepper
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
½ medium Spanish onion
1 ½ cups cilantro, thick stems removed, packed
1 large lime
3 cloves garlic, skin on
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
½ tsp pepper
Olive oil (about ¼ cup)

Turn broiler to High

Place the red bell pepper and jalapeño pepper directly on a stove burner and turn it on to char the skin (if you don’t have a gas stove you can broil them on high as well, but it will take longer to get charred on all sides). Rotate the peppers so each side gets a good char. When the pepper skin is mostly blackened, wrap each pepper in a foil pouch and allow them to steam for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the tomatoes, onion, and garlic cloves on a baking sheet and place on the rack closest to the broiler, and allow to blacken as well. Once the top vegetable skin gets nice and charred, flip them over to allow the other side to cook. The garlic will take much less time than the tomatoes and onion, so flip them first and remove them as soon as their skins get dark. The rest of the vegetables should take about 3-5 minutes each side.

Once they are blackened as in the picture, remove and allow to cool.

Remove the peppers from the foil pouches, then rinse them under cold water to remove the charred skin.  It should come off easily if you allowed it to steam long enough. Cut each pepper in half and remove the pith and seeds (or you can leave the jalapeño whole if you want it spicier). Do the same with the 2 chipotle peppers.

Give the peppers, onion, and garlic a rough chop and add to the food processor. Carefully add the roasted tomatoes in whole, skin and all. Squeeze the juice of the lime into the processor. Add salt and pepper, cover the food process and pulse until it looks pulpy.  Scrape any large chunks that may have gotten stuck on the sides down into the pulp. Turn the processor to ON, and while processing carefully drizzle olive oil in a steady stream through the top. The color of the salsa should go from a deep red to an almost creamy orange. Once it gets to that color stop adding oil.

Finally give the cilantro a rough chop, throw it in to the food processor and process for another 15 seconds or so until the cilantro is incorporated.

Eat with chips or with your next burrito.

 

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Soy Braised Spare Ribs with Bok Choy

As delicious as a Panda Express Bowl with orange chicken on a bed of chow mein is, I’m sorry, it’s just not Chinese food. Here’s something you can make relatively easily at home with not too many exotic products that is DELICIOUS and (I’m assuming) slightly healthier than Panda. Or P.F. Chang’s. But don’t get me started on P.F. Chang’s.  Just know that we probably can’t be friends if you enjoy eating there.

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Chinese cooking and ginger go together like peanut butter and jelly. It just works. Although I like the taste it gives to certain dishes, I never liked biting into a big chunk of it during dinner growing up, so I’m keeping the slices pretty big and easily removable.  After slicing, pound each piece gently with the back of the knife to release more juices and flavor from the ginger.

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I’m using a wok to make this dish because I’m too legit. If you don’t have a wok you can definitely use a Dutch oven. Just make sure whatever you use has a good fitting lid.

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There’s alcohol in this dish, so if you wanna impress the ladies you can ignite it with a lighter… or if you got the skills you can tilt the pan slightly towards the flame from the stove to ignite.  Tutorial to come, Casanova!

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Hoisin sauce is a common condiment in Chinese cuisine. People use it as a dip for roasted pork, slather it on flour pancakes for mu shu, or (my personal favorite) on steamed buns for Peking duck. So good. Here it adds a little sweet and savory boost at the end of cooking, and also serves to thicken the sauce a bit.

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RIB ON!

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Okay, this bok choy may be the easiest recipe I’ll ever post but it’s so good and manlier than your adorable wedge salad.

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How’s this for a Panda Bowl?

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RIBS (adapted from about.com):

2 tablespoons oil for stir-frying
1.5 lbs pork spareribs cut into 1-inch long segments (if you can’t find them ask the butcher to cut them for you)
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
5-6 thin slices ginger, crushed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup Chinese rice (michiu) wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 green onion, sliced thin for garnish

Preparation:

Heat the oil on in a wok or dutch oven, on high heat. Add the ribs and brown on all sides (a couple minutes each side or until it’s browned and caramelized). Add garlic and ginger and fry briefly, until fragrant. This will really help impart those flavors into the dish. Add the stock before the garlic and ginger start to burn, then add all the remaining ingredients. If you are cooking with a wok and want to impress a chick or something, you can tilt the wok towards the flame and flambe the ribs after adding the wine. Once the flames die down, cover the wok and turn the heat down to low.  Simmer for about 1 hour, or until the ribs are tender, adding more water or stock as needed (that is, don’t allow all the liquid to evaporate and burn at the bottom of the pan). During the last 10 minutes, remove cover, add hoisin sauce, and simmer for the remainder of the cooking time. Garnish with sliced scallions before serving.

BOK CHOY:

1 2-lb bag of bok choy tips, aka baby bok choy, sliced lengthwise and rinsed
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil (2 good glugs into the pan)

Preparation:

Heat oil in wok on high heat, then add the garlic. Saute until fragrant, then add the bok choy. Toss around in the wok, then add salt. Toss a little more to distribute the salt, then reduce heat to medium low and cover for 4-5 minutes, tossing every minute or so.  Since there’s so much vegetable in the pot, it will kind of fry and steam at the same time while covered, so cooking time is minimal.

Serve bok choy with spare ribs on steamed white rice.

Beer pairing suggestion: Rising Tide Daymark American Pale Ale, or simply a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

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