Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kumquat: The Inside-Out Citrus (...that's not necessarily citrus)

References to kumquats (gam gwat - golden orange) can be found in Chinese literature in the 12th century.  Kumquats preserved in salt and stirred into hot water are a Cantonese remedy for a sore throat.

They are neither an orange nor are they consistently identified as citrus. They are classified in the genus Fortunella, named for Robert Fortune, the Scottish botanist. Fortunel brought the 'nagami' (oval kumquat) to the West in the mid-1800's and it remains the type. Other types are: the meiwa, the marumi and the Hong Kong kumquat. (From: Saveur)

I'd seen them around over the years, but I had NO clue what to do with them and if I'm to be honest, I'll tell you that I wondered why the hell you'd go to the necessary trouble to peel something so small (Oh! Ignorant! DivinaLoca!).

I buy my avocados at the Brokaw Farms stand at the Ferry Plaza farmer's market. They mostly grow avocados but they grow and sell other fruit, notably delicious Gold Nugget mandarins, blood oranges, cherimoya (these are amazing- and another "Who knew?" moment after I  popped my cherimoya this winter) guavas and meiwa kumquats. Will's are the only kumquats I've knowingly eaten, but I've read that the meiwas are sweeter than other varieties.

One morning I bought a handful. When I got them home I cut one open, surprised at the tiny amount of pulp compared to the peel, and seeds - there were two or three seeds per kumquat. In the spirit of "What the hell", I popped one in my mouth.

SourSweetAromatic~Wow!~ButTheSweetIsComingFromThePeel~WOW! Seeds were no bother, I just crunched right through them. I buy them every week now when they're available but like strawberries, I never seem to get around to doing anything with them, I just eat them.  Last night, Liz (of Today's Special) posted that she, "...sliced [them] in a salad with toasted walnuts and shaved Piave cheese..." I might actually stop the hand-to-mouth repetition for that.

Other recipes I'm looking at are:

What about:
  • Salsa - with kumquats, red onions, cilantro, and maybe a little chipotle in adobo?
  • Vodka-Kumquat infusion? Kumqua'cello?
  • Lamb stew with kumquats and olives?
  • A warm salad of lightly sauteed chard with kumquats and shallots?

Although it has already passed (it is held in late January), Florida has a kumquat festival or you can watch a cute-bordering-on-annoying video on how to eat a kumquat on YouTube, or you can just trust me and when you see them, buy a few and just pop one in your mouth.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Dinner: Crispy Taco Shell U - starring Carnitas SUPER STAR!

This is a salute to my non-bio sister Lynn's Mexican food that I've been eating happily for years. It's always delicious and I've learned a great deal from her as well. We won't be talking about the chile verde in this post... but we'll get to that on a later date.

Last Friday as we were cooking, I told her that years ago the first time I saw her making crispy taco shells I was blown away: in a room full of people, she was holding down a conversation, grooving to music, drinking a glass of wine and smoking (she no longer smokes) all the while turning out beautifully formed U-shaped shells while seemingly paying no attention to the process.

We talked about that, and she told me that a couple of decades-ish ago a house mate's chef girlfriend taught her to fry tortillas with two forks and she never looked back.

What We Ate
Ha! I had to hide the beans and rice with a
Chimichanga because I'd
already shoved a bunch in my face
Last Friday we ate crispy tacos, NFNG rellenos (see: below), Chimichangas (Mike's favorite), rice and beans and salsa. Sadly, our avocado was sub-standard and we had no guacamole (I KNOW - so sad!). I gave one of the leftover rellenos to my housemate who, when she had eaten one for dinner a couple of nights later, texted me, "That was an AMAZING relleno!!!!" Yeah, they were that good and my housemate knows her stuff.  The starring roll in this was pork carnitas. I was in charge of the first half of the carnitas, and Lynn took over the shredding, final seasoning and making them crispy - the recipe/method we used is after the jump.

Crispy Taco Shell U
Lynn cooked up the first one with commentary while I observed and I was responsible for the rest - a taco shell refresher course (I had already passed the entry level class a year or so ago but I don't do this very often).  She is a very good teacher. Oh - if you're using tongs with channels make sure the business end remains below the the level of the hinge end so that hot oil never cascades out of the hinge end onto your hand. On my eighth shell, I learned that lesson the hard way. The two little spots of burned skin on my palm say, "Holla!" to that.

Swish and Flick - Okay, Don't Flick, Just Swish and How to Avoid the V

Lynn's about to slug me after I made her move
around the kitchen about a million times
to find decent light to photograph a black pan.
Someday I'm going to film it because I'm pretty sure my description won't do it justice, but the basics are an inch of oil (something neutral with a high smoke point - we used canola) in a pan, a pair of tongs, newspaper or a deconstructed paper bag to drain them on, and a stack of corn tortillas. Having a pan - the one in the picture is a mini-paella pan - with rounded sides helps but isn't a requirement.The oil should be at/around 365F. If your heat's too low, they'll be leathery and not crisp and bubbly. The other big secrets are to keep them moving, keep the part you are cooking submerged, keep the open end open, learn to recognize (by sound) when the oil has stopped bubbling and finally, try to keep the open end facing you.

Slide the tortilla in the oil and swish it around (gently). Pick up one end with tongs so that about 60% is out of the oil and is at (about) a 90% angle. Swish back and forth gently for a seconds until the 40% in the oil kind of holds its shape.
Switch your tongs to the other side and do the same.  It's all abut the U shape.  If the open end starts to close - and, like a clam, it WANTS to close - keep the open end open with your tongs. Once it has a U shape, swish it (slowly and gently on all sides, keeping the part you're frying submerged.  When it is bubbly, and a pale golden brown, remove it and set it on the aforementioned newspaper or flattened paper shopping bag open end down to drain.

Oh - if you end up with a V shape on a couple, as long as the top is open, it's not a bad day. We reused the oil for the Chimichangas which are not deep fried but pan fried. (Mmm... fried!)

The Truth About Roasting Chiles and NFNG Rellenos

Lynn is also the the one who suggested the "No Fry, No Guilt Relleno". Don't get me wrong, fried things are a wonder but the NFNG Relleno has all the benefits and none of the guilt and you don't have buckets of oil to deal with afterwards. She taught me how to roast chiles.  If you have a gas range, you don't need to do them in the oven, broiler or put them in paper bags to steam.  Just roast those babies over the fire until the skin is completely - I mean completely - black and let them sit a few minutes.  Pick them up at the wide end and scrape them with a dinner knife until all of the skin comes off easy as pie. Oh - do not rinse them.  Do. Not. What? Do you want to rinse off all of that beautiful smoky flavor? Just make sure you scrape off all of the burned skin, take out as many of the seeds as you can manage, and you will have a delicious roasted chile

Do Not Wear Poblano Chiles as Gloves
A couple of years ago, I had the bright (read: stupid) idea to drape the poblanos over my fingers while I was scraping off the skins. Poblanos are generally mild, like any chile, there can be a range of heat.  In this case, they had more than a little heat and by the time we sat down to eat, the top side of the first three fingers of my right hand looked like a cooked lobster and felt like I was holding them over a lit match. Multiple applications of aloe and the miraculous but sadly discontinued Johnson & Johnson First Aid Cream helped but to this day the tops of those three fingers are still very heat sensitive.  Oh - now I leave the tops on and make a long slit in one side of the chile and take out the seeds - much better for stuffing.

We stuffed the poblanos with a mixture (I just eyeballed the amounts) of pork, rice and cheese and I topped them with some salsa and more cheese.  We cooked them just to warm them up and melt the cheese - 350F for about 25 minutes, +/- a few.
Ingredients for the braise.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Roasted Radishes: Good News/Bad News

My kingdom for opposable thumbs!  Or legs!"
(Yes, these are the radishes speaking)
Good news: I really liked the greens.

Bad news: Roasted radishes remind me of roasted chunks of zucchini and do not even taste like radishes.

Do not want.

I did some research and pulled the recipe from a trusted source - still trusted - but figure this is a "chacun à son goût" difference of taste.

My advice is, don't throw your radish greens out - sauteing or roasting the greens is a good idea. Leave your radishes in the crisper and eat them raw - or pickle them.  If I ever do this again, I'll crank up the heat and just cook them long enough for some color, sauteing the greens separately - or I'll roast the greens 'til just crispy (they were very good!). The likelihood of me roasting radishes again is - oh - somewhere around exactly "hell no".

If you want to give this a shot, go for it. Believe me, I'd love to find out I was doing this wrong as my love of roasted things knows no bounds. In the mean time, I'm going to dream of sliced breakfast radishes on a baguette spread with sweet butter and sprinkled with sea salt.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Celery Root and Spring Onion Mash with Roasted Garlic

I've nothing against mashed potatoes -- I love them, just far, far too much. I cannot have a potato in my house without cooking it and consuming it (along with its siblings) with obscene quantities of cheese, butter or other dairy products. It's a fact that I can (and do) live with.

I needed something that would stand up (literally and taste-wise) to the jus and gravy from a pot roast (or a Thanksgiving turkey...), like mashed potatoes, but not BE mashed potatoes.  I saw a recipe for a spring onion mash but thought that wouldn't have the structure I needed.  I have been on a bit of a celery root tear and have seen many recipes and restaurant menu dishes over the years for celery root puree and celery root and potato puree. Boiled celery root has (approximately) 1/3 the calories and 1/3 the total carbohydrates of boiled potato (if that matters to you).

What if you cooked some spring onions down with a little salt and olive oil and mixed them with cooked celery root that you'd squeezed the bejesus out of to get rid of a lot of the juice and then mashed them together with roasted garlic?  Would it work? Would it taste good - delicious, even?

Hell, yes!

The first time I made them, I added some marscapone cheese and a tablespoon of butter and extended them with some mashed cannelini beans.  Yeah, you can do that and it's great, but last night I just stuck with the three basics: celery root, spring onions and roasted garlic.

Update: Leeks work too. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Tip of My Hat to the Song that Inspired this Blog's Name...

I'm a musician and I love to cook.  After I first started a food blog (under a different title) I had a "duh" moment when I noticed the title had nothing to do with food. How to make it feel like "me"? I started looking up songs about food and as soon as did, I found this one. Perfect.

One of Nat "King" Cole's very first recordings as the "Nat Cole Swingsters" in 1939 was a song called, "Riffin at the Bar-B-Que" and that felt like a perfect fit.


I'm always interested in people's inspiration whether cooking, music or just life in general.

My first cooking influence was my mother, Sally. Now, my mom would have been happy eating tomato soup and a grilled-cheese sandwich every day but she had five children and a husband to feed whose mother's cooking was the stuff of oft-referenced legend. She really had no cooking mentor or influence growing up. Her mom didn't cook much and for some part of her childhood, their family had a cook. That being said, there were things she cooked that were O.K, some that were good,and some that were great. We always had salads and vegetables and she loved fruit - and we loved those things, too. When I was about 10, her sister (Nancie) sent her a pan with a steamer insert and from then on she steamed vegetables. She grew up in the Midwest (Chicago) on canned and then frozen vegetables  - that's just what people ate - and this was a major change for the better.

Thanksgiving dinner - you and nobody else in the world makes a better Thanksgiving dinner. Her stuffing IS the stuffing of legend as far as I'm concerned. I've never had (or made) a better meatloaf than hers. She made great soups and braised meats. I weep that I cannot properly replicate her pork chops and milk gravy. I love the ham hocks, navy beans and cornbread she cooked and I know her mother-in-law would have approved.

She wasn't one to throw up her hands in the face of a challenge. When my brother announced a visit, bringing a girlfriend who was vegetarian (this was back in the '70's) my mom bought a vegetarian cookbook - and it turned out that it was a very good one - so that she could cook something that my brother's girlfriend could eat. It was the first vegetarian cookbook I'd ever seen and I was fascinated by it. I don't have my mother's copy but recently purchased a copy of the original paperback version that she had:.Anna Thomas' "Vegetarian Epicure" - still in print and still a great reference.

When I'd come home after grade school a little before 3:30, I'd be ready to watch, "Dark Shadows" at 4:00 and the only thing that was on before that was a show broadcast on the local PBS channel called, "The French Chef" starring this woman with kind of a funny voice who cooked stuff. I honestly don't remember being inspired or learning anything, but she was fascinating and I started being more interested in that show than in "Dark Shadows", and frankly, "Dark Shadows" scared the crap out of me. be continued.

I have no affiliation with nor do I receive any compensation from producers or manufacturers. All opinions, as well as errors are my own. Corrections and comments are welcome.

Baked Egg Rolls (v1) - a Work in Progress...

...and this is after I tried to "save" it in Photoshop.
You can use all the technology you want, but
if the pixels ain't there... is my photography.

I was all set to photograph every step, show every ingredient, but the temperature in my (west facing) kitchen was approximate to that of the sun's surface after a day that reached 80 and I thought, "Screw it - let's just get this done".  I know - last week I was cleaving to a hot soup because it was rainy and chilly and this week I'm bitching about my too-hot kitchen. When I finally got around to taking a picture, it was dark and the light was bad - I didn't want to use a flash though and yes, my haste and inattention shows.

I've wanted to make a baked form (rather than fried) for a  while just to see if it was worth it and I had all of the ingredients I needed.  I started from a recipe I found on but kept it vegetarian - at least for this round.

Are these JUST as good as the best fried egg roll?  No dude, they're baked. Duh.  Using egg roll wrappers, the dough got crunchy but it's a little tougher - as expected.  Are they worth it because they taste good?  Yes - the method is good - I just want to work on the tastiness of my filling.

Really, we're just wrapping food in dough - it's not rocket science, kids.

Just make sure your filling is not too juicy and you don't over stuff the wrapper.  Next round, I'm either adding tofu or meat - chicken, pork, or maybe shrimp because I think that the protein will 'fill out' the flavor and the texture of the filling and absorb some of the liquid given off by the vegetable ingredients (keeping it a little drier).
This is just how we roll.

In the sauce, I substituted a teaspoon of Agave for the mirin in the original and added a squeeze of lime as well. Because I did not use crab - or any other protein, my yield was 8 rolls rather than the 14 in the online recipe.

This is called a work-in-progress because I learned a few things but it's definitely something I'll come back to - there will be a v2.  In reading about storage, the recommendation is to freeze them and re-heat in an oven (toaster or otherwise) rather than storing in the refrigerator.  I'll be able to report on that as well in the next go-round.