Main Dishes

Boyfriends and Bolognese

My high school boyfriend and I used to celebrate our "anniversary" every month with the same romantic gesture.  I would bake him a batch of chocolate chip cookies and he would get me a rose for every month that we had been dating.  We'd walk through the halls hand in hand, parading around our tokens of affection for each other like two young puppies in love.  Our relationship lasted for a year and three months, which in high school time is more like 3 years.  For our one year anniversary I planned a romantic dinner for two at my house, and what better dish to prepare than homemade lasagna.  

In my family lasagna was made only for very special occasions, and rightfully so.  Lasagna is truly a labor of love.  I had seen my grandmother make lasagna several times, an all day process that was not to be taken lightly.  The par boiled noodles would be set out to dry in between red and white striped kitchen towels lining the kitchen table, and the smell of bolognese sauce cooking on her avocado green stove would perfume the house, reassuring us that this meal would be worth the wait.  

I asked my mom for the recipe, but like most of the recipes in our family, there wasn't one written down.  This was a dish learned through watching, a recipe that changed slightly with every generation it was passed down to.  My mom did happen to leave me with a few words of advice: water is lasagna's worst enemy.  Like a good kid, I did as I was told.  I drained the ricotta overnight and let the par-boiled noodles sit out to dry between kitchen towels just as I had seen my grandmother do so many times before.  I relied on my strong Italian genes to instinctively make a bolognese sauce, letting it cook all day long until it was thick and meaty.  Each layer of lasagna was carefully crafted until the large glass dish was full to the brim.  Sauce, noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, repeat.        

That was my first and last lasagna in nearly 15 years.  

I didn't avoid this recipe for all these years because I made it for the first guy to break my heart, or the fact that it takes more than a day to make.  And to be perfectly honest, I can't give you a straight answer as to why.  But this time of year, with Valentine's Day having come and gone so quickly, got me thinking about why we cook.  Sure, eating is a necessity of life, but we choose to cook things that are labor intensive or make something from scratch that could just as easily be bought at the store.   Even the simplest of meals says a lot about who are as humans.  I take great comfort in sitting around the kitchen table laughing and sharing stories, or even in silence, just knowing that the meal in front of me is a such a thoughtful gift.  Cooking a meal for someone else is the most sincere gesture of love.  So let us all make lasagna and show our special someone just how much we care.  And even if you only make it once, or every 15 years, I promise you it will be worth the effort.

Lasagna

 

Ingredients:

2 lbs ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk

1-1 1/4 lbs Italian sausage, approximately 6 links

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 oz. pancetta, diced 

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground pork

1 sprig fresh rosemary

4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh oregano

2 bay leaves

1 medium yellow onion, minced

1 head garlic, minced

1, 6 oz. can tomato paste

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon red chili flake

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup red wine

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

3, 28 oz. cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes

1 cup grated smoked mozzarella

2 cups grated provolone 

3 cups grated mozzarella

1 cup grated pecorino

1 heaping tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

1 egg

4 large sheets fresh pasta dough, approximately 18 x 18"

*I put my own spin on this lasagna by adding pancetta to the bolognese sauce, and then played up its smokiness by adding smoked mozzarella to my cheese blend.  I also used fresh pasta to avoid the hassle of pre-boiling the noodles and drying it out for hours.  I did have to give the pasta a quick rinse to remove the excess flour, and pat them dry a bit, but using fresh pasta noodles was a huge time saver.      

The Night Before:

Drain ricotta in a large mesh strainer over a bowl.  Cover strainer with plastic wrap and leave in refrigerator over night to drain until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.

The Next Day:

At least 4 hours before you want to serve the lasagna, start the bolognese sauce.  In a large 6-7 quart soup pot , preferably enameled cast iron, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat and add Italian sausage.  Brown the sausage, approximately 3-5 minutes per side.  Remove from pan and set aside.  In the same pot cook pancetta for 6-8 minutes until it has browned and the fat has rendered a bit and crisped up.  Remove from pan and set aside.  In the same pot add the ground pork, breaking it up into small chunks with a wooden spoon.  Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the meat has cooked on the outside.  Don't worry if it's not cooked all the way through.  It will finish cooking in the sauce.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Repeat this step, cooking the ground beef this time, until it is almost completely cooked through.  Drain all fat from pot and wipe clean.  

Prepare bouquet garni of fresh herbs and bay leaves in a cheesecloth satchel.  If you don't have cheesecloth, tie the herbs together with cooking twine for easy removal later.  

Over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sweat the minced onions and garlic in the soup pot until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Next add Italian seasoning, chili flakes, garlic powder, salt, and tomato paste.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the tomato paste has thickened slightly and darkened in color.  Deglaze the pan with red wine and balsamic vinegar.  Continue stirring to scrape up any brown bits that may have formed on the bottom of the pan.  Add crushed tomatoes and stir to combine the tomato paste mixture.  Then, return all of the meat to the pot.  Give everything a good stir and throw in the bouquet garni, burying it in the sauce.  Bring sauce up to a boil, cover and then reduce heat to low.  Let the sauce simmer for at least 2 hours.  3 would be better.  Make sure to stir and taste occasionally to check if the sauce needs any additional seasoning.  Somehow the bolognese gods were with me the day I made this and I didn't have to add anything else to the sauce.  I just let it cook for hours and the flavors developed wonderfully on their own.  At the end of 3 hours, your sauce should be very thick.  Remember WATER IS THE ENEMY!!  

Lasagna Bolognese Sauce.jpg

While your sauce is simmering grate all of the cheeses in a large bowl.  Mix so that everything is well combined.  Next, prepare the ricotta.  Discard the liquid in the bowl and wipe it dry.  In the same bowl combine ricotta, egg, and basil, and divide into thirds.  

Next, you'll want to give your fresh pasta noodles a bath to remove any excess flour.  Carefully run the sheets under warm water in the sink.  Some of the noodles may want to tear, but that's OK, you'll have to cut the sheets to fit in the lasagna pan anyway.  Lay the noodles flat onto kitchen towels to absorb the excess water.  

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Once your sauce is ready, it's FINALLY time to assemble the lasagna.  In a deep 9 x 13" baking dish, spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom.  Next, put a single layer of pasta noodles over the sauce.  Fresh lasagna noodles are fairly thin, so if you like your lasagna to have more of a noodle presence, double up your noodle layer.  If you decide to do this, be sure to double the amount of pasta called for in the recipe.  Next spread 1/3 of the ricotta mixture on the noodles so that most of the pasta is covered.  Sprinkle approximately 1 3/4 cups of the cheese mixture on top of the ricotta.  Cover the cheese layer with more sauce and then repeat the whole process until you have 3 layers of ricotta.  The last layer should just be sauce and grated cheese.  

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cheese is melted on top and has browned slightly.  Let the lasagna rest for at least 10-15 minutes before cutting into it.  Serve with a side of Italian sausage, and if you're feeling really gluttonous, some garlic bread.

Pork Chile Verde

It's Cinco de Drinko!, Drinko de Mayo!, or whatever you like to call the 5th of May.  I'm not quite certain what this holiday even celebrates.  All I know is that it's a great excuse to make some margaritas and guacamole, sit outside and enjoy this amazing weather we're having here in San Francisco.  

John and I are a bit sporadic about celebrating Cinco de Mayo, but this year we decided it might be fun to go all out and make one of his favorite childhood dishes, pork chile verde.  We pretty much winged the recipe going off of very vague instructions from his Dad, relying on our instincts and countless trips to the taqueria to get the right flavor profiles.  The results were much better than we could have expected.  

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The salsa verde is bright and tangy, packed full of garlic with just the right amount of heat from a jalapeno.  We used pork shoulder for this recipe, which is a great cut of meat for stewing or braising.  It has a lot of marbling which keeps the meat from drying out while it's simmering in all that salsa verde goodness.  This recipe makes quite a bit, so make sure to invite all your friends over for a Mexican fiesta!  Oh yeah, and it also makes a great midnight snack, good for soaking up that bottle of tequila you polished off earlier.

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Pork Chile Verde

Ingredients:

6 lbs. pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon pepper

1 tablespoon garlic powder

2-3 tablespoons canola oil

1 yellow onion

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

20 tomatillos, approximately 2 1/2 lbs.

6 cloves garlic

1 shallot

1 bunch cilantro

1 jalapeno, seeded

juice of 2 limes

In a large bowl coat cubed pork shoulder with 1 tablespoon each of salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate in the fridge for 2-3 hours.  While the pork is marinating make the salsa verde.

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Peel and wash tomatillos to remove the sticky substance that is left on the surface after peeling.  Cut into quarters and put into a large blender.  The blender should be large enough to hold over 6 cups of liquid.  If you don't have a blender that large, make this in two batches.  Puree tomatillos.  Then add in garlic, shallot, 1/2 tablespoon salt, cilantro, jalapeno, and lime juice.  Puree until there are no large chunks remaining.  This will make a ton of salsa verde, approximately 6 cups.  You will only need about 3 cups of the salsa to braise the pork, so you can serve the rest with tortilla chips or save in the fridge until you make your next batch of pork chile verde.  

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Once the pork is done marinating, remove from the refrigerator and let come up to room temperature.  Coat the bottom of a large soup pot with canola oil.  Heat the oil on medium high heat and sear the pork in batches until the meat is lightly browned but not cooked all the way through.  Once all the pork has been seared, sautee a chopped onion in the remaining pork fat until translucent.  Deglaze the pot with the chicken stock, scraping up all the good brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Put all of the pork back into the pot and cover the pork with 3 cups of the salsa verde.  Cover and simmer on medium low to low heat for at least 3 hours until fork tender.  Serve on warm tortillas with a little bit of the remaining salsa verde, cotija cheese, guacamole, and fresh radish.

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Butternut Squash Gnocchi With Brown Butter and Sage Sauce

This is recipe test number two. Becky and I are planning on cooking dinner for my mom's birthday, and this was probably the dish that we were most uncertain about.

Gnocchi can be very tricky. For no apparent reason, they sometimes come out as dense, gummy globs of gross. But at their best, they're light and delicious.

Fortunately, when we made this recipe, the gnocchi gods must have been in a good mood, because they were just about perfect. This recipe came from the October 2010 recipe of Bon Appetit, and it's absolutely delicious.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi With Sage Brown Butter

  • 1 1-pound butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 12-14 ounce russet potato, peeled and quartered
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 (or possibly more) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Preheat the oven to 400. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Place the squash halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet, and brush them with olive oil. Roast until the squash is extremely tender and browned in a few spots.

Give the squash a few minutes to cool. Scoop the flesh from the squash into a food processor, and puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a medium saucepan, and cook on medium-low heat until any excess liquid evaporates - about 5 minutes - stirring constantly.

Transfer the puree to a bowl to cool. Measure 1 cup of puree, and reserve the rest for another use.

Meanwhile, boil the potato in salted water until very tender - about 20 minutes.

While the potato is still warm, press it through a potato ricer. Measure 2 cups of riced potatoes, and save the rest for another use.

Mix the squash puree, riced potato, 1/2 cup parmesan, egg, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour. Gnead gently in the bowl until the dough just holds together. If the dough is extremely sticky, add additional flour, a tiny bit (less than a tablespoon) at a time. 

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and gnead it gently just until it becomes smooth, then cut it into 8 equal pieces.

 Roll each piece of dough into a rope that's about 1/2 inch thick. 

Cut each rope into 3/4 inch pieces. Roll each individual gnocchi over the back of a fork that's been dipped in flour, to create ridges on 1 side.

Place the gnocchi on a lightly floured baking sheet in a single layer. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the gnocchi in two batches until tender, 15-17 minutes per batch.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi back to a backing sheet.

In a large skillet, cook the butter over medium heat until it is melted and begins to turn golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Add the sage and cook for another minute, stirring frequently. Add the gnocchi, and cook until they're heated through, 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer them to a bowl, and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan. Serve with additional parmesan, if desired.

Beer-Braised Pulled Pork Shoulder

Pulled pork topped with coleslaw and grilled peach.

I told you we weren't dead! Becky and I spent the 4th of July weekend in my hometown of Truckee, California. If you're ever in the area, it's definitely worth visiting, in my humble (and admittedly biased) opinion.

Anyway, if you're a barbecue purist, you probably should just stop reading. I honestly have no idea if this dish would be considered "good" barbecue by the likes of you, or if it would even be worthy of being called "barbecue." It's not even smoked, for the reason that I don't have a smoker. However, if you're creative, you can recreate the tender, smoky quality associated with "authentic" Southern barbecue, with much less cooking time. By brining the pork, then coating it with a spice rub, roasting it, then briasing it in beer for a few hours, you can get something that's pretty close to the "real" thing (whatever that is).

Beer-Braised Pulled Pork Shoulder

  • 1 large pork shoulder, with the bone in.
  • 2-3 12 ounce bottles of beer.

For the brine:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 5 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon Worchesteshire sauce

Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot, and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Turn off the heat, and allow the brine to cool to room temperature - at least 3 hours. 

Once the liquid has cooled, add the pork shoulder, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

For the spice rub:

I admit, this is kind of difficult to put into a written recipe. It's a little different every time, based on what spices I have, and my mood. However, it always includes coffee, cumin, coriander seed, fennel seed, allspice, chili powder, black pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. And I always toast the whole spices before grinding them, by heating them in a small frying pan until they become aromatic.

I usually go with 1/2 cup of coffee beans, and about a tablespoon of everything else. Obviously, you can adjust this to your own taste. Grind everything in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Note that there's no salt in the rub. The pork is already plenty seasoned after being brined, and adding salt to the spice rub would be excessive.

Remove the pork from the brine, and discard the liquid. Coat every surface of the pork with a generous layer of the spice rub. Place the pork back in the refrigerator, and allow to sit for at least 3 hours.

Cooking the Pork

Take the pork out of the refrigerator, and place it in a large, over-proof container that has a lid. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Put the pork in the oven, uncovered. Let it roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until the outside has turned into a nice crust, and has even burned in a few spots.

Pork after roasting for an hour

Reduce the heat to 325, and pour one of the bottles of beer into the pot. Cover, and cook for about 2 hours. Add another bottle of beer, and cook for another hour or so. 

At this point, check the tenderness of the meat. With a fork, you should be able to pull it apart nearly effortlessly, and the meat should come away from the bone with no trouble whatsoever. If too much liquid has evaporated, add another bottle of beer, and cook until it gets to the point just described.

When the pork is done, carefully remove it from the pot, and set it aside, covered in foil.

Barbecue Sauce

  • The braising liquid that the pork cooked in, strained, with the fat separated
  • 2 small cans tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Combine all the ingredients into a large saucepan, and and cook on medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until it has thickened, and reduced by about a quarter to a third.

Using 2 forks, pull the pork apart. Place the shredded pork into a bowl, and add a few ladles of the sauce. Toss to coat.

This can be eaten by itself. Or, you can do a lot worse than serving it as a sandwich, topped with coleslaw (in this case, with a dressing of pureed avocado, mayonnaise, and vinegar), and a grilled peach slice.

Sourdough Pizza Crust and Simple Tomato Sauce

One of the easiest applications of sourdough starter is pizza crust. I've made this pizza dough dozens of times. It took quite a bit of tweaking to get just right, but I think I've finally got it down. Unlike most yeast-leavened breads, this crust can be made in just a few hours. If you have 15 minutes before you leave the house in the morning, you can come home to a well-risen dough that can be turned into delicious pizza in half an hour or so.

Combined with a good tomato sauce (recipe below), you can make way better pizza than anything a delivery boy is going to bring. And it will cost a lot less, too.

This recipe makes enough dough for two 12-inch pizzas.

Sourdough Pizza Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups active sourdough starter
  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour*
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey

*You can make your own bread flour using all-purpose flour, and adding 1 tablespoon of wheat gluten for every cup of flour.

Place the starter, olive oil, salt, and honey in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Add the flour, and stir to combine. At this point, the dough will be sticky and shaggy. Place the dough onto a well-floured board, and knead, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until it becomes smooth and elastic. When it's done, it might be a little bit sticky, which is fine. But it should not be nearly as sticky as it was when you started.

Pour a small amount (less than a tablespoon) of olive oil into a large, clean bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, and turn it over in the olive oil, to coat it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rest, at room temperature, for at least 3 hours. It will probably rise quite a bit, and will likely double, at least. However, if it doesn't rise very much, don't worry. It will still work. If you're going to let it rise for longer than 4 or 5 hours, you should put the dough in the refrigerator, to slow the process down. A slow rise in the refrigerator can actually make a slightly better dough than a fast rise, developing more complex flavors.

Pizza dough after rising for several hours.

Tomato Sauce

This sauce is sublime in its simplicity. The key is to start with really good San Marzano tomatoes, and to avoid messing with them too much. It's very important to use San Marzano tomatoes, and not a can of generic "diced tomatoes". I can't stress this enough. The sauce will not be the same without them. They cost a little more, but it's well worth it.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cans (23 Oz. each) diced San Marzano tomatoes, drained.
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted and ground
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the fennel seeds, and cook them until they darken in color, and become extremely aromatic - 2 or 3 minutes. Immediately transfer them to a small bowl so they don't burn in the pan. Grind them in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

Pour the olive oil into a stockpot or large saucepan, on medium-low heat. Add the garlic, and cook until it's soft, aromatic, and slightly browned - about 2 minutes.

Pour the tomatoes into a strainer, to drain out as much of the liquid as possible. Add the tomatoes to the pot, along with the bay leaves, balsamic vinegar, a few heavy pinches of salt, and several grinds of black pepper. 

Simmer on low, uncovered, for about 25 minutes. Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasonings as desired.

Turn off the heat, and add the basil leaves (you can keep them whole, since the sauce is getting pureed anyway) and fennel. Puree with an immersion blender until the sauce is smooth, and there are no large chunks of basil visible. You can also do this in a blender or food processor.

Assembling the Pizza

Preheat oven to 550.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board, and cut it in half. Place one half back into the bowl. Using your hands, or a rolling pin, slowly stretch the dough out to the desired size. If the dough sticks or tears, you can smash it back into a ball, and start over. But I'd try to avoid doing this more than once or twice, so as not to overwork the dough, which would change its texture. 

Continue to sprinkle flour onto the rolling pin, your hands, the cutting board, etc. to keep the dough from sticking. However, try to use the bare minimum amount of flour required to prevent sticking. 

When the dough is rolled out, dust a pizza peel (or whatever you're going to use to transfer the pizza to the oven - a large piece of cardboard, or a rimless baking sheet will work) with a layer of flour or cornmeal. Place the dough on the peel. 

Ladle some sauce onto the center of the dough, and use the ladle to spread it around. You don't need a ton of sauce, but there's no reason to skimp, either. You could probably get away with using a little less than the amount pictured here. 

Every 20 seconds or so, you should give the pizza peel a good shake, to ensure that the pizza still slides freely. Add cheese, and your favorite toppings. In case you're wondering, this one is topped with Italian sausage, trumpet mushrooms (those two are under the cheese, so you can't really see them), green bell peppers, and red onions. Of course, you can top yours with whatever you like.

Slide the pizza onto a hot pizza stone, or a cookie sheet, and bake at 550 for 10-15 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown, and the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Move the pizza to a cutting board, and let it rest for about 5 minutes before slicing. 

Roasted Chicken and Gravy

I typically reserve my favorite dishes for Sunday night, for a few reasons. I have all day to make any necessary preparations, a nice meal is a good way to top off the weekend, and if there are leftovers, they make for a really good lunch the next day, making Monday a little more tolerable.

And one of my all-time favorites is roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. And it’s pretty easy to make.

I’ve found that brining chicken improves its flavor and texture immensely. Of course, this requires you to plan ahead a little, but it’s worth it, and adds very little to the active preparation time.

Also, performing a little bit of surgery on the chicken before cooking it ensures that it cooks evenly and quickly. It involves removing the chicken’s spine and keel bone, so it can lie flat in a pan.

Roasted Chicken

I guess I should warn you that this contains graphic chicken-dissection images, and for some reason, this chicken was particularly bloody. Vegetarians may not want to continue. But, come on. It's just a chicken.

You need to make a brine first. There are only a few absolute requirements, and you can experiment and customize it to your heart’s content. To make the brine, you’ll need:

  •  1 large chicken
  •  1 gallon water
  •  1 cup salt
  •  1/2  cup sugar
  •  1/4 cup acid (vinegar, lemon juice, wine, etc.)

Those are the essential ingredients. It will be perfectly good if they’re all you use. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t add others. Feel free to add anything you like, just don’t overdo it. I like to add a small handful of peppercorns, a few peeled and smashed garlic cloves, a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, and a couple bay leaves.

Place all of the ingredients, except the chicken, in a large pot, and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature (at least 3 hours).

Prep the chicken: remove the giblets, and discard (or save to make stock). Place the pot with the cooled brine in the sink, in case it overflows, and place the chicken in the pot. Pour out any excess brine, but make sure the chicken is completely submerged. Refrigerate overnight. The next morning, remove the chicken from the brine, and refrigerate until you’re ready to start cooking.

Place the chicken on a cutting board, breast side down.  Now comes the fun part, and there’s no tactful way to describe what you’re about to do. Consider yourself warned.

Turn the chicken so its butt is facing you. With a pair of heavy-duty kitchen shears, begin cutting along the side of the spine. Use the tail (that weird little nub at the base of the spine) as a guide. Just place the shears immediately to either side of the tail, and cut, all the way up to the other end.

Repeat on the other side. The backbone is now removed. Discard it, or save it for soup or stock.

Spread the chicken open. Now, you have to remove the breastbone, or keel bone. It runs down the middle of the chicken. With a knife, make an incision right down the middle of the chicken.

Press the chicken as flat as possible. This should cause the keel bone to pop out, allowing you to pry it the rest of the way out.

The chicken is ready to cook. Place it in a roasting pan, or large skillet, on top of a bed of onions, celery, carrots, and garlic cloves.

You could cook it now, but you have another opportunity to add just a little bit more flavor. I like to make a gremolata:

  •  4 cloves garlic, peeled, and roughly chopped
  •  1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped
  •  2 teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt
  •  Zest of 1 lemon
  •  1 tablespoon olive oil.

In a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic, along with the salt and pepper, into a paste. Add the parsley and lemon zest. Stir in the olive oil, to form a paste. Use your finger to separate the skin from the meat, and place some of the gremolata under the skin of each breast and thigh.

Rub the skin with olive oil, and sprinkle it with some salt and black pepper. Pour about 1 cup of white wine into the pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 1 hour – until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Gravy

This happens to be my favorite part, and it’s pretty easy to make.

  •  Drippings from the roasted chicken
  •  1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  •  2 tablespoons flour
  •  About 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  •  Pepper
  •  Salt

Remove the chicken from the pan. Pour all the drippings from the pan into a fine strainer. Put the vegetables from the pan in the strainer, and press them down with a spoon to squeeze out as much of their liquid as possible. Pour the drippings into a gravy separator.

Place the roasting pan on a stove, set to medium heat. Pour about 1 cup of chicken stock into the pan to deglaze it. Use a whisk to scrape up and dissolve all the brown bits stuck to the pan. Let this simmer until reduced by about one third.

Once the drippings are separated, pour the fat into a saucepan on medium heat. Add the butter, and let it melt completely. Let it cook until it has mostly stopped bubbling. Slowly add the flour, whisking constantly, to prevent lumps from forming. Cook for about 2 minutes, to make a roux.

Pour the chicken drippings, the liquid from the deglazed pan, into the roux. Stir to combine, and cook until thickened. If it’s too thick, add a little bit of chicken stock, just a little at a time (it’s better to have a gravy that’s too thick and needs to be thinned, than the other way around). The gravy should be thick enough to easily coat the back of a spoon.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mango Al Pastor

Once again, this is John.

Al Pastor, a Mexican dish of pork marinaded in pinapple juice, dried chilis, vinegar, and various spices, is one of my favorite things in the world. I judge every Mexican restaurant I go to by the quality of their Al Pastor. It's seriously the best thing ever. 

Most Mexican restaurants in the U.S. appear to marinate the pork, chop it up into tiny pieces, and sautee it. And it's usually good. Like, really good (or really, really good, as the case may be). But I learned fairly recently that this isn't how al pastor was originally done, and that's not how it's usually done in Mexico. 

Al Pastor originally evolved from the shwarma, a Middle Eastern favorite that involves very thin slices of marinated beef, stacked on top of one another on a vertical spit, and cooked all day, with thin pieces shaved off as needed. The technique was brought over by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, where it was adapted for local ingredients and tastes. 

A few days ago, Becky and I bought some of these things - Trader Joe's chili spiced dried mangoes. We both thought that they were...not so great. But, not wanting to waste them, we figured they could be put to good use somehow. We began thinking about turning them into a puree to use as a marinade for meat. The discussion quickly turned to trying to make Al Pastor, and putting a slight twist on it by using mango. 

I decided to do my best to recreate the classic Mexican method of cooking them. Not having a giant motorized spit to roast it on, I had to improvise. Basically, I made a smaller version of the device that's normally used to make al pastor, and then cooked the whole business in the oven. The results were great. While it didn't make the absolute best pastor I've ever had, it would keep me coming back to any restaurant that served it.

Mango Al Pastor

Mango Al Pastor

Marinade

  • 1 package Trader Joe's chili spiced dried magos OR 1 package of unflavored dried mangos plus approximately 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup sherry
  • 3 dried ancho chilies
  • 3 dried guajillo chilies
  • 1 can sliced pineapple rings, plus the liquid from the can
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3 tablespoons achiote paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled

Pork

  • 3-4 lb pork loin roast
  • 1 can pineapple rings
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 of an onion
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce

Equipment

  • Heavy wooden skewers
  • Roasting pan or skillet
  • Sautee pan
  • Food processor

Prepare the marinade

Cut the dried mangos into small (roughly 1/2 inch) chunks. Place them in a small bowl, and pour the sherry over them. Allow to soak for about 4 hours, until completely rehydrated. Strain and discard the sherry.

With a pair of kitchen shears, cut open the dried chilies by slitting them lenghtwise, and pulling them open like a book. Remove and discard the stems, seeds, and internal membranes. Heat a heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Place the peppers in the skillet, and cook until they darken and becom aromatic, turning regularly. About 5 minutes. Place the peppers in a bowl, and pour hot water over them. Let sit for about 5 minutes, until the peppers are soft and pliable. Discard the soaking liquid.

Cut the pineapple rings into manageable chunks, and place in a food processor, along with most of the liquid from the can. Add the mangos, peppers, vinegar, achiote paste, and liquid smoke. Process until pureed. Roughly chop the onion, and add it, along with the garlic cloves, to the food processor. Process for a few more seconds, until smooth.

Prepare the Pork

Cut the pork loin into 1/2 inch thick slices, and pound each slice with a meat mallet, until about 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch thick. 

Place the slices of pork into a large, resealable bag, along with enough marinade to thoroughly coat them - about 2 cups. There will be marinade leftover. Freeze it for later use.

Using your bare hands, move the pork around in the marinade, to ensure that every piece is thoroughly coated. Close the bag, squeezing out as much air as possible in the process. Place the bag in a bowl or other leak-proof container, and refrigerate. Marinate for 24 hours.

Take the pork out of the refrigerator. 

Impale a piece of pork on two wooden skewers, run the skewers through the pork until the pork is very near the opposite end of the skewers. Place the pork in the pan you'll be cooking it in, as shown.

Mango Al Pastor beggining

Skewer 2 or 3 more slices of pork in the same manner, and then place a pineapple ring on top of them, as shown. 

Mango Al Pastor assembly 2

Add 3 or 4 more piece of pork, and then another pineapple ring. Continue in this manner (placing a pineapple ring between every 3 or 4 slices of pork), until all of the pork is used. Top with one more pineapple ring.

Mango Al Pastor before cooking 3

Cut off the ends of the skewers, as close to the pork as possible, so they don't burn in the oven. 

Heat the oven to 375° F. Place the pan in the oven, on a low rack. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until it reaches an internal temperature of about 160° F. If your oven cooks unevenly, like mine, you should rotate the pan a quarter turn every 10 minutes or so, to ensure that all sides cook evenly.

Allow to sit for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, chop up the onion, and heat the oil on medium-high heat in a sautee pan. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Cook for a few minutes, until translucent. Add the chili powder and Worchestershire sauce, and cook for a few more minutes, until they look something like this:

Carefully move the pork to a cutting board. With a large knife, cut thin slices off the sides of the pastor.

When all of the meat and pineapple is sliced off, form it into a pile, and chop it into smaller peices - roughly 1/2 of an inch long.

Place the finely chopped meat and pineapple into a bowl, and add the sauteed onions. Toss to combine. By this point it might have gotten cold. To reheat, simply sautee the meat and onion mixture (as much as you plan on serving) in a small amount of vegetable oil, on high heat, for a minute or two.

Serve on corn tortillas, topped with minced shallots, cilantro, thin radish slices, and a squeeze of lime.

Erin go bragh, bro.

I didn't wear green today.  So sue me.  Apparently I didn't get the memo that wearing green today was mandatory regardless of the fact that I'm a loud mouthed Italian/German mutt and I'm not the slightest bit Irish.  I'm pretty sure some tiny little leprechaun has already put a hex on me, and all I'll find at the end of the rainbow is a giant pot of dog shit.  In case you live under a rock, today is St. Patrick's Day.  In the past I've spent the holiday at the local Irish themed pub, guzzling beer and pushing off frat boys who think that maybe the luck o' the Irish will help them get lucky tonight.  I'll be avoiding the beer goggled brosephs this evening, but will be cashing in on the festivities with some home-cooked Irish inspired goodies.

On a recent trip to the local Whole Foods, or whole paycheck as I like to call it, I stumbled upon something I had never seen before.  I would have missed them had I not been so O.C.D. about reading every label behind the counter to see just what was lurking next to the giant slabs of corned beef that I knew I wouldn't have time to cook tonight.  There they were, all coiled up, just waiting for someone to take them home and eat the hell out them- Corned.  Beef.  Sausages.  Whoever came up with this was a damn genius.  All the briny, meaty deliciousness of corned beef wrapped up in a perfect, tiny package.  

So, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, John and I decided to use the sausages as our inspiration and put a little twist on some classic Irish holiday eats.  Tonight, dear readers, I leave you with this: Guinness braised corned beef sausages with sauteed cabbage and parslied potato wedges.

guinness braised corned beef sausages and parslied potatoes

Guinness braised Corned Beef Sausages with Sauteed Cabbage and Parslied Potato Wedges

Ingredients:

2 corned beef sausages

1 bottle of Guinness

Water

2 russet potatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt

pepper

1 heaping tablespoon chopped parsley

2 tablespoons butter 

1/2 small green cabbage

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees

Parslied Potato Wedges:

Wash skins of potatoes thoroughly, and cut into wedges.  On a baking sheet, toss potatoes in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, making sure to toss the potatoes half way through so all sides brown.  When the potatoes are fork tender, remove from the oven and transfer to a medium sized bowl.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the chopped parsley.  Toss to combine and season with more salt and pepper if needed.

Sauteed Cabbage:

Chop up half a small cabbage into bite sized pieces.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter to a sautee pan, and once the butter has melted, add the cabbage and a pinch of salt.  Stir to combine and let cook until cabbage has wilted, about 5 minutes.  Next add the caraway seeds and apple cider vinegar and sautee for another minute.  

Guinness braised Corned Beef Sausages:

Pour Guinness into cast iron skillet and add sausages.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  As the beer reduces add water, 1/2 cup at a time, always keeping about a half an inch of liquid in the pan.  Braise sausages until firm.  Remove any remaining liquid and sear the sausages on high until the skin browns and crisps.  Serve on a toasty roll and top with cabbage and mustard.

Beware the Ides of March: birthdays, burgers, and cake- oh my!

Today is John's birthday.  We generally celebrate this momentous occasion by going out to dinner at the restaurant of the birthday boy or girl's choosing.  This year, however, John has been feeling a bit ambivalent about how to celebrate the day he squished into the world, and decided to keep things pretty low key.  We would be spending the evening at home with a bottle of wine, and the latest episode of No Reservations.  I shouldn't go into any more detail, because things could get pretty out of control here.  You know the usual birthday debauchery- strippers, belly shots, and oh, I don't know, staying up until 11 o'clock.  Party A-N-I-M-A-L-S!  

The belly shots this evening would be accompanied by a bacon studded hamburger with mango chipotle chutney, avocado, and Point Reyes blue cheese, topped off with a buttery brioche bun.  This burger is all business.  The smokiness of the bacon and chipoltle paired with the sweetness of the mango, and the creamy earthiness of the blue cheese are a manage a trois made in heaven.  I dare you to not lick your fingers, or your plate, after you're finished your last bite.  

And can I just say that there is nothing better than the smell of porky, beefy, burgers smoking up the apartment.  If you could bottle this stuff I'd wear it as perfume.  

But let's not forget the dessert, it is a birthday party after all!  Since John's birthday is so close to St. Paddy's day I decided to make a chocolate Guinness cake, and do as the Irish do, get drizzunk.  Well not literally drunk, but you could get drunk off the smell of this cake, I swear.  I had stumbled upon this recipe months ago while doing my daily lunchtime blog reading.  This recipe comes from Design Sponge via an in the kitchen with: spotlight featuring Katie Quinn Davies of the fantastic food photography blog, What Katie Ate.  The cake is chocolatey and rich, but so unbelievably light and moist, and is topped off with a fluffy cream cheese frosting. I adapted the frosting a bit to get an extra dose of the stout flavor by adding a couple shots of Guinness.  The frosted cake looked like a frothy pint of beer and was just as smooth going down.

DSCF0523

 Happy birthday Johnnie, I hope you had a great one.  <3

Bacon Studded Mango Chipotle Chuntney Burger

Bacon studded Hamburgers with Mango Chipotle Chutney and Point Reyes Blue Cheese

Ingredients:

3/4 lb ground beef

3 strips of applewood smoked bacon

1 heavy pinch of salt

black pepper

1 teaspoon Sriracha

2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 mango, diced

1/4 of a small red onion, minced

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon of adobo sauce from a can of chipotle chiles

1 tablespoon sherry

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon cilantro, minced

Point Reyes blue cheese

Avocado

brioche bun

Bacon studded Burgers

Cut the bacon into a small dice.  Mix bacon, beef, salt, pepper, Sriracha, and Worcestershire sauce together in a medium sized bowl until combined.  Separate meat mixture into two equal sized portions and form into patties.  Pre-heat a heavy cast-iron skillet on high heat until almost smoking.  Add burger patties and cook for about 5 minutes on each side.  Finish cooking in a 350 degree oven until medium rare.

Mango Chipotle Chutney

Heat olive oil in small saucepan on medium heat.  Add onion to saucepan and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Next, add mango, adobo, and a tiny pinch of salt to the cooked onions.  Stir everything together to combine and cook for 2 minutes, continuously stirring so that the mango doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.  Then, add the cooking sherry and lime juice.  Continue cooking for 2 more minutes, then add the chopped cilantro.  Remove from heat until burgers are ready.

Toast brioche buns in the cast-iron skillet with a teaspoon of the meat drippings.  Add burger to bun and top with blue cheese, chutney and avocado. 

Egg Shells

Chocolate Guinness Cake (adapted from Katie Quinn Davies' recipe featured on Design Sponge)

Cake

1 cup and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1 cup Guinness

3/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Add butter, cocoa, and Guinness to saucepan.  Warm over medium heat and stir until butter has melted.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.  Next add flour, baking soda, and sugar in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine completely.  Pour in the chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients, and add eggs, vanilla and sour cream.  Beat until everything is combined.

Pour batter into a greased angel food cake pan and bake for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.  Let cake cool for 20 minutes before removing from cake pan.  

Frosting

1 1/3 cups cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2/3 cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons Guinness

Add cream cheese, cream, and powdered sugar to a large mixing bowl.  Beat until cream cheese has no lumps and is smooth.  Add Guinness and mix until combined.  Beat for about 5 minutes until frosting is light and fluffy.  Once the cake has cooled completely, frost the top of the cake only to make it look like a frothy pint of Guinness.

DSCF0529

Spaghetti Carbonara with Roasted Vegetables

Living in San Francisco definitely has its perks.  Beautiful weather, rolling hills, charming period style housing, the Full House opening montage, and produce. Yes, I said produce. I realize this is not the first thing that should come to mind when you think of the city by the bay, but they grow everything here, and there's a farmers market around every corner with the day's most perfect, vitamin-packed gems screaming your name.  Organic, locally  grown fruits and veggies available at your disposal no matter what time of year it is.  It truly is a luxury.  Now I don't want to give you the wrong impression, John and I are definitely not those people that have been suckered into the buy only organic craze, but we do strongly believe in supporting the local food community whenever we can.

This being said, we subscribe to a produce home delivery service, Farm Fresh to You, that sources all of their goodies from their own farm, Capay Organic. We get a box every other week delivered right to our doorstep and the contents are always a wonderful surprise.  It keeps us on our culinary toes, as we are always faced with the challenge of eating seasonally (which can be especially difficult in the winter months when your box is filled with cabbage and bok choy for months on end), figuring out how to cook things we'd never even heard of before (like kohlrabi), and trying to race the clock and eat everything before it goes bad.  Tuesday night I was faced with the usual conundrum of what things to save from vegetable hell, otherwise known as our compost bin.   There was a bunch of beets from 2 boxes prior that had managed to cheat death, collard greens, 4 small bulbs of fennel, a bag of lettuce, and a bunch of swiss chard.  Decisions, decisions.  Eeny, meeny, miney, mo...blah, blah, blah, catch a tiger by the something, my mother told me to pick the very best one, and you.   are.   not.  ....it!   Looks like the salad and swiss chard weren't going to make the cut and had to face another day in the cold, dark, leaky box that is our refrigerator.

My first inclination was to do a simple hash with a fried egg on top,  but that seemed a little too ordinary for this particular Tuesday evening.  I rummaged through our cabinets looking for something to spark an idea. Despite the fact that our pantry looks like a war zone, I managed to gain some inspiration from a humble bag of spaghetti that was buried under mounds of mismatched tupperware.  Spaghetti carbonara with a twist!  This is my take on a classic Italian dish made from pasta, bacon, garlic, eggs, and cheese.  Throw a few roasted veggies on top for good measure and you've got quite a meal on your hands.  The sweetness of the caramelized vegetables compliments the saltiness of the bacon and cheese, balancing out the dish and adding a surprising layer of flavor to this classic.

Spaghetti Carbonara with Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients:

1 small bunch of beets, par boiled and peeled

4 small bulbs of fennel + fronds

1 bunch collard greens

1 yellow onion

1 lb of spaghetti

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups of grated parmesan cheese

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 lb bacon, sliced into lardons

3/4 cup of dry white wine

olive oil

salt

pepper

preheat oven to 400 degrees

Bring large stock pot filled with salted water to a boil.  Slice the fennel, onion, and beets.  Mince a small handful of fennel fronds and save for later.  Remove collard leaves from the stems and chop into bite size pieces.  Toss vegetables in olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.  Place into large roasting pan and cook in oven for 30 minutes or until soft and golden brown around the edges.

Once water comes to a boil add pasta and cook until slightly underdone, a little bit firmer than al dente. While the vegetables are roasting whisk eggs, cheese, and freshly ground black pepper into a large mixing bowl. Set aside until pasta is done cooking.  In a large saute pan render bacon until crispy.  Remove from pan and set on a paper towel to remove excess fat.  Drain off excess bacon fat , reserving 2 tablespoons in pan.  Saute garlic in bacon fat until softened, about 2 minutes.

Drain pasta and add to pan with softened garlic.  Stir to coat, then add white wine.  Cook on medium heat until the pasta has absorbed all of the liquid.  Add bacon back to the pan and toss pasta again to incorporate.  Next add the pasta to the egg and cheese mixture and toss continuously to make sure the eggs do not scramble, about 2 minutes.  Add in reserved fennel fronds and mix in completely.  Plate pasta and then top with roasted veggies and garnish with finely grated parmesan cheese.