Pisco Sour

The Pisco Sour is a refreshing cocktail brought to us by the South American country of Peru where it has earned the distinguished honor of being named the national drink.  In the United States, Pisco is relatively unknown and has not attained the same celebrity status as other distilled liquors but its contributions to the world of spirits should not be underestimated.  It is a grape brandy, fermented from numerous varietals, that has a broad range of flavors and can be drunken straight up or in mixed drinks.  The Pisco Sour is a perfect cocktail for sitting in the shade on a hot afternoon and forgetting there is anywhere else in the world.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces Peruvian pisco
  • 1 1/2 ounces simple syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • 1 egg white

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a large shaker and shake vigorously for one minute.  Strain into ice filled glass.

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Cajun Style Crawfish Boil

It’s hard to picture the first man (or woman, let’s try not to be sexist) who wandered through the swamp and plucked a crawdad from the mud thinking let’s eat this fellow.  Even after they assumed the guy was edible, it had to take more than a couple of tries to figure where the meat was and how to get to it.  Whoever this man, or woman, was we owe him (or her) a cajun size debt of gratitude for introducing the world to this delicacy.  There are few animals on earth that lend themselves as well to a crowd of people and an ice chest full of beer.

The number one complaint I hear uttered from the strange folks who claim to dislike crawfish is that there isn’t enough meat, it’s too hard to get to, and it’s not worth the work.  The response to each of these is keep eatin’.  A crawfish boil is much more than a meal, it’s an event.  A successful boil is one where you find a group of people you don’t mind hanging around, eat crawdads until your eyes water, rinse the spice from your mouth with a cold beer, and repeat until the sun goes down.   It’s true that there’s not much meat in an individual crawfish, but that’s why you plan on eating three to four pounds in a sitting – which also provides plenty of practice at detaching the nugget of meat from the tail.

yum, yum...ready to boil this sucker

There are numerous methods for preparing crawfish but what it all boils down to (and yes, the pun was intended…so please enjoy it) is that the crawfish need to be cooked until the meat is firm and slides easily from the tail.  Undercooked crawfish have a mushy, slimy quality and the meat breaks apart when you try to pull it from the tail.  Overcooked ones are chewy, stick to the shell, and are a real pain to deal with.  I’m not going to hop into the debate about the best method for boiling crawfish, but I will highly recommend the one outlined below and personally guarantee that it delivers a fantastic product.

This process is highly influenced by the time I spent working in the kitchen of a cajun restaurant and has been perfected by boiling through thousands of pounds of the little suckers.  One of the best features is that it calls for continuously cooking crawdads in small batches as opposed to preparing the whole lot at once.  Eating crawdads is a social event that you don’t want to rush through; count on spending a few hours around the table washing  ’em down with conversation and cold beer.  Since they taste best steaming hot, it makes sense to eat from small batches of freshly cooked ones instead of plucking from a mountain of critters that grows colder with each suck of the head.

relaxin' and waitin' for the boil

Ingredients

  • crawdads (2 – 4 lbs per person, 5 – 10 per cajun)
  • red potatoes*
  • corn*
  • sausage*
  • boiling spice
  • butter, melted**
  • fresh lemons (4 -5)
  • cayenne pepper
  • garlic salt
  • salt

*Goes without saying, but I feel obligated to say it anyway…use some judgement on quantities, think about whose coming.  Crawfish are the star so there’s no reason to overload on other items, at the same time potatoes are cheap so might as well have more rather than less.  I usually plan on one head of corn per person.  Sausage always goes fast, especially if there are folks that refuse to work on the crawfish (there’s almost always a couple), so again I recommend more than rather less…but that’s kind of my motto.

**LOTS of butter.  You’ll want some for tossing the cooked crawdads and more melted in small cups on the table for dipping.

Directions

1. set up boiling pot

kissin' the crawdad

Cookin’ crawdads is an outside job, so go ahead and discard any notion you had of boiling these things on your kitchen stove.  You’re gonna want a propane burner and a large pot with a basket insert set up under a shade tree in the yard.  Follow the directions of a commercial spice mix (Zatarain’s is easy to find and makes a decent product) to spice the water.  Then, accept the fact that no brand is going to do the trick by itself and add another cup of salt and a few heaping spoonfuls of cayenne.  Squeeze in lemon juice and toss in the peels.  Stir to mix well.  Bring to a rolling boil.

2. prep potatoes, corn, and sausage

The veggies and sausage call for very little prep work.  All that’s required is to shuck the corn.  Then, cut each ear in half to make ’em more manageable.  The potatoes need to be quickly rinsed and then sliced in half.  Finally, cut the sausage into 1/2 inch rounds.

This is also a good time to make the spice mix you’ll be tossing crawdads in later.  It’s just a simple combination of the boiling spice you are using, cayenne pepper, and garlic salt.  A good combo is 2 parts boiling spice, 1 part cayenne, and 1 part garlic salt.

3. purge the crawfish

turtle full of live crawdads

The first step in preparing a crawfish is to clean up the little mudbugs.  Dump ’em into a large ice chest and hose ’em down with the drain open.  Once the water starts draining clear, close the drain and allow water to cover the crawdads.  Dump in a couple of cups salt and give a quick stir to mix.  Allow crawfish to soak in salted water for 3-5 minutes before re-opening drain.  Continue rinsing with fresh water until water drains without any visible mud.  Leave crawdads in ice chest and place in shady area until ready to cook.  Do not leave covered in water as this will cause them to drown and dead crawdads are useless for our purpose.

4. cook potatoes and corn

Compared to the other ingredients, the potatoes are slow cookers.  Easiest thing to do is cook ’em all first and leave them in a pan covered with foil until you’re ready to eat.  Then, toss into the water until they are steaming hot.  Since, they’ll be going back in, cook the potatoes until they are starting to turn tender but just shy of being done.  They will complete cooking on the reheat but still maintain their shape instead of turning into a mushy heap.  The same process can be followed for the corn and sausage.

5. boil crawfish

pickin' out some live critters

Finally, the main event!  First, finish whatever beer is currently in your hand and grab a fresh, cold one from the chest.  Make sure the water is at a rolling boil and the steam emanating from the pot has enough spice to make you sneeze when you lean in close.  If not, add some and give a few good stirs.  Using a pair of long tongs, pull live crawfish from the main supply and stack in a large bowl – again, under no circumstance should you add a dead crawdad to the pot.  Once the bowl is full (roughly 3-4 pounds) dump live crawfish into the boiling water and cover with lid.  In about 5 minutes you should notice a stream of steam escaping from beneath the lid that indicates you are almost done.  Let ’em go for another minute or two, then open the lid.  Crawdads should be a dark red color and the water should be rolling over them.  Remove from water, drain, and dump in a large clean bowl.  Throw a scoop of melted butter on top, add a couple of spoonfuls of spice mixture, and toss to evenly coat.

6. serve

Best serving process is to spread newspaper out over table and just dump everything in the middle.  Cook two or three batches and keep them warm by storing in a foil pan tightly covered with foil for the initial dump, after that continue supplementing with crawdads fresh from the pot.  Heat potatoes, corn, and sausage and add to the pile as needed.  Have a couple of rolls of paper towels spread around the table and a large trashcan accessible for discarding shells.  Melted butter for dipping is always appreciated.

finished product

Posted in cajun, entree, recipes, seafood, spicy | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

2007 Mas De Leda Tempranillo

We were lucky enough to be guided to this bottle by Whole Foods Market during a recent Wines of Spain promotion.  There are two pertinent pieces of information you should know about our local Whole Foods before I continue: 1. nestled between the butcher and the seafood department is a small bar that serves beer and wine to shoppers; and 2. when a particular wine is featured, it is also usually sold by the glass at a reduced price from this bar.  This is important because while I love to drink wine, I am also cheap.  There are plenty of wines in the $10 – $15 range that suit me just fine for everyday drinking and it takes an especially good one and / or a special occasion for me to leave this financial comfort zone.  The Leda rolls off the shelf at roughly $25 a bottle and so would have never left with me if I hadn’t been steered towards it by one of the hipster bartenders.  It is well worth every penny and would still be a steal at $40.

Producer: Bodegas Leda

Wine Notes: This is a dense and luscious red wine with flavors of dark berries and black licorice with a hint of bittersweet chocolate.  The entire package is wrapped in heavy tannins producing a long finish.  It pairs well with roasted meats, grilled lamb, stuffed peppers, and beef stew.

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The Good Ol’ American Cobb Salad

Ahhhh, the Cobb…most famous of all dressed salads.  Its presence graces luncheon menus from coast to coast and almost all of us are intimately familiar with the primary components.  Occasionally, some impetuous chef will attempt to update or “improve” the dish, and while this would be acceptable, even encouraged, in most cases, you just don’t fuck with a salad that has earned its own dictionary definition*.

This was a lesson learned by Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm when his friend Cliff Cobb takes particular offense when the salad is ordered without bacon or eggs and blue cheese on the side.  “Are you sure you want a Cobb Salad,” he blurts across the table as the order is conveyed.  He proceeds to explain that his grandfather invented the Cobb while working at the Drake Hotel in Chicago (false) and these substitutions are such an abomination of the original that the new construction is actually a David salad.  After a series of misadventures Larry (not surprisingly) takes it upon himself to discover the true origin and confront his friend.

The story that Larry digs up, and the one you should repeat at your local Geeks Who Drink trivia night as it is generally accepted as the truth, goes like this:  The Cobb Salad was invented at the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant in 1937 when owner, Bob Cobb, embarked on a late night prowl through the kitchen.  Tired of the normal restaurant fare, he grabbed an armload of ingredients from the walk in, snagged some bacon from the line cook, and threw it all on a bed of lettuce.  He proceeded to serve this concoction to his friend Sid Grauman who enjoyed it so much that he continued to order “Cobb’s Salad” on subsequent visits – thereby dubbing the classic salad and altering lunch menus forever.

The only problem with this version of events is that the only source appears to be a cookbook published by the Brown Derby themselves in 1949.  Now, I’m not accusing anyone of lying, but people have been known to stretch the truth a bit for marketing reasons.  After a fairly exhaustive search I was able to obtain a copy of the Brown Derby menu as it appeared in 1948.  This menu features six different salads, and none of them are a Cobb.  It also includes: a Swiss Cheese, Ox Tongue, and Cole Slaw Sandwich on Russian Rye Bread (90¢); Broiled Fresh Swordfish with Peas and French Fried Potatoes ($1.50); Pan Fried Corned Beef Hash with Poached Egg (90¢); Hot Turkey Sandwich with Mashed Potatoes ($1.25); and numerous other offerings, but nothing resembling a Cobb Salad.  Eleven years after the birth of an overnight sensation, it still hasn’t found its way to the menu.

In all likelihood the Brown Derby never invented a salad, but rather provided an interesting backdrop for a simple dish.  Wherever the truth lies, this version of events has worked its way into American culinary lore unchallenged, and lacking anything other than circumstantial evidence I will not refute the claim today.  In any case, the recipe in the 1949 cookbook does appear to be the first time it is documented so the Derby does deserve some amount of recognition in the matter.  What is undeniable is that the Brown Derby is an American institution and the Cobb Salad provides an excellent excuse to reflect on its colorful history.

According to legend, a group of individuals were conversing one night and one of them, commenting on the roaring 20’s, mentioned that a good restauranteur could open shop in an alley, sell food from a hat, and still make money.  Inspired partially by this statement and partially by the hat worn by New York Governor and presidential candidate Al Smith, the Brown Derby opened its doors for the first time in 1926.  It quickly became on iconic Los Angeles restaurant chain, known almost as much for its domed hat-like architecture as its food.

A close proximity to the studios helped it become a favorite among Hollywood stars, and their caricatures lined its walls.  One of the most famous sightings of the Derby occurred on the small screen when Lucy has a catastrophic encounter with William Holden on an episode of the I Love Lucy show.  Coincidentally, Mr. Holder orders the Cobb Salad – but the episode aired in 1955 so it was well after publication of the cookbook.  Today, the Derby exists in name only selling restaurant license agreements to “high traffic areas,  primarily those that support a high volume of visitors and tourists,” with the most notable location providing an “upscale atmosphere” to Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park.

Ingredients

  • mixed greens (romaine, iceberg, and watercress)
  • grilled chicken breast (6 oz)
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 1/2 sliced avocado
  • 1 tomato
  • blue cheese, crumbled
  • 2 slices bacon
  • Dressing**
Directions
  1. chop chicken, egg, avocado, and tomato into bite size chunks
  2. crumble bacon and blue cheese
  3. spread greens on large platter
  4. arrange toppings in neat rows above greens

*Cobb Salad: a tossed salad made typically with chopped chicken or turkey, tomatoes, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, blue cheese, and lettuce and dressed with a vinaigrette

**Dressing is the only thing not agreed upon with the Cobb Salad.  The “original” version from the Derby called for a French dressing, but that has fallen in popularity in recent years.  More common these days is to toss the greens in a vinaigrette before layering the toppings.  I prefer a creamy dressing.  A low-cal option is to mix powdered ranch with greek yogurt and buttermilk.

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Stuffed Tomatoes

This stuffed tomato recipe is a great side to a simple meat dish. We also like serving it with a rice pilaf.  If you are serving them with a grilled meat, heat them on the grill to save time in the kitchen and get a nice smoky flavor.

Serves 2 

Ingredients

  • 2 vine ripened tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced
  • Fresh basil, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions

  1. Set the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut the tops off the tomatoes.
  3. Gently scoop out the inside into a small bowl.  We like to use an ice cream scooper. Cut any big chunks you may have scooped out.
  4. Add the garlic, basil, salt, pepper and parmesan
  5. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and stir.
  6. Scoop the mixture back into the tomato shells.
  7. Bake for 5-7 minutes.
Posted in recipes, side, vegetable | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Fish Tacos

I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but around these parts we wrap anything we can in a tortilla and serve it as a taco.  And I mean everything.  I’ve seen fried avocado, I’ve seen alligator.  It’s completely understandable, even relatively mundane, that fish found its way to the party.  The customary technique calls for deep frying a tortilla crusted tilapia filet and then plopping it onto a flour tortilla with shredded cabbage.  This is then topped with either: a) some form of fruity salsa (such as chunky mango) b) queso, or c) a zesty flavored ranch dressing.    This combo makes for an incredibly satisfying meal that I’ve enjoyed on numerous occasions, but on a Tuesday night you’re not always looking to drench a fried fish with ranch.

The following recipe provides a perfect outlet to satisfy the taco craving in a weekday manner that is both simple and nutritous.  Almost any type of fish will work (that’s Cod in the picture) and shrimp is also an excellent choice of protein.  When using shrimp, I like to start with the jumbo ones and cut them into smaller chunks once cooked.  We usually stick to the classics as accompaniments: black beans and coleslaw (add a twist by squeezing some fresh tangerine or other  sweet citrus in with the slaw).  While it is perfectly acceptable to add shredded cabbage to the taco, I prefer to keep it as a side and only fill my tortilla with the seafood mixture and top with habanero salsa.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound cod (or tilapia…or mahi-mahi…or shrimp…or whatever fish you prefer)
  • 1 roma tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 lime (plus additional wedges for serving, if desired)
  • salt & pepper
Directions
  1. boil water in a 2 quart saucepan
  2. place tomato, onion, and jalapeno in a large bowl
  3. cook fish filets in boiling water for 5-7 minutes, until firm and cooked through. remove from water and allow to drain completely.
  4. mix well with reserved vegetables
  5. add cillantro and juice of lime, stir.
  6. salt and pepper to taste. serve immediately with warm corn tortillas.
Posted in entree, quick, recipes, seafood, vegetarian | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Dinner Is Coming: A Game of Thrones Inspired Menu

Season 2 of Game of Thrones premiers this sunday on HBO and we will be hosting a themed feast to celebrate this long anticipated event.  For those of you who are missing the nerd gene required to follow a fantasy series, let me provide a quick background.  Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy series written by George R.R. Martin and brought to us on the small screen by HBO.  The action takes place (mostly) on the fictional continent of Westeros.  At the time the story begins the continent is united in a loose confederation under the rule of the Iron Throne, but it has not always been this way.

Historically, the continent was ruled by seven kingdoms that were often at war with each other but occasionally allied against a common foe.  Jurisdiction of each kingdom fell to a single powerful House, with other minor, but still noble, houses pledging allegiance as bannermen.  This system persisted for thousands of years until Aegon the Conqueror invaded from the distant land of Valyria and subdued six of the kingdoms, failing only to conquer the Kingdom of Dorne (which was subsequently acquired peacefully through a marriage pact).  A federal capital was constructed in the southern region of the continent at Kings Landing and the former kings were permitted to rule their own lands as Lords, provided they swore fealty to the Iron Throne.  Aegon established his own line, House Targaryen,  as rightful rulers of the seven kingdoms for all time to come.  The Targaryens were the only family to sit on the Iron Throne, for nearly three hundred years, until it was seized by Robert Baratheon during Robert’s Rebellion.  The series picks up late in Robert’s rule (yes, everything that has proceeded this was only context, not part of the current story) when he is beginning to sense the kingdom slipping away from him and looks to his old friend Eddard Stark to regain control.

Now that the history lesson is over, let’s move on to the food.  There are numerous directions to go with a Game of Thrones menu: character themed dishes, House themed dishes, regional dishes…but since the series tells the story of the realm, we thought we would mirror this by telling the culinary story of the realm.  Instead of just recreating dishes that would be expected on the tables in the respective regions, we pictured  a feast with envoys from the different kingdoms bringing one dish each to represent their homelands.  It does not need to be dish they eat as part of their daily diet, but by necessity it must consist of ingredients available to them and be made in a style that they are comfortable and familiar with.*

*Because nerds can be so freakin’ technical we thought it necessary to include this disclaimer before being blasted with hate mail…yes, we realize there are 7 kingdoms and 7 courses, one for each kingdom, would make a lot of sense.  We were happy with six courses, so deal with it you damn glutton.  Yes, we realize the Neck is not a kingdom AND we realize that the Kingdom of the Vale and the Kingdom of the Stormlands are not represented.  They chose not to attend the potluck, if that makes you feel better.  We apologize for any other inaccuracies we may have portrayed about this fantasy world, they were completely inadvertent and we appreciate you pointing them out…dork.

 Course 1: The Neck

We begin our feast with an offering from The Neck, a narrow stretch of swampland that separates the North from the southern portions of the continent.  Technically, the Neck is considered part of the North, and the inhabitants do swear fealty to House Stark, but they are swamp people that are not fully understood by most northmen.  It is rumored that they eat frogs, which they probably do as part of their everyday cuisine, but that is not something they would bring to a feast.  In the Neck, the people survive in close harmony with nature and follow the old ways.  They do not have a lot of money or extravagant ingredients, but they do have wisdom and the ability to extract the most from what they were given.  To represent the Neck we start with a simple Garlic Soup with Saffron.

Course 2: Dorne

The Kingdom of Dorne is situated in the southernmost region of Westeros, thousands of miles from Winterfell and the Wall, and is populated by the most unique people on the continent.  They are isolated from the rest of the Kingdom and contain the continents only desert.  Their dish will be one with unique flavors that stand out from the other courses, much like Dorne stands out from the other kingdoms, but the dish does not clash with the rest of the meal but rather enhance the overall experience by providing a jolt of variety.  From Dorne we are provided Fried Goat Cheese with Fresh Figs and Honey.

Course 3: The North

The North is the largest geographical region in Westeros stretching from the edge of the world at The Wall to the swamplands of The Neck.  It was featured prominently in season 1 as it has been ruled by House Stark for thousands of years, first as Kings of the North, then as Lords after Torrhen submitted to Aegon the Conqueror during the War of Conquest.  Their influence is strong and most northmen reflect their adherence to duty and honor.  In the North, they are always aware that winter is coming and as such are more inclined to stockpile food in their cellars than engage in unprovoked gluttony, but they are also aware that food is a necessity of life and that their bodies require hearty meals to combat the frigid elements.  Honor compels them to bring memorable dishes to a feast, so from the North we are given Short Ribs Braised in a Tomato and Red Wine Sauce with carrots, onions, celery, and garlic.

Course 4: Westerlands

The Lannisters, ruling House of the Westerlands, featured prominently in Season 1 with some of the most memorable characters including Tyrion (the Imp), Jaime (the Kingslayer), Cersei (the royal bitch), and the new king, Joffrey.  Their homeland is not the most fertile or populous but is littered with goldmines which provide a seemingly endless supply of wealth; it is even rumored among the smallfolk that Lord Tywin shits gold, though that is not a rumor they would repeat in his hearing if they wanted to keep their tongue.  While firmly established as the richest House in all of Westeros the Lannisters are not known for their generosity.  Because of this, their course will be a minimalist Arugula and Radish Salad with cherry tomatoes.

Course 5: The Iron Islands

The Iron Islands consist of seven islands off the western coast of Westeros and are inhabited by the Ironborn, known to be excellent sailors and fierce warriors who make their living raiding from the sea.  Among the Ironborn there is a disdain for any luxuries bought with gold, they pay with “the iron,” which is another way to say they pluck  it from the dead bodies of their enemies.  Their presence in Season 1 was sparse, being primarily represented by Theon Greyjoy, a ward of Lord Eddard Stark (though the Ironborn consider it a hostage situation seeing as how he was taken during battle after his two elder brother were slain in combat.)  All aspects of life, including cuisine, are intrinsically tied to the sea on the Iron Islands.  They enjoy fine foods, but view them as a frugality and tend to prepare simple seafood courses using whatever ingredients are readily on hand.  However, they are a proud people and if they choose to attend a feast they also choose to represent themselves well.  For tonight, they bring us a Seafood Stew featuring cod and scallops simmered in a tomato sauce with pine nuts, capers, and currants.

Course 6: The Reach

The Reach is the second wealthiest of all the Kingdoms of Westeros and is also the most fertile producing an abundance of fresh fruits.  This prosperous land is ruled by House Tyrell which is best represented in Season 1 by the Knight of Flowers who memorably defeated The Mountain in a jousting match.  The femininity of the Knight of Flowers, the wealth of Highgarden, and the abundance of the Reach combine to end our feast with a Cheesecake topped with Assorted Fresh Fruits.

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