Sunday, August 14, 2011

Random As Ever

This is the view through the window of the Old Fort Pub where we had Cynthia's birthday dinner. It is a stone's throw from our house.

While I was trying to clean the oven recently the broiler element shorted out in a rather spectacular fashion. We decided to take advantage of the Memorial Day sales and upgrade from our entry-level GE, and finally give up on or fantasy of ever having gas burners (natural gas is virtually impossible on the island, and conversion to propane would be obscenely expensive (and from what we've seen, propane cooktops don't work too well). as I scouted the various appliance stores on the mainland, staying in constant communication via cell phone with Cynthia, reluctantly resigned to choosing from glass-covered ceramic cooktop models. Looking like we could get a good deal on a convection oven, I drove sales personnel crazy with questions, details and comparisons, finally narrowing the choice down to two. When it looked like we were narrowing down the decision, we were told that the one remaining model of our preferred choice had in fact been sold via an internet sale and had been shipped out. Just as we were ready to go for our second choice, the manager said they found one of or preferred models — apparently there had been a change in the model number. We bought, scheduled delivery, and I headed for home.

Just before I got home, I got a call telling me that there had been a mistake. The stoves were NOT the same model: the difference in the model number included a "D" which referred to a dual oven. But since I had already checked out, they would let us have the stove for what I paid. Thanks to mobile internet, I could check out the new model, and verify that we could get a $1500 stove for $700. We took it.

We love it so far; convection is awesome and the second oven is extremely useful, however, since it is so small, it heats up really fast and certain things, like pizza crust, can burn on a dime. The larger oven is closer to the floor, so we mature adults have to stoop lower to get the big cast-iron braziers into the oven, but the bottom rack slides out when you open the oven door which helps that a bit. Also the extra racks are a little too small and fall out.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Notes From the Underground

Photo by Cynthia

Our friend Richard went clamming (without me) and found a sweet spot in the reeds. He harvested about 120 clams - too many even for Richard. He shared some with us, and we enjoyed them roasted from the grill with lemon and garlic butter.

Things are getting pretty busy here at the Random Gourmet. Cynthia and I work as theatre technicians and designers and as the fall season approaches we have multiple projects to juggle. While we continue to cook (and eat), the time to photo and blog is becoming scarce. And, we have a sober milestone approaching that will require its own entry on our related blog.

So while we may be dormant for several weeks, please check back occasionally. There is a lot going on below the surface.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sloppy Joe Pocket Sliders

Photo by Cynthia

Drick at Drick's Rambling Cafe extended a generous invitation to participate in his new weekly series on tailgating food - just in time for football season!

I love football! Well, not really, but I love to tailgate...

Actually, I just love to eat...

Anyway, to me the secret of good tailgating food is food that can be eaten with one hand: one hand to hold the paper plate and one hand to bring the food to your mouth.

Better yet, one hand to hold the food and one hand to hold the beer.

We've been doing a lot of sliders at our house lately, partly for portion control but mainly to increase the ratio of filling to bread. To me, a normal-sized 1/4 to 1/3 pound burger fits best on a slider roll. But mostly, sliders are fun.

I love Sloppy Joes and thought that converting such a classic into a slider would be perfect tailgate food if it weren't so, well...sloppy. And keeping that saucy mess in a tiny bun would be the definitive futile exercise. Then I remembered the mini pitas that we served with our tourtiere a week ago, and voila! Problem solved!

So here goes:
  • Sweat a mock mirepoix of diced onion, celery and sweet potato in a pan on medium heat. Why sweet potato? Just because. And just because I had one left over.
  • Chopped bell pepper is common in Sloppy Joes, but bell pepper messes with me. I used one chopped poblano, a couple of cherry peppers and some chopped peperoncini peppers.
  • After the vegetables are softened add two finely diced garlic cloves.
  • Add one pound of ground sirloin and about 1/2 pound of bacon that has been ground in a food processor.
  • Add salt, pepper, some smoked paprika and several healthy splashes of worcestershire sauce. Turn the heat up to medium-high to brown the meat.
  • When the meat is cooked through, add your house barbecue sauce (our house sauce follows). Start with adding about 1/2 cup, adding more as desired. Be careful to get the right saucy consistency to your meat mixture. If it is too runny or greasy, the sandwich will fall apart. If it's too dry, it just won't be a Sloppy Joe. Drain excess grease from the pan if necessary before adding any sauce.
  • Adjust the seasoning. If you want to go a little more southwestern, add some cumin, chili powder and/ or your favorite hot sauce.
Spoon the mixture into warmed mini pita pocket halves. We mated these with pockets full of a tangy slaw that Cynthia grabbed from Epicurious. For a variation, try spoonful of both in each pocket. This slaw was quite vinegary; Cynthia recommends cutting back a little on the sherry vinegar and doubling the sugar.

Our house barbecue sauce:
  • Pour a 16 oz bottle of pomegranate juice and the juice of one lemon in a pan and reduce to a thick syrup. You're basically making pomegranate molasses.
  • Add a 14 oz bottle of ketchup. I love ketchup. I need to start making my own.
  • Add 1 can of Coca-Cola. Or Root Beer. Or Dr. Pepper. A friend once inexplicably gave us 10 cases of Dr. Pepper. We had Dr. Pepper sauce for a year. And Dr. Pepper-glazed ham. And Dr. Pepper cherries jubilee...
  • Add 1/2 cup of sour orange juice. I find this in the ethnic aisle of the supermarket next to the mojito mix. If you can't find it use 50/50 lime and orange juice.
  • Add between 1/2 cup to 1 cup of bourbon.
Add anywhere from a teaspoon to two tablespoons each of:
  • fresh ginger
  • garlic salt
  • onion salt
  • sweet paprika
  • smoked paprika
  • ground coriander
  • crushed thyme
  • crushed oregano
  • celery salt
  • worcestershire sauce
  • salt and black pepper.
Simmer for at least an hour.

After creating the base sauce you can adjust to your liking or to suit the dish by adding:
  • honey, brown sugar and/or molasses
  • apple, pineapple, or mango juice
  • cider vinegar
  • mustard
  • ground chilies
  • cumin
  • tamarind paste
  • cinnamon
  • your hot sauce du jour...
The sky, as they say, is the limit.

Eating Her Curds and Whey

Photo by Cynthia

Cynthia has been urging me to try out tofu. This dish was a long way from Japanese, but, with a hat tip to Ming Tsai, I'm no longer afraid to add tofu to the arsenal.

First I mixed some curry powder into melted butter and began oven poaching some very large shitake mushroom caps with their chopped stems. Then I poured a 12 oz bottle of Jamaican-style ginger beer into a new pan with one crushed garlic clove and reduced to a thin syrup.

I discovered Goya Jamaican-style ginger beer with the Latin fooods in the ethnic aisle of the grocery store and first used it to cook rice. It has a wonderful aromatic taste of ginger with a unique tangy, spicy heat.

I cut a couple of small planks - about 2" x 3" x 1/2" - from a block of soft tofu and dredged them in panko seasoned with red and green chili flakes. These were fried in grapeseed oil for about three minutes on each side, then set on paper towels to drain.

A half pound of fresh heads-on shrimp (which had been peeled and de-veined, but with the heads and tails left on, and seasoned with salt and pepper) was sauteed on high heat, also in grapeseed oil, for about a minute on each side.The shrimp were then tossed into the pan with the ginger beer glaze with some chopped snow peas and scallions.

Each plate was prepared with a nest of soba noodles (cooked for about four minutes in coconut water), then stacked with a shitake mushroom cap, a fried tofu plank, and two shrimp. The snow peas and scallions were scattered about the plate with the mushroom stems, and the shrimp was topped with fresh bean sprouts.The final touch was tiny bit of steamed lobster claw. The dish then was drizzled with the shitake-infused poaching butter and the remaining ginger beer reduction.

The tofu and noodles absorbed all those warm and sweet-spicy juices. The more we ate, the better it tasted.

Cynthia liked it. A lot.

That makes me happy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Careless Shepherd Pie

Photos by Cynthia
"A careless shepherd makes an excellent dinner for a wolf."
-Earl Derr Biggers
What is it that is making me crave the warm, satisfying foods of fall and winter all of a sudden, rather than light, cool summer foods? Maybe celebrating 90 days of the 2009 Coastal Humidity Festival is starting to become a little tiresome, and I'm looking forward to a crisp change in the weather.

In any event, as I recently looked in the fridge and thought of what dishes to assemble from all the leftovers, my thoughts kept going to classic comfort foods like pot pies and meatloaf (meatloaf? that sounds good..).

When I saw the extra uncooked ground lamb left from the recent lamb tourtiere I decided on a classic shepherd's pie.

Well, maybe not so classic. Being still fascinated (read: borderline obsessed) with exploring potato galettes, I decided to try using sweet potato galettes for the crust of the pie.
  1. I put a classic mirepoix of chopped onion, carrot and celery into a pan to sweat.
  2. I added some chopped parsnip and a bay leaf (I love parsnip. Don't you?).
  3. When the vegetables were soft and tender I added three chopped garlic cloves and some dried thyme.
  4. After about a minute I added a pound of ground lamb.
  5. As the lamb browned I deglazed the pan with about 1/4 cup of oatmeal stout. Guinness, porter or dark beer would work well here.
  6. I added about 1/4 cup of diced celeriac and fennel, previously roasted for a celery root and fennel chowder.
  7. I added about a cup of leftover stroganoff (sans noodles, of course), and a small handful of frozen baby peas.
  8. After a healthy splash of worcestershire, the seasonings were adjusted.
  9. I dusted the mixture lightly with flour and stirred it in.
  10. I folded in about two tablespoons of heavy cream and let the sauce thicken.
Here is where the shepherd got careless.

I thought about the sweet potato crusts the same way that I have been preparing galettes as a side dish. Essentially I prepared two galettes separately on the stove top, flipping them to brown both sides, and assembling the pie in a pan with the filling in between. It was virtually unmanageable to keep the potato layers stable with all the flipping, and after some time in the oven the top crust was an uneven blend of curling potato chips.

It was Cynthia's suggestion to flip the finished pie in the end, which provided a somewhat presentable finished dish.

When I try this again (and I will try this again), I'll approach the cooking of the galettes like a conventional pie crust: layer the potato coins in the baking pan and pre-cook in the oven. Add the filling, then position the potato slices for the top crust. Bake until top is browned, and then flip the finished pie before serving.

In the end, the wolf did enjoy an excellent dinner.

Fungus Among Us

Photos by Cynthia

We so enjoyed the papardelle that we served with our branzino the other night, that I decided to use those long and wide but whisper-thin egg noodles as the bed for a mushroom stroganoff.

I armed myself with the standard wild mushrooms available at our local market - crimini, shitake and oyster. While originally intended to feature mushrooms only, I decided to add a little, well, beefiness with a couple ounces of slivered sirloin.

The beef strips were quick-seared on high for just a few seconds on each side, then removed from the pan and set aside. With the heat lowered to medium, I poured about two tablespoons of grapeseed oil to the pan.The sliced mushrooms were then added in stages; I wanted different layers of doneness with the mushrooms ranging from lightly cooked and plump to heavily caramelized. The mixture was deglazed with a tablespoon of Cognac three times before being flambeed with about 1/4 cup of the brandy.

After adding two sliced shallots and one crushed garlic clove, a tablespoon of tomato paste was browned in the bottom of the pan. After stirring the tomato paste into the mushroom mixture, I sprinkled sweet paprika and some fresh thyme, poured in about 1/4 cup of chardonnay and blended in about 1/3 cup of creme fraiche. This was allowed to simmer while the pasta was prepared.

Just before taking the noodles off the stove, I added the beef strips and 1/3 cup of sour cream to the mushroom mixture. The noodles were drained and drizzled with porcini-infused olive oil.

Despite the addition of the beef, the mushrooms and papardelle are the true stars of this dish, and could easily make a winning vegetarian offering.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

No Peking

Photo by Cynthia

We loved the delectable photo of the Orange Chicken Tacos at ChiliCheeseFries, and reading about how the recipe originally called for duck reminded me about the pablano crepes we made for our leftover grilled duck.

Inspired by Michael Symon's corn crepes, the ingredient list consists of:
  • half cup flour,
  • half cup milk,
  • 2 eggs,
  • 1 tsp of vegetable oil,
  • pinch of salt, and
  • up to two cups of whatever chopped or kerneled fruit or vegetable you like.
I used fresh corn, poblano and scallion. Put it together into a processor until blended. Pour about 2 oz of the batter into a 10" skillet over medium heat and cook for about a minute on each side.

We had ours Peking style, with shredded duck accompanied by our house barbecue sauce cut with hoisin sauce.

What to do with the little duck that's left? Maybe duckburger sliders...