Recipe: Mediterranean Carrot Mezze

Mediterranean Carrot Mezze

Mediterranean Carrot Mezze

Make this easy recipe a day ahead. It will definitely taste better. It can then sit around a couple of days in the refrigerator until you want to serve it as part of an assortment in the Mediterranean/middle eastern way.

Ingredients:
1 lb carrots, peeled
3 T lemon juice
3 T good olive oil
2 T finely chopped fresh mint
3/4 t salt
1/4 t cayenne

Method: Shred the carrots with a box grater. (Don’t cut off the ends first because those will protect your fingers as you hold the carrots.) Mix everything in a glass or stainless or pottery bowl and refrigerate overnight before serving.

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A Texas-style cookout

I was gratified by the hundreds of hits on the Vincent’s Garlic Cole Slaw recipe over the holiday weekend, along with Texas-Style Potato Salad and Highland Park Squash Casserole. Makes me feel good that folks are celebrating with the same foods I grew up with.

Back in Dallas, we might eat these foods with some fried chicken from Bubba’s or maybe we’d barbecue that chicken like this. Oddly enough I’ve never published a straight-out burger recipe, which I will need to rectify. But if you’re awash in Texas nostalgia you can try this.

Hope there’s nice weather where you are, and it’s not too unpleasant to get back to work after the holiday. And thanks for reading, y’all.

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Recipe: Egg Foo Young

Egg Foo Young

Egg Foo Yung. This pancake is too big; you’ll make a nicer presentation with 4-inch pancakes that are overlapping on the plate but not stacked.

I had a surfeit of bean sprouts so decided to experiment with this Chinese-American classic. On the way I investigated a few options which will give you better results than mine on your own batch. Serves 4.

Ingredients:
6 eggs
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin including some of the green
1 cup or more bean sprouts
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ c ham, finely chopped (or use leftover chicken or pork or a smaller amount of crispy bacon)
½ t salt
½ t pepper

For sauce:
½ c shao shing cooking wine (if you don’t it, substitute 6 T chicken stock or water and 2 T rice vinegar)
1 T sugar
2 T soy sauce
2 T cornstarch

Method: Beat the eggs and add salt and pepper. Using a non-stick skillet (essential, unless you have good wok skills and a very well-seasoned wok) heat 1 T oil then ladle in enough egg to make 4-inch “pancakes”. Add a spoonful of the vegetable/meat filling to each pancake and cook on medium heat till the surface is firm. Flip to brown the other side, then reserve on paper towels and repeat with more oil, egg and filling until all pancakes are cooked.

Make the sauce: Mix sugar with wine or other liquid in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Off the stove, mix the soy sauce and cornstarch in a small bowl jar or glass then pour into the stock. Simmer, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens to coat the back of the spoon.

Serve immediately, three pancakes per person with some gravy drizzled on top. You’ll likely end up with some nicely browned pancakes and others that are ragged or short on filling. Put those on the bottom.

What I learned:
• Smaller pancakes will make a nicer presentation than one egg per pancake which is what I did.
• You don’t need to pre-saute the filling as most recipes recommend.
• You need a sweet-tart gravy, not the American brown gravy (shudder) that some recipes specify.

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How not to close a restaurant

The middle eastern place closed down in my town. I figured this out by showing up two nights in a row at prime dinner hour and finding the door locked, the room dark, with no sign of activity. I called while standing outside and the phone rang and rang. They’re still taking reservations on Open Table, and still selling discount coupons on Local Flavor, but a colleague checked out their other location and got positive confirmation they’re gone for good.

I’m sorry for the personal or financial issues that caused this to happen, but they could have done a better job of saying goodbye. Announce it, for one thing, instead of slinking away. Better yet, since they have another location 20 minutes away, do promotions to draw diners to that location.

Javier’s, a Nuevo Latino place that fell victim to a bad venue last winter, did a much better job of going out of business. They had a series of special nights where you could commiserate at the bar and drink up their inventory at bargain prices. (Apparently you’re not allowed to take alcohol off the premises when you close a place.) They even honored outstanding gift certificates. The result was a reservoir of good will that will follow Javier to his next restaurant.

I know that restaurateurs have a reputation as bad business people, but this isn’t about business. It’s about common sense, and common courtesy. It really shouldn’t be that hard to say goodbye in a positive way.

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Eating sous vide steak with the Emperor

Sous Vide Sirloin

Sous vide sirloins cooked a perfect medium rare. Note absence of grill char.

This weekend I fired up the Anova sous vide cooker I bought on sale at Amazon.com. A friend had been hankering for a “steak dinner” so I pulled out a porterhouse, a big sirloin and the last of my treasured Allen Bros. strips. They were salted and peppered; for variation I oiled the strip and tossed some fresh rosemary in the vacuum bag with the sirloin. Then I waited.

The Anova is a sleek machine, but it’s HUGE compared to my trusty SideKIC. I put maybe 4 gallons of water into a Coleman cooler and got a “low water” warning and the device wouldn’t turn on, so I added another gallon. It took an hour (pretty fast, considering) to heat from 61 degrees to the 129 degrees which J. Kenji Lopez-Alt said, in the recipe in the Anova app, would produce the low side of medium rare, then another hour for the steaks in the bath.

The result was peculiar looking because the outside of the steak was exactly the same color as the inside should be, which is why you have to add some kind of a char. Options are a hot skillet, a grill and/or a big butane torch. I opted for the grill because I wanted the grill marks. Also went at it with my crème brulee torch, but that dainty device didn’t have much of an effect.

Anova sous vide setup

My sous vide setup. I was cooking on the porch because I didn’t want a 5 gallon tub of water sloshing around the house.

Rested the steaks a bit, then I served… 2 hours and 15 minutes after the prep began, and 2 hours longer than it would take to cook the same steaks entirely on the grill. You couldn’t argue with the degree of doneness and the taste, but I really missed the crust and the gradation of doneness when the steak is cooked on a really hot grill (the latter being what the sous vide method is supposed to eliminate, of course).

I will add that I know how to cook steaks because I used to do it all night long in a steak house, where I would have been fired if I missed too many times on the requested degree of doneness. (The exception being New Years Day, when hungover diners would keep sending back steaks because they weren’t cooked enough, then finally reject them because they were too well done.) If you aren’t sure of your skills, it definitely is a comfort to know your steak won’t be over or under done. But I will not be doing this again.

I ended up feeling like the Emperor with his new clothes, wondering how many of the folks who laud sous vide steaks have actually cooked one themselves. I’ve had some other successes with sous vide, notably for preps that require sauces to have a chemical effect on the meat, and I’m going to focus on those. I will also reserve my Anova for very large recipes, roasts and such, and continue to rely on the SideKIC till it gives up the ghost.

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Who wants some serviceberry pie?

Serviceberry Pie

Serviceberry pie by Carol Maxwell

Local blogger and grain aficionado Amy Halloran was kind enough to share the semi-secret location of her favorite serviceberry bush. My son Gratis and I picked a quart in about 20 minutes and my wife Carol baked them into a delicious pie.

Serviceberries

A quart of serviceberries, ready for the pie

Serviceberries, also known as Saskatoons (apparently they are especially popular or abundant in western Canada) and Juneberries (because that’s when they are ripe) are a terrific addition to your berry repertoire. They’re juicy and sweet and tart with a flavor profile that reminds me of wild blueberries, but a little different.

Serviceberry Bush

I’m not going to reveal this semi-secret location, but there’s a strong visual clue for those who know this area.

The beauty part is that the serviceberry bush is often used as an ornamental outside institutional buildings because it grows quickly, is easy to shape and requires little care. So you may be able to pick some berries from the median at your local bank… take a look.

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Shmaltz Brewing Company throws a party…. and it’s on sale!

DOUBLE_FEATURE_FESTOn Saturday afternoon June 27 I’ll be at Shmaltz Brewing Company in Clifton Park, NY, which is celebrating its second birthday at the location with a double beer fest from 1 to 5. The first feature, from 1 to 3, features session beers from around New York State, and the second from 3 to 5 double IPAs and imperials from New York State and beyond.

You’ll find me at the cask conditioned/barrel aged section, where you can taste:

Casks including
Slingshot American Craft Lager with Raspberries (ok, I’ll skip that one)
Wishbone Session Double IPA with Pineapple, Mosaic + Nelson Hops
Hanukkah Dark Ale with Vanilla Bean and Maple Syrup

Barrel Tastings of
Hanukkah Dark Ale aged in Heaven Hill Barrel
Bittersweet Lenny’s RIPA aged in Jim Beam Barrel
Death of a Contract Brewer Black IPA in Heaven Hill Barrel
Sour Jewbelation 19 in Buffalo Trace Barrel

There’s also music from SIRSY and food trucks on hand from The Ruck (wings I hope) and Esperanto’s (an opportunity to try Saratoga’s notorious drunk food, the Doughboy, in a non-judgmental setting) and a commemorative glass to take home.

The price for this all? $25 for admission to both events with six drink tokens with $15 designated driver available. That’s a real bargain compared to the average tasting event and with a chance to taste some very hard-to-find beers. For my readers in the city, there’s a bus that departs Brooklyn for the event at 9 am and starts the return trip at 5:30 pm. The blurb says that costs $70 including admission but the Eventbrite site seems to be selling it for $50. Either way it’s a bargain. Like MegaBus… but with beer!

Tickets are available here.

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Recipe: Grilled Asparagus

Grilled Asparagus

Grilled asparagus topped with chopped lemon and a bit of garlic

I prefer grilling to steaming for asparagus because I can easily do it alongside other grilling tasks, but also because it’s more forgiving. Oversteam asparagus and it gets flaccid; leave it a minute too long on the grill and it gets a nice char but retains flavor and texture as the skin tightens around the flesh. Serves four.

Ingredients:
1 lb asparagus
Extra virgin olive oil (this recipe deserves the good stuff)
Lemon and/or fresh lemon juice
Garlic, a clove or two, peeled and chopped, optional
Salt and pepper

Grill basket and tray

If you grill outdoors you need a setup like this one so asparagus doesn’t fall through the grill; read more here.

Method: wash asparagus and cut the dried off ends off the stalks, about 1/2 inch from the bottom. Using a peeler remove the outer layer on any very large, woody stalks. (Optional: I’ve hardly ever encountered a tough, chewy asparagus skin but it’s unpleasant when it happens.) Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and a bit of lemon juice and grill under broiler on high or on outdoor grill until lightly charred, turning frequently. This process takes 10 minutes or less. Garnish with chopped lemon peel or whole lemon chopped with seeds removed plus maybe a bit of finely chopped garlic.

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How do you like your olive oil to taste?

California Olive Ranch labels

Test marketing labels for California Olive Ranch

The folks at California Olive Ranch are conducting an interesting marketing experiment. In my supermarket currently are 500 ML bottles of their Extra Virgin Olive Oil, evenly distributed between olive oils that say “Mild & Buttery” and “Rich & Robust”. (There’s also a label that says “For Everyday meals” which is the language on their larger bottles; I expect it’s left over from the previous batch.)

As far as I can tell, the olive oil within each of these bottles is the same. So what is California Olive Ranch up to?

This is an excellent oil I buy in quantity when it’s on sale. Though it is not a throat-burner it’s definitely higher in phenols than most olive oils on the shelf so no way is it “Mild & Buttery”. If people buy bottles so labeled, and don’t return them or complain, what have we learned?

a/that consumers really like a milder oil, so California Olive Ranch should change its configuration. (For the test, it’s a lot cheaper to just change the label.) Or,
b/that consumers have more sophisticated taste buds than we expect and don’t fear strong flavors. (No, in that case they’d choose the “Rich & Robust”, yes?) Or,
c/that many people don’t really pay attention to what they’re eating and will agree it tastes like whatever you tell them it tastes like. (This is the cynical marketing strategy used by mass-market American beer brands.)

If you like, find the bottles and do your own test and report back. I’d love to know what California Olive Oil is really up to here.

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Recipe: “Destination” Shrimp

Destination Shrimp

“Destination” Shrimp

Years ago I cooked at a prime rib chain called Victoria Station. Our radio tag was Johnny Cash singing “Destination… Victoria Station” in his deep tremolo, hence the name of this delicious and easy dish. We’d always have a few skillets on hand, ready to fire for the non-meat eaters. Serves 2-4.

Ingredients:
1 lb raw shrimp, shells on, the bigger the better
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
3 T melted butter, preferably clarified
3 T fresh lemon juice
3 T dry vermouth

Shrimp mis en place

Mis en place. We’d generally use much bigger shrimp than this, and I’d be more careful with the butterflying for my paying customers

Method: Peel shrimp, leaving tails on, and butterfly by cutting down through the back just to the point where you’re about to split the meat, then flattening. Arrange the butterflied shrimp around the edges of a non stick skillet, tails out as shown, with garlic in the middle. Prep the melted butter/lemon juice/vermouth mixture and keep it warm. When ready to serve, place the skillet over high heat and pour the sauce over the shrimp. The dish is done when the shrimp lose their translucence and become solid white and pink, about 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately over white rice or with some good bread to sop up the delicious sauce.

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