27 January 2014

Tagliatelle with Charred Corn and Cheese

My wife and I got married in 2010 and spent our honeymoon in one of our favorite places in the world: New York City. One of the coolest things about New York is obviously its wealth of excellent places to eat and drink, and we visited a few real gems when we were there. One of them was Mario Batali's eatery Babbo next to Washington Square Park. We made the (what turned out to be) poor decision of going for the pasta tasting menu with wine pairing. It was a poor decision because there were five courses of pasta and three desserts, each with a glass of wine. I don't think I've ever been so full in my life, and I hit a plateau of fullness sometime around course number three. The rest of the evening is a blur, but I distinctly remember being very sad I couldn't eat everything in front of me.

The first course that night - black tagliatelle with charred corn, a light cream sauce, and cheese - was the most memorable to us both. It was delightful: light, creamy, salty, sweet, just an amazing (and simple) collection of flavors. I recently decided to try to recreate the course and, as you can see in the picture above, did not make black tagliatelle. I wanted to make it right away and did not have the patience to wait for an order to arrive (Amazon sells squid ink as well as squid ink pasta), but I do recommend using it as the difference in color makes the dish pop visually in a completely different way than what I made.

Tagliatelle with Charred Corn and Cheese

1 lb tagliatelle, preferably colored by squid ink
2 ears of corn
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch chives
Castelmagno cheese (can be replaced with Parmesan - I used Cotija for this recipe)
vegetable oil
black pepper

1. Char the corn. You can do this on a grill (preferred) or under your broiler. Brush some vegetable oil on them, sprinkle with some salt, and place on the grill, turning frequently until the corn is blistered. If using a broiler, place the corn in a broiler safe pan, place as close to the heating element as possible, and turn frequently until blistered.

2. Using a sharp knife, cut the corn off the cob and place in a bowl. Cover with paper towels to keep somewhat warm.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add two tablespoons of salt (you want your pasta water to be as salty as sea water).

4. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Mince the garlic and add to the pan when the butter has melted. Cook the garlic until soft but do not let it get any color - this should take less than two minutes.

5. Add the wine and reduce to about 1/2 the original volume, which should take about two minutes.

6. Add the cream to the saucepan and increase the heat to medium high, bringing it to a simmer. Simmer the cream for about five minutes or until thick enough to coat a spoon.

7. Once the pasta is done cooking, drain and add to the cream sauce. Stir to coat.

8. Plate the pasta with the sauce, top with the corn and shave the cheese over the top. Slice the chives into 1-inch pieces and place on top. Enjoy with a robust white wine.

17 January 2014

Pan Pizza

As we've previously established, I love pizza. I love pizza so very much. Notice how much better they look over time, too! All the pizzas I've made in the past have been of the so-called New York-style, or I suppose you could call them Neapolitan-style. Thin crust, fairly sparse toppings, lots of blistering in the dough. On the other side of the spectrum, I suppose you would find Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, which I think is more like a casserole than pizza, but hey - to each his own. Even Anthony Bourdain admits that deep-dish pizza is more than edible; it can actually be good.

In between New York and Chicago lies the magical land of Pizza Hut, Papa John's, Domino's, and whatever else have you: the pan pizza. I'm obviously joking when I call any of these chain "restaurants" magical, but pan pizza can be good. I especially like ordering Pizza Hut on a lazy Sunday afternoon when the Saturday night is a haze and I don't have the stamina to boil an egg. Pan pizza has a fairly thick crust, is not blistered like a thin crust should be, and generally has more toppings and more stringy cheese than a New York-style pizza. So, how hard is it to make one at home? As it turns out, not very.

This recipe makes two 10-inch pizza pies. The dough can be kept in the fridge for three to four days or frozen for up to six months. If you have leftovers, the baked pizza can be kept in the fridge for three or so days.

Pan Pizza

14 oz (about 2.5 cups) bread flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
9.5 oz (1 cup + 3 tbsp) water at room temperature
2 tsp good quality olive oil
2 cups tomato sauce
mozzarella cheese (not fresh; dry or "low moisture" works best)
whatever toppings you want!

1. Mix the flour, salt, yeast, water, and oil together in a large bowl. You do not need to knead this; just ensure all the flour is wet. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for eight hours.

2. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Sprinkle some flour on top and then cut the dough in half with a sharp knife.

3. Shape each piece of dough into a ball and roll it on the work surface to make a tight "skin." If you're not making two pizzas right now, transfer one piece of dough to a Ziploc back that you've greased with a little bit of oil. Place in the freezer for long-term storage or in the fridge if using within a few days. Once you're ready to use the stored dough, just continue with the next step.

4. Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with about 1 tbsp vegetable oil. Place the dough in the middle of the pan and press it down lightly. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let stand for two hours.

5. After about an hour, turn your oven to the highest temperature it will go (generally 525 - 550 degrees F).

6. An hour later, remove the plastic wrap from the pan and lightly press the pizza dough until it covers the pan, the whole pan, and nothing but the pan. If the dough seems to have air trapped underneath, gently lift it (one quarter at a time) to ensure even baking.

7. Top the dough with sauce, then cheese (grated), and then your toppings. The pizza pictured above was topped with mushrooms, red onion, red peppers, and sausage (which I had pre-cooked in a frying pan) on one side.

8. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned.

9. Loosen the pizza with a spatula and check underneath - if it's not golden brown, you can finish on the stove top over high heat for 1-2 minutes.

10. Transfer the pizza from the pan to a pizza peel or cutting board, cut into slices, and try to not eat so fast that you pass out from pure delight.

11 January 2014

Swedish Cinnamon Rolls: Kanelbullar

I posted a recipe for cinnamon rolls a while back, and while they are definitely well worth baking, I prefer the Swedish kind I grew up with. The Swedish version is not as sweet (as they're not glazed) and contains cardamom, which you'll find pretty frequently in the Swedish kitchen (for example, it's featured in the mulled wine we drink around Christmas: glögg).

The only ingredient that might be difficult for non-Europeans to find is pearl sugar, apparently also called nib sugar. While, yes, it's "only sugar," it's a pretty integral part of the recipe. Some IKEA stores might carry it (Swedish name: pärlsocker). I couldn't find any at my local IKEA store, but I did find some in a kitchen supply store. I recommend kitchen supply stores to anyone looking for hard-to-find ingredients or any kitchen hardware, bar perhaps appliances. If you happen to be in Southern California or Arkansas, Surfas is well-stocked. If you really can't find pearl sugar, you absolutely can glaze these cinnamon rolls, or you can top them with chopped almonds or even some sprinkles. I'd add the sprinkles after they're cooked, though. Just in case.

Swedish Cinnamon Rolls

2 cups whole milk
1/2 oz (14 g or ~5 tsp) active dry yeast
1 tbsp ground cardamom
5 oz (1 1/4 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 egg
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
5 cups AP flour

5 oz (1 1/4 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
4 tbsp cinnamon
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp sugar

1 egg
pearl sugar (see note above)

paper baking cups

1. Cut the butter into small cubes and set aside.

2. Mix the milk and cardamom together. Heat in a pot over medium heat or in a microwave at 50% power until 118 degrees F (48 degrees C).

3. While heating the milk, thoroughly mix the flour, yeast, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.

4. Pour the milk into the bowl of a stand mixer (if using) and add the egg.

5. Add the flour mixture to the milk and mix with the dough hook for 8-10 minutes. If not using a stand mixer, buy a stand mixer. Just kidding (or am I?). If not using a stand mixer, mix with a wooden spoon until everything comes together, then knead with your hands for 10-15 minutes. Add the butter, one cube at a time, until incorporated.

Note: if the dough is very wet and sticky, add a little more flour. The more flour you add, the drier the end product will be, so be careful! The dough will lose a little stickiness after rising.

6. Allow the dough to rise under a kitchen towel for 40 minutes.

7. Lightly dust a workbench with flour and pour out the dough on top. Turn the oven to 480 degrees F (250 degrees C).

8. Knead the dough for a few minutes, adding more flour if very sticky. Split the dough into two parts.

9. With a rolling pin, roll each part into a rectangle, about 1.5 times longer than it is broad. The end result should be about 1/3 of an inch thick.

10. Mix the butter, cinnamon, and sugar for the filling together until it forms a smooth paste.

11. Spread half of the filling across one of the dough pieces, ensuring you cover all of it.

12. Roll the dough into a tight "log" from one of the long sides (filling side on the inside, obviously).

13. Cut the log into roughly 1/2-inch thick pieces (you may need to discard the very ends if there's not enough filling there).

14. Place the paper baking cups onto a cookie sheet. Place a cinnamon roll into each cup, cut side up.

Repeat steps 11 - 14 with the other piece of dough.

15. Sprinkle pearl sugar (if using) on top of each roll and bake in the middle of the oven for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Keep an eye on them - they burn fairly easily!

16. Let cool for a few minutes before consuming.

These go best with coffee or a glass of ice-cold milk. When I made the ones pictures above, it was too late for coffee and milk didn't feel quite right. My wife, Jacquie, realized that a White Russian was the perfect substitute for both - it's a cocktail, it has milk, it has coffee. What's not to like?

06 January 2014

Seafood Stew with Fennel and Saffron

One of the coolest things about cooking is that you can take ingredients that you think might work together, add them up, and create something new and exciting. The more you experiment, the more you learn about different flavors and textures that work together really well.

One such combination that is pretty classic is that of seafood and saffron - the French bouillabaisse, for example, uses a broth flavored with tomatoes and saffron combined with what is classically considered "unsellable" fish (rockfish, angler fish) and various shellfish such as mussels, clams, and whatever else the fishermen in Marseilles could find.

A while back, I decided to try to make my own seafood stew. It uses slightly more common and easier-to-find fish, it's not as soupy as a classic bouillabaisse, and it has potatoes in it, but the flavors are most certainly there. It doesn't hurt that this is a very easy recipe to put together and can be done in half an hour or less! The seafood stock below is great, but you can easily use store bought stock as well. I like the Kitchen Basics brand.

I like to serve this with either fresh bread (with maybe some salted butter or even a slice of good cheese) or toasted bread that you rub a garlic clove over just after taking it out of the oven.

Seafood Stew with Fennel and Saffron

1 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 bulb fennel
3/4 lb small potatoes (new potatoes work well, as do fingerling potatoes)
1 qt seafood stock (recipe below)
1/2 lb firm white fish such as cod or tilapia
1/2 lb salmon filet
1/2 lb shrimps
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp dry vermouth
1 tbsp Pastis (optional - made with aniseed which has a very similar taste to fennel and will intensify that flavor in the dish)
1 can (14.5 oz) crushed tomatoes
0.2 g (0.007 oz) saffron
olive oil
black pepper

Start by peeling and dicing the onion. Cut the stems off the fennel bulb and slice into very thin strips. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, and half a teaspoon of salt and cook until the onion is translucent. While the onion and fennel are cooking, mince the garlic. Add to the pot together with the saffron and let cook another minute. Slice the potatoes into 1/2-inch thick slices and add to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, for about two minutes. Add the wine, vermouth, and Pastis (if using) and let cook for about three minutes.

Add the seafood stock and crushed tomatoes and let cook until the potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. In the meantime, slice the fish into small strips. Peel and devein the shrimps. Once the potatoes are soft, take the pot off the heat and add the seafood. Cover with a lid and let stand for about three minutes or until the fish is cooked through and the shrimps are pink. Add salt and black pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Seafood Stock

4 cups shrimp shells and heads (or crab shells, or lobster shells, or any combination)
1/2 cup white wine
1 yellow onion
1 large carrot
1 stalk celery
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 sprigs of thyme (fresh)
2 bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
1 tsp kosher salt
2 quarts filtered water

Turn your oven to 400 degrees F. Roughly chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Place the vegetables and seafood shells in a large roasting pan and cook for 10 minutes. Place the roasted ingredients together with the wine, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, and salt in a large stock pot and cover with the water (you may need to use more or less water than listed above, just use enough to cover all the other ingredients). Bring to a simmer over medium heat, but ensure you never let the stock boil. Do not stir the stock at any point. If you do, there's a risk it will turn cloudy, and you want it to be as clear as possible.

Skim off any fat or foam that rises to the surface with a slotted spoon. Let simmer for about 90 minutes, then strain through a sieve, preferably covered with cheese cloth to catch even the smallest pieces. Let cool and either use right away for the stew or store. You can keep the stock in the fridge for up to three days or in the freezer for up to three months.

05 January 2014

I'm back!

Well, about to be back. I've decided to start writing again. Stay tuned in the next few days for my triumphant return. I'll try to update weekly going forward.

I'm excited. Are you excited? You should be excited.