After reading (and by reading I mean I listened to the audio CD) Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, I was more motivated to cook than ever. He describes in depth how to cook with fire, cook with water, preserve by fermentation, and bake rustic bread. His section on slow cooking tough cuts of meat motivated me to learn more about the technique of braising. The cheapest cuts of meat can be just as flavorful as any expensive cut, but they require careful slow cooking technique to make the meat tender.
The basic science is that the most exercised parts of an animal (leg, rump and shoulder) have more collagen which makes the meat tough and chewy. With enough cooking time at around 150 degrees, the collagen transforms into gelatin, so the meat becomes soft and breaks apart. So it is all about time and temperature – low and slow. It’s time to slow down and cook more.
This brings me to lamb shank. It is one of the cheapest cuts, but it requires some slow cooking. It’s basically the equivalent of a chicken drum stick, which is one of my favorite cuts. Here is my recipe for lamb shank.
2 lamb shanks (one per person)
2 celery stalks
1/2 large onion
1 cup red wine
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or water)
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper (more than you think you need)
Add smoked paprika, cumin, salt and pepper along with some olive oil and rub into the meat. Marinate for 1 hour.
Chop carrots, celery, and onion. Rough chop garlic.
Saute carrots, celery, onion and garlic on med-low. Don’t let it burn. Add to crock pot.
Add oil to cast iron or stainless steel pan and brown the lamb shanks on med to med-high until you have brown all over.
Add wine to deglaze pan. Make sure to get all the sticky brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Those are all good flavor.
Put lamb shanks on top of vegetables in crock pot and add the wine liquid along with 1 cup of vegetable stock.
Cook on low for 3-5 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone.
Garnish with any herb you have. I used mint because it goes well with lamb and I have a ton of it in my garden.
I just picked the last of my pepino melons for the season. They are beautiful looking fruit that tastes like a cross between a melon and a cucumber. I put them in salads to sweeten things up or just eat them whole like any fruit. This has been one of my favorite plants to grow because its a perennial and it is super easy to propagate by cloning. I’ve cloned a bunch by cuttings, but I found that mound layering is the fastest way to do it. All you need to do is bend a few branches down to the ground and cover them with 4-6 inches of dirt. Wait a few weeks and the roots will grow and then you can cut it from the mother plant and dig it out to transplant. I bought my mother plant a few years ago for $12 in a one gallon pot, and i’ve made at least 30 plants from it. It’s a hard plant to find, but it is well worth growing.
Sorry I haven’t posted in a long time. It’s been a busy season in my life and even though I’ve been cooking a ton, I haven’t posted anything. Don’t worry, I’m not eating out at Applebee’s everyday. That place is…. Anyway, here is my version of chicken cacciatore. I love making this because it is so easy and doesn’t require much prep.
Fresh herbs are key to this recipe. If you don’t grow your own, stop what your doing, go to home depot, and buy some plants. Otherwise, this recipe (and all other Italian recipes) will cost you $5 more than it should. These plants are so easy to grow. Rosemary and thyme are some of the more hardy plants and are very versatile.
Here is one final note about cooking I recently learned from a chef friend. The last thing you put in is the first thing you taste. This means that if you like the taste of garlic, put it in last NOT first. If you like the taste of fresh herbs, put them in 5 minutes before it’s done cooking. You can alter the balance of flavor by timing ingredients to your liking. Try some variations. I’m also not a fan of adding garlic to the oil before I add the chicken because it tends to burn. If you like that flavor, try sauteing the garlic to a perfect crispiness and then taking it out to add in at the end.
Recipe for 4 servings
4-5 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 – 24oz can of fire roasted tomatoes
5 handfuls of penne pasta
3 TBS balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme
1 teaspoon fresh minced rosemary
3 minced garlic cloves
Add oil to pan on medium heat and bring to temp.
Add chicken and cook on medium-high. After a few minutes lower temp to med-low to cook for 5-10 min per side. Make sure it is low enough so it gets crispy but does not burn. Don’t move the chicken around until it comes loose on its own. Lower heat is important here so it releases before it burns.
Puree roasted tomatoes and add to chicken along with herbs, minced garlic, and balsamic vinegar. Drizzle some more olive oil on top and mix everything in.
It’s been hot the last few weeks here in San Diego, so I had to revert to cold brew for my coffee making method of choice. Hot coffee is miserable when your working in the heat, but I still gotta get some coffee in me. I asked my resident coffee expert friend Serge if he could solve my problems, and he showed me how to cold brew like a Portland hipster. It’s very simple and you get great flavor out of your coffee. Use whatever beans you like. Serge only uses small batch roasted beans from Ethiopia or Columbia, but that’s too rich for my blood, so I turn to my medium roast fair trade organic beans from Trader Joe’s for $7 a pound.
Here is his technique: 100 grams medium ground coffee to 800 grams cold water. Brew in fridge for 24 hours. Strain using a paper filter.
Here is my cheater technique: Fill a quart or half gallon mason jar to just above the 10% mark with medium ground coffee. Add cold water to the top. Cap it. Brew in fridge for 24 hours. Strain. (My version is a little less strong because I’m not as Russian as he is).
Peppers were super cheap, so I bought a ton and roasted them to use in a bunch of recipes. I like roasting big batches, so I can eat some right away and freeze the rest. I love to use them to make tapenades, put in sandwiches, and rough chop them to add in rice or beans. Check out this method of roasting peppers so you can remove the skin leaving you with a smooth and silky sweet pepper.
Here’s how to roast peppers for maximum flavor:
Toss whole peppers in a large mixing bowl with enough olive oil to coat. Add salt and pepper. You can also add a peeled onion cut into quarters and a whole bulb of garlic broken into pieces if you like.
Put on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. They taste better if they char black in some spots (but not too black). You will peel off the skin anyway. If they don’t darken, you can add them to the broiler for 5 minutes on high.
Turn them half way through to get color on the other side.
Remove from oven and IMMEDIATELY put back in mixing bowl and cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap to lock in the steam. The plastic wrap will start to puff up if you’ve created the seal correctly. It usually takes 2-3 pieces to seal the bowl.
Let sit in the fridge until cool. They get better after a day in the fridge, but you can move onto the next step as soon as they cool down.
Uncover and peel the skins off by hand. They should just peel off like butter. Remove the stems and seeds.
Add to any recipe.
To freeze, add to a mason jar and cover with the juice left over in the bowl. Fill 70 percent of the way, add cap, and freeze.
Here is a pepper tapenade recipe:
4 roasted bell peppers
1/2 roasted onion
3 roasted garlic gloves
handful of basil
3 tablespoons olive oil
Roast peppers, onions, and garlic and peel.
Rough chop everything with a knife or use a food processor.
When we were in Hawaii we tried this macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi, and I fell immediately bought some fresh fish and tried to imitate it. My version is a much more simple and fresh version that requires much less ingredients. We got some epic macadamia nut oil while we were there, so I used that in the recipe instead of olive oil.
1/2 lb Mahi Mahi
small handful raw macadamia nuts
1 tablespoon honey
macadamia nut oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut up vegetables of your choice and partially boil.
Crush mac nuts into fine powder by placing them in a plastic bag and bashing them with a bottle.
Place vegetables in an oven proof dish and toss with some mac nut oil.
Place fish in center of dish and spread honey over the top.
Spread crushed mac nuts over top and drizzle a little more mac oil on top.
Miso paste has been a very versatile ingredient for me over the past three months. It lasts a long time in the fridge, and I love making soups with miso as a base. I’ve even braised white fish in miso and it’s incredible. Here is a quick and easy recipe using miso. Asian markets will have a wide assortment of miso pastes. I always go for a more expensive organic brand, but you only be paying anywhere from 3-6 dollars for enough to last you months. To make the ultimate miso soup, get some dried herring powder. It sounds fishy, but you’ll see that adding a teaspoon of it will give you that classic miso taste. If you can’t find it, then you can use the chicken bullion cubes.
Cabbage Miso Soup Recipe for 2:
4 cups water
1/2 half savoy cabbage
2 tablespoons miso paste
1/2 teaspoon ground herring or chicken bullion
2 shredded carrots
soy sauce to taste
sriracha to taste for spice
Bring water to boil. Add miso and ground herring.
Rough chop cabbage and finely slice carrots.
Add cabbage and carrots. Cook for 15-20 minutes until cabbage is very tender.
I’ve been making my own salad dressings for several years. I can’t even remember the last time I bought dressing from the store, but I learned something new today about using an emulsifier to combine everything so the oil doesn’t separate from the other liquids. Most store bought dressings have some sort of weird emulsifier you can’t pronounce, but there are a few basic ones that are very accessible. Honey, miso, mustard, maple syrup, and mayonnaise are the most common.
Try some of these ingredients and make your own dressing. Just remember to use the olive oil to liquid ratio concept. I prefer one part olive oil to one part other liquid. Some people prefer two or three parts oil to one part liquid. Try some ratios and see what you prefer. Just remember to use high quality cold pressed olive oil. Trader Joe’s has a California Extra Virgin cold pressed oil I like right now.
Here is a simple Asian sesame dressing recipe to be used with any greens. I finely sliced cabbage and zucchini with a mandolin on its finest setting. If you don’t have a mandolin, check out my post on mandolins.
Recipe for about 4-6 servings:
4 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon soy sauce
thumb size piece of ginger finely grated
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (a few drops goes a long way)
Add all ingredients to small mason jar and shake it like a Polaroid picture.
Add to any greens. Add some toasted sesame seeds. (For ultimate flavor, buy raw sesame seeds and toast them in a pan on low right before)
My dad’s kale garden was growing like crazy, so he cut me about 5 pounds of prime kale. I juiced a ton of it, but I thought I’d try making kale chips. I used kale and tree collards, and I liked the texture of the collards better. These are super easy to make, and don’t worry because you don’t need a dehydrator. A dehydrator is be optimal way to preserve the nutrient value because you can set it at under 120 degrees. The hotter you bake them, the more enzymes are killed. If you do it in your oven, just turn it to the lowest temp and bake for a few hours. My oven only goes down to 170.
One important thing to note is that these chips are extremely crispy when they come out of the oven, but if you let them sit out they will absorb moisture and go soft quick. Put them in a mason jar and seal them tight to keep them super crispy.
I’ve been obsessed with sriracha chili sauce, so I thought I’d create a recipe using it as a primary flavor. I added a little of soy sauce and grated ginger to balance it out.
I tried some plain and soaked them in salt water. They were good, but I preferred the flavored ones.
1 lb fresh kale or collards
4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sriracha chili sauce
thumb size grated ginger
break kale into bit size pieces
add soy sauce, sriracha, and ginger
scrunch the kale together hard so they kale starts to break down and soften. This will force the flavor in. Let sit for a half hour.
Dehydrate at a temp less than 120 degrees for 3-4 hours or bake in oven on a cookie sheet at the lowest temperature possible for around 2 hours. Just bake them until they are brittle and crispy.