Monday, February 20, 2012

Veal Chops and Purple Potatoes

If you are ever looking for a rich, impressive meal that's a little off the normal menu, you should pick up some veal chops and purple potatoes. Veal is a very tender beef, that, while a controversial subject in the animal rights circles, is always delicious. The most common cuts of veal are thin cutlets used in scallopine or parmesan, but the cut I enjoy most is a thick veal chop. A veal chop lies somewhere between a pork chop and a steak on the flavor and tenderness scale. It's also a very lean meat, so it's healthier than having a heavy steak. When cooked well, the veal has a softer taste than a rich steak, and is much more tender and juicy than most pork chops. For this dish, I paired 2 thick cut veal chops with a red wine braised mushroom and celery sauce and some mashed purple potatoes. Purple potatoes are a beautiful heirloom variety of potato that is much healthier than normal white fleshed potatoes because of their high level of antioxidants. They are also visually striking and make for a very unexpected side to a dish.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tilapia Bahn Mi

Most people think of a sandwich as an American staple. Whether a classic ham and cheese or tuna melt, or something more involved like a meatball sub or Italian hoagie (sub, hoagie, grinder, sandwich, whatever else you want to call it) the sandwich is considered standard American fare. Where this concept of patriotic sandwichism is thrown on it's head is on the menus of Vietnamese restaurants. One of my favorite dishes in Vietnamese cooking is the Bahn Mi (which comes at a close second to Pho soup, but I'll cover that at another time). A bahn mi sandwich is traditionally made with ground pork and pate and an assortment of vegetables such as cucumber, carrots, jalapenos, cilantro, and radish served on a warm, crispy french baguette. I've seen variations on the sandwich that have beef, chicken, fish, or tofu, but the flavors are usually in the same family with spicy chili sauce and peppers, crisp veggies, and salty meat. For dinner recently, I wanted to make my own simple, healthy take on the bahn mi, so I bought some fresh tilapia along with the standard bahn mi vegetables.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lend Me Your Ears... With Some Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

I always say that broccoli rabe is a very controversial vegetable. Many people don't like the bitterness of rabe and people are often scared away from cooking it because they don't know how to get the right flavor from it. The key to perfecting broccoli rabe, I learned from my girlfriend, is a little bit of sugar. For whatever reason, sugar creates the perfect sweet balance to the bitter green and makes it a lot friendlier and less intimidating. Other elements that will remove bitterness are sausage and ricotta. A classic Italian dish is orecchiette with sausage, broccoli, rabe, and ricotta. Orecchiette literally means small ear as it is a pasta that resembles the shape of an ear. What is nice about using this type of pasta in this dish is that the orecchiette act as little bowls that hold the ricotta and sausage, making each bite complete and full of all flavors of the dish. The result is a creamy, salty, rich dish that is surprisingly easy to make. The version I made was beautiful and satisfying with a nice balance of sweet and salt with a bit of spice and creaminess to top it off.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Spicy Quick Pickles

I am a huge fan of pickled goods. Whether green beans or beets, okra or cauliflower, I love the briny bite and sweet and salty mixture. The king of all pickles is of course the cucumber. The perfect sandwich accompaniment or topping. A nice briny flavor to cut into the saltiness of chips and the flavors in any type of sandwich (other than maybe a PB&J). I've made pickles a couple times before, but I was preparing some sides for a pulled pork sandwich, and I wanted to make a quick cucumber pickle with some spice as a side/topping for the pulled pork. The difference between a quick pickle and a fermented pickle is the canning and resting process. For a quick pickle, you make the brine, pour the hot brine over the cukes and then let them sit for a couple hours. Voila! Pickle! For a fermented pickle, you make the brine, let it cool, pour it over the cukes in a jar and seal it. The pickles then rest for 4 to 6 weeks until they've fermented. These take a lot more time and work. For more info on pickling, check out this site. The pickles I made were spicy and delicious. I did a classic pickle brine and added a habanero pepper for some heat. They had a great balance of vinegar sugar and salt, and the habanero made them stand out when eaten with the pulled pork. This recipe is very easy, and very successful, so if you want to dive into the pickle game, I would start here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pork and Potatoes Meet at the Apple

For the main course of my recent dinner party (for the appetizer click here) I made a dish that would confuse a nice Jewish boy. I took two of my favorite dishes, pork loin and potato latkes and brought them together on one glorious plate. The irony of the dish is that both pork and potato pancakes are perfect for each other. The standard accompaniment for both pork and latkes is apple sauce, so what I did was bring the potatoes and pork together with a layer of homemade apple sauce. To top the pork, I made some caramelized onions and for some flavor and color, I made some sauteed green beans. The meal was spectacular. The pork was extremely moist, and the flavors in the apple sauce blended perfectly between the pork and potatoes. The green beans provided a bright visual and gustatory break in the meal against the rich, warm flavors of the pork and potatoes. This would be a perfect meal for a romantic, home cooked Valentine's day dinner.

Creamy Tomato Soup

I remember when I was at sleep away camp, way back in the day, and when the lunch bugle sounded (yes, we had bugle calls for wake up, meals, activities, and taps for bedtime) we would all go running, hoping it was grilled cheese and tomato soup day. The soup we ate was probably Campbell's tomato soup or something like it, but it was delicious and we loved it every time it was on the menu. For a dinner party recently, I wanted to concoct a refined version of tomato soup for the starter course. I went with a roasted tomato and garlic soup with parmesan croutons. I wanted the soup to be creamy and rich, and the croutons to bring back the memories of the classic grilled cheese accompaniment, an elegant take on a lunchtime classic.