January 31, 2011

Orange-Chipotle Pork Chops

If you've been reading our blog for awhile, you know that I like to combine pork with a fruit sauce or glaze.  You have also probably noticed that I like spicy things.   I decided to combine those two likings in a new recipe, and after considering options, I decided to base a sauce around orange and chipotle, and in order to make the sauce reasonably thick, I decided to start out with orange marmalade.

Once that decision was made, the rest was pretty easy.  Smoky chipotle and adobo are great in southwestern cooking, so I decided to add a few other southwestern touches to the meal by sprinkling the chops with a bit of cumin and oregano (along with salt and pepper) before cooking them, and to incorporate a bit of fresh cilantro in with the chipotle and orange marmalade.

The result was quite good:  thin pork chops quick-cooked and lightly coated with a sweet, spicy, slightly smoky sauce.  In addition to being tasty, this is a really quick dish - it took well under 30 minutes to prepare the chops.  

I served them up with Tex-Mex Rice, using a recipe from the September 2010 issue of Cook's Country.  I'd made it before and we'd both liked it, and it was good again this time, and a nice companion to the chops. It would work just as well as a side dish with any number of southwestern and Mexican dishes. 

The rice took a bit more time to prepare and make, but not a lot.... in just over an hour, total, we had a delicious and satisfying dinner on the table.

Orange-Chipotle Pork Chops

yield = 3 servings

1/4       cup orange marmalade
1          tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1          tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2    teaspoon minced chipotle chili + 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
6          thin center-cut pork loin chops
3/4       teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/2       teaspoon ground cumin
1/2       teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1.2       teaspoon table salt
1/4       cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

Combine marmalade, chipotle and adobo sauce and cilantro in a small bowl.  Mix and set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Season both sides of the pork chops with pepper, cumin, oregano and salt.  Cook the chops in batches, two minutes per side or until golden brown.  Transfer cooked chops to a plate.

Add marmalade mixture to the pan, cook 30 seconds, then stir in the chicken stock or broth.   Cook about 3 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture thickens and reduces slightly.

Return the chops to the skillet and cook 1 minute, turning once.   Arrange the chops on a serving platter, spoon glaze over the chops and serve.

When I cooked this up, I used a full tablespoon of minced chipotle.   This was pretty spicy, more than Juli liked, so the recipe above reflects me reducing the amount of this ingredient.  If you like your food spicy, go with a full tablespoon of the chipotle.

January 30, 2011

St. Louis Pizza: Second Try, Still Not a Winner

Awhile back I reported on my having tried the St. Louis-Style Thin Crust Pizza recipe from an issue of Cook's Country.  As I stated on that occasion, I wasn't particularly impressed with the results.   I noticed, however, that the same recipe ended up being reprinted in The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2011.  Usually the recipes that end up in ATK's year-end collection are pretty good, so seeing that one there got me wondering if I'd missed something the first time around.   So, with that in mind, I tried it again last week.

As was the case the first time I tried this recipe, I was not particularly impressed with the results.   The crust was nice and crispy, but not particularly flavorful, while the sauce was both acidic and cloying.  Maybe I'd have liked the results better had I access to provel cheese, but I wasn't particularly fond of the suggested substitution (white American cheese and Monterey jack with a bit of liquid smoke). 

Although I used to go to St. Louis semi-regularly back during my grad school days, I don't recall ever eating pizza there.   My favorite restaurant in St. Louis was, by far, a Jamaican place, and I made sure to eat there whenever I was in town.  So, I can't speak to how accurately this particular recipe captures the essence of St. Louis pizza, but not having liked the results either time I've made the recipe, I can say with certainty I won't be making that one again.

Vegetable Curry with Cardamom-Yogurt Sauce

This is a curry I tossed together to go with the Lamb Vindaloo.  It's mostly a pretty basic vegetable curry, but the prominent cardamom flavor and a nice garnish of pistachio nuts (common to some regional Indian cuisines) and raisins give it some character of its own.   It was a pretty nice companion for the lamb dish, and along with some basmati rice and naan, it made for a pretty good meal, but it's also got enough oomph to stand on its own if you'd like a vegetarian main dish. 

It smelled so good one of the cats wanted some.

Well, okay, not really.  The cats didn't seem to care one way or another about anything I made during my most recent Indian feast.  But that picture was too good to not post... and the Vegetable Curry did smell wonderful.

Anyhow, this dish is easy to make, healthy and quite good.  Not a whole lot else to say about this one. 
Vegetable Curry with Cardamom-Yogurt Sauce

yield = serves 8

1         tablespoon vegetable oil
2         pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
           (1-inch pieces)
2         teaspoons garlic
2         teaspoons Madras curry powder
1         teaspoon mustard seed
1         teaspoon cumin seed
1         teaspoon ground coriander
1/2      teaspoon table salt
1/2      teaspoon turmeric powder
1/8      teaspoon cayenne pepper
1         can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, drained
1 1/2   cups water
1         pound cauliflower florets
1/2      cup yogurt
1         teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2      cup roasted pistachio nuts
1/3      cup golden raisins
1         tablespoon chopped cilantro
           (for garnish, if desired)

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.   When the oil is shimmering, add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes. 

Add garlic, curry powder, mustard seed, cumin seed, coriander, salt, turmeric and cayenne and cook for one minute. 

Stir in garbanzo beans and cook 2 minutes, then stir in the water and add cauliflower florets.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 30 minutes. 

Stir in yogurt and cook to heat through, then remove from heat.  Stir in cardamom powder, transfer to serving dish and top with pistachios, raisins and cilantro (if desired).  Serve with basmati rice.

January 29, 2011

Lamb Vindaloo

Vindaloo is among the more popular Indian curries, both within India and in other nations where Indian cuisine is popular.   Interestingly, its origins aren't originally Indian.  The Indian coastal region of Goa was strongly influenced by Portuguese traders, and the early versions of vindaloo developed by Goan cooks were closely based on traditional Portuguese dishes.  Over time, an ingredient common to the Portuguese dishes - red wine - was replaced by vinegar, which became one of the defining traits of vindaloo. 

In the west, vindaloo has a reputation for being quite spicy.   That isn't universal - some traditional Indian versions of vindaloo are quite mild - but it is pretty common, as most vindaloos incorporate Indian hot red chili peppers.  Interestingly, western versions of vindaloo usually include potatoes, but even though "aloo" is the Hindi word for "potato," traditional Goan vindaloo do not include potatoes.  The word vindaloo is derived from Portuguese, not Hindi.  That said, potatoes are commonly included in similar dishes from other areas of India.

I recently put together an original Lamb Vindaloo recipe.   It incorporates elements from a variety of traditional and modern vindaloo recipes, mostly ones with a strong Goan influence.  I tried out the recipe last weekend and was pleased with the results.  After a lengthy marinade, then frying before finally simmering in spices and broth for a time, the lamb is fall-apart tender and the gravy thick and flavorful.  The dish has a bit of bite to it, but is less spicy than a lot of Western vindaloos, such that the flavor of the lamb doesn't get buried beneath heat and spices. 

I'm pretty happy with how this recipe turned out, and Juli liked it, too.  I may experiment with it further - I might even play around with a more western version and include potatoes next time - but I think it's pretty good as is.   Hopefully some of our readers will give it a try and let us know what they think.

Lamb Vindaloo

yield = 6 servings

2              pounds lamb, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2           cup rice vinegar
1              tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1              tablespoon minced garlic
2              serrano chilis, seeded and minced
2              teaspoons chili powder
1              teaspoon black pepper
1/2           teaspoon powdered turmeric
2              tablespoons vegetable oil
1              large yellow onion, chopped fine
2              tablespoons tomato paste
1              tablespoon sweet paprika
1              teaspoon mustard seed
1              teaspoon ground cumin
1/2           teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2           teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2           teaspoon table salt
1/4           teaspoon cayenne pepper
2              bay leaves
1 1/2        cups chicken broth
1/4           cup water

In a zipper-lock bag, mix the lamb, vinegar, ginger, garlic, chilis, chili powder, black pepper and turmeric.  Shake to thoroughly mix, then refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add half of the lamb mixture to the Dutch oven and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is browned.  Transfer the browned lamb to a bowl and repeat with the remainder of the lamb mixture.  

After all the lamb is browned and removed from the Dutch oven, add a bit more oil if needed, then add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, for about 6 minutes or until they just start to brown.  Add the tomato paste, paprika, mustard seed, ground cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, salt and cayenne.  Cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute, then add the lamb back to the Dutch oven.  Stir to mix, then stir in the bay leaves, chicken broth and water.   Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover partway.  Simmer for 1 hour, then serve. 

If you'd like a spicier version of the dish, omit the serrano chilis, chili powder and cayenne and instead grind up 10 dried hot red peppers using a spice grinder or mortal and pestle.  Add the ground chilis after frying the onions, then roughly chop a couple more dried chilis and add them to the mix along with the bay leaves.  Kashmir chilis would be ideal if you can find some, but if not, any sort of hot dried Asian red pepper will do the trick.  You'll want to use Asian peppers, though.   Use of Mexican peppers, such as chipotle or ancho, will leave the dish tasting like a Mexican or southwestern stew, not a curry (not a bad thing, mind you, but not what I'm going for here).
     If you want something more closely approximating the versions of Vindaloo typically served in Indian restaurants in the US, peel and dice some potatoes, pat them dry, add another tablespoon of oil to the pot after removing the lamb from the Dutch oven and fry the potatoes along with the onions.  This may cause the onions to take a little more time to brown, but be caerful they do not burn.

January 28, 2011

Apple Fritters

For breakfast last Saturday, I made another recipe from the current issue of Cook's Country.  The recipe, for Apple Fritters, was pretty straight-forward, but it did include a couple of nice touches.  Probably the most notable one was the recipe's use of apple cider as a way of boosting the apple flavor, rather than simply relying on chunks of apple.   The batter includes 3/4 cup of cider - the only liquid in the batter, save for two eggs - and the glaze adds an additional quarter-cup.  A cup of cider + two Granny Smith apples spread among ten fritters... that's a lot of apple, and it makes for darn good apple fritters. 

The fritters didn't take much time or effort to make.  The majority of the prep time goes into coring, peeling and chopping a couple apples.   For minimal effort, you get fritters that are really tasty and have great texture:  Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. 

Easy and quick to make, tasty, full of apple flavor.  There's really not a lot else to say about them.  They're good.  Trust me on this one.

January 27, 2011

Jeffrey's First Cake (Plus Another First)

This past weekend I did something I've never done before:  I made a cake from scratch.   As far as I can remember, I'd never even made a cake from a mix (though I have made brownies from mixes), but recently I found a cake recipe that was accompanied by photos that looked so delicious, I just plain had to make it.  In addition, this cake is the first thing I've made from a particular recipe source.

The source in question is Cuisine at Home magazine.  We were recently sent a complimentary issue of the magazine as part of a subscription promotion.  Before then, we'd picked up one issue of the magazine (October 2010), and honestly hadn't been very impressed.  It was a very nice-looking magazine with some nice food photography, but most of the recipes were pretty ordinary and there wasn't a lot in the way of information or techniques I could use to become a better cook.  All in all, I didn't see nearly enough in that issue to make me want to follow the magazine.  As such, I wasn't expecting much when we received the free promotional issue, so I was really pleasantly surprised when I got around to reading it. 

The promotional issue is packed with good stuff, including an article on crusting chicken (complete with a couple different recipes) and a "how-to" article featuring a basic version and a couple interesting variants on creme brulee.  Across a total of 52 pages, this issue has more than a dozen recipes (plus a few variant options) that I will likely be using at some point in time, plus the one I decided to try out.

The recipe in question was for Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake, billed as being "the kind of cake grandma used to make" and including an icing recipe.  The recipe is presented in a very straight-forward manner, which is typical of the recipes in this issue.  There are a few cooking tips and some brief discussions of technique, but the vast majority of the issue is recipes illustrated with great color photographs.   There's not much in the way of food science, and nothing about how a given recipe was developed.   The basic model is more or less 180 degrees from the Cook's Illustrated model, and as much as I love CI, I find Cuisine at Home's format has its own appeal, and is effective in its own way. 

The cake recipe was easy to follow.  The only challenging part was stuff not even covered in the recipe itself:  The process of icing the cake.   Like I said above, I'd never made a cake before, so naturally I didn't really have a clue how to ice one.  Juli had done it before, though, so she was able to give me some pointers, and it worked out fine.

The cake itself turned out really, really excellent...a moist cake with rich chocolate flavor and smooth, tasty icing.  Juli and I had a couple slices, but we weren't up to trying to finish off a whole cake ourselves (and didn't really need that many calories in any case), so I brought it to work to share with my colleagues.   The cake was a huge hit, and I don't mind saying the compliments I got on it were pretty gratifying.   Juli suggested maybe I might want to do a weekly cake, and I have to admit the idea is an attractive one... though I might alternate with pies or cookies or whatever.  But having done my first cake, I'm definitely up for doing more.  Maybe I'll make a German Chocolate Cake next. 

As to Cuisine at Home... well, the complimentary issue was really good, and the promotional offer was a good bargain, so I decided to subscribe.  I don't expect the regular issues of the magazine to be quite as wonderful as the promotional issue - I'm assuming it features some of the best of what Cuisine at Home has to offer - but I figured they'd have enough to make it worth the cost.  Besides, there's more than enough good in the promo issue to keep me busy for a bit. 

The other thing I noticed after reading the issue was that Cuisine at Home was centered in Des Moines, Iowa.  That makes me wonder... do they allow guests in their test kitchen?

January 26, 2011

Chili Shrimp with Broccoli

As I recently noted in a post about a work-in-progress new recipe, sometimes I hit a foul - or just plain strike out - when I try out a new recipe.   On the other hand, sometimes I hit it out of the park with the bases loaded.   This post is about one of those times.

I like to make new recipes.  Sometimes they're just a variant or refinement of some other recipe.  Other times I combine elements from two or more other recipes, taking parts I like and putting them together into something new.  And yet other times the new recipe is something I came up with on my own, based on some idea, or reflecting my attempt to replicate something I've tried and liked for which I don't have a recipe.  Chili Shrimp with Broccoli is one of the "completely my own" recipes.   It is influenced by Chinese and Thai cuisine, but I put it together based simply on my experience with those styles - and some parts of each which I really like. 

The idea was simple:  I wanted a spicy-sweet stir-fry featuring shrimp and a vegetable, and I wanted it to include rice noodles, but I wanted something quite distinct from a Pad Thai.  With those goals in mind, I selected a vegetable - we're big broccoli fans, so that was easy - and chose some seasonings.  I also decided to steal a bit I'd seen somewhere in one of the various cookbooks and magazines we own, and start out by partially caramelizing a couple tablespoons of sugar and basing the sauce on that.  

That was pretty much it... with those decisions made, I just needed to add a few extra details to round out the dish. 

The result was everything I'd hoped for.   The caramelized sauce gives the recipe a sweet base, but it also packs potent (though not overwhelming) heat thanks to chili paste and Szechuan peppercorns.  The shrimp is one of the last things added, which helps keep it from overcooking, and steaming the broccoli before adding it to the dish makes things come together quickly and with a minimum of fuss.  Plus, adding the noodles to the dish itself lets you serve right from the skillet.   What's not to like about that?

Not much, really.   Try it out yourself.  I'm pretty sure you'll be pleased with the results. 

Chili Shrimp with Broccoli

yield = 4 servings

1             pound broccoli florets
6             green onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
6             ounces rice noodles
3             tablespoons sugar
2             tablespoons water
1             tablespoon fish sauce
2             teaspoons Asian (dark) sesame oil
2             teaspoons chili paste
2             teaspoons minced garlic
1             teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2          teaspoon salt
1/4          teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns
1             pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1             tablespoon chopped cilantro

Steam the broccoli.  Transfer to a bowl, add the green parts of the green onions.  Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile, place the rice noodles in a bowl or dish.  Cover with hot water and microwave 3-5 minutes, until soft (amount of time will depend on the thickness of the noodles).  Drain and set aside.

Heat skillet to medium high.  Add sugar and water, stirring until the sugar dissolves, and cook until the mixture turns a dark-amber color; add a bit more water if the sugar starts to solidify before darkening deeply enough.   Stir in fish sauce, sesame oil, chili paste, garlic, vegetable oil, salt, Szechuan peppercorns and the white parts of the green onions.   Cook for about one minute, then stir in the shrimp.

Cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp has just turned opaque throughout (about 3 minutes), then stir in noodles, broccoli and cilantro.  When the sauce has thickened, remove from heat and serve.