Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Creamed Sweet Potato Grits with Veal

I love southern grits, and last night for dinner, I decided that the new Anson Mills Carolina grits that I had picked up the last time I was at the Brooklyn Kitchen would be a good complement to a veal dish that I was making. I decided to incorporate some sweet potato into the grits, and pretty much came up with the rest as I prepared the grits. The end result was a creamy accompaniment to the veal, with a bit of texture and sweetness from the sweet potatoes. I also used ancho chile powder and paprika to give the grits some flavor, and just a hint of smokiness. These grits make for a perfect side dish with almost anything, and they are not that difficult to make - similar to making risotto. If you choose to make this recipe, do not substitute instant grits! Anson Mills grits are the best grits out there - they are the one that all the fancy restaurants use. I suggest Carolina, but they make a variety of different types of grits with slightly different textures, so feel free to experiment. 

Sasha's Creamed Sweet Potato Grits
1-2 small sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and chopped
2 cups of water
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup heavy cream (or you can continue using milk, if you prefer)
1/2 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1 scallion, diced
pepper to taste

To prepare the grits, dice the sweet potato after peeling and saute in olive oil for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, add the salt and the water to the grits and bring to a boil, and continue to boil for about 5 minutes or so until the grits absorb a large amount of the water. Then add the milk, and continue cooking on medium heat (lower than a boil) until the milk reduces. Then add the cream, and continue doing the same. Towards the end of the process, add in the sweet potato and the scallions, about 10 minutes before the cooking is done. I wasn't initially sure how long it was going to take me to cook the grits to the right consistency, since I had not looked that up online prior to starting. My husband mentioned that according to the movie My Cousin Vinny, it takes 20 minutes to make grits, and these are "regular" creamy grits, as "no self-respecting southerner would make instant grits. " At any rate, it probably took me in the range of 20-25 minutes, and they were terrific. 

I served the grits with a veal prepared piccata style - with lemon and white wine.

Veal with Lemon and White Wine1/2 cup flour
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
6 veal scallops (about 1 lb)
1 1/2 T canola oil
1 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup low sodium chicken stock
2 cloves garlic (diced)
3 T of lemon juice

Combine the flour, 1 1/2 tsp of salt and the pepper in a bowl.  Quickly dredge the veal scallops in the seasoned flour mixture, shaking to remove any excess flour.

Heat the pan and add 1 1/2 T of the butter to the skillet.  Sear the veal until golden brown on all sides, about 45 seconds to 1 minute on each side. Set aside.

Add the wine to the pan and bring to a boil.  When the wine has reduced by half, add the chicken stock, diced garlic and lemon juice.  Cook for 3-5 minutes before returning the veal to the pan. The flour from the veal will thicken the sauce.  Cook as desired for another minute or two until the veal is done. Serve the veal with the grits, a bit of sliced roasted red pepper and a bit of lemon.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Oxtail Bourguignon

I love boeuf bourguignon. It is one of my favorite French dishes, and we had the best boeuf bourguignon when we were in Paris on vacation in August. I have made the dish before, but this time I decided to try a variation of the Bon Appetit recipe for oxtail bourguignon. I made a bunch of minor changes, the most significant that I substituted organic turkey bacon for regular bacon, because, being Jewish, well, that's how I roll (or, is it don't roll, as per the Big Lebowski?) Anyhow, if I was to use regular bacon for this recipe, you are supposed to use only the fat. However, turkey bacon is much healthier and does not use load's of far, so instead I used canola oil, and added the turkey bacon in as part of the dish. Oxtail is a great meat to cool with in a stew of this nature, and it is a nice, inexpensive cut of meat. I bought mine from Fresh Direct.

Oxtail Bourguignon (derived from this recipe)
8 slices of organic turkey bacon
olive oil or canola oil
3 large fresh parsley sprigs
2 large bay leaves
3 large fresh thyme sprigs
1 T plus 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 T butter
1/4 tsp nutmeg
4 lbs meaty oxtail pieces, trimmed of excess fat
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups of baby carrots
4 large cloves garlic, peeled; 1 minced and 3 left whole
1 3/4 cups beef broth
1 1/2 cups red burgundy wine (I used an inexpensive Pinot Noir)
1 lb baby bella mushrooms, cut into 1/4 inch slices
6 small shallots, peeled and diced

Cool the turkey bacon until brown and crisp. Transfer to plate, and add some canola or olive oil to the dutch oven. Place parsley, thyme and bay leaves in a sachet. Meanwhile, combine the melted butter and tablespoon of flour into a paste and set aside. This will be used later to thicken.

Combine the 1 1/2 cups of flour wtih the sat, 1/2 tsp of pepper and nutmeg and toss the oxtails in it to coat. Working in batches, sear the oxtail in canola oil until brown on all sides, about six minutes in total for each batch.

Add the chopped onions, carrots and minced garlic to the pot and saute for about 6 minutes until the onions are soft. Return the oxtails to the pot and add the bouquet, broth and wine. At this point, I also returned the turkey bacon to the pot, since I wanted it to be part of the dish (just too good to waste!). Bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer in the Dutch Oven until the meat is almost tender. This took about two and a half hours for me. At this point, mix in the mushrooms, shallots (I preferred mine diced rather than blanched), carrot chunks and whole garlic cloves. The return to a boil and then simmer for about 30-45 minutes.  Skim off any excess fat, and stir the flour paste into the stew. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally for about 6 to 8 minutes. Season wtih salt and pepper and serve.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Homemade Sour Honey-Infused Pickles

This was my second attempt at pickle making. My first resulted in some quite good half sour pickles, although I have quite a bit to still learn about the chemistry of pickle making. Thus the result of these turned out to be a bit more on the sour side than I initially planned, but they were still quite good. Changing the balance of vinegar and water could give a bit of a more half-sour variant next time. The honey infusion with the sour pickle taste was quite lovely, and this is a great treat to make with organic local honey and farmers market cucumbers during the summer. A bit of tumeric gives a lovely bright yellow-green color. But beware of getting tumeric or pickle juice on your counter top, as it stains! This is loosely based on a recipe I found in Andrea Chesman's book on pickling.

Sasha's Homemade Sour Honey Infused Pickles
1 gallon (or full large stockpot)  plus 1 cup of water
1/3 cup Kosher salt
6 large ripe cucumbers, cut into spears (each cucumber should make 8 spears)
2 medium sized onions, sliced
3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup of honey
2/3 cup of high quality maple syrup
1 1/2 T mustard seeds, whole
1 tsp tumeric
2 tsp celery seeds
3 sprigs of thyme

Combine the gallon of cold water and the salt and soak the cucumbers and onions in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, drain away the water. Combine the remaining cup of water with the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Then, remove from the heat, and add the cucumbers and onions. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 10-15 minutes, before canning in sterile jars.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Best Apple Pie - A Stepwise Primer

I've been making pies, from apple to blueberry for some time, and really good pies at that. But I knew they could be better and crispier, so I took a pie tutorial class to work on my pie crust technique last weekend at The Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg. The class was really helpful. Although my pies had always been good, the crusts were too thick and oftentimes not as crispy as the perfect pie would be. This didn't actually require changing the ingredients but changing the way that I work and prepare the crust. I had been making the dough in my mixer, which is fine, I suppose. But a pie crust, as I learned, is much better when worked by hand. The better crust, the more rustic crust, should be worked as little as possible. Thus, it is not necessary to beat in every chunk of butter using an artisan mixer. The crust will be better, and crisper, if there are chunks of the butter in the dough, as the dough needs to be combined just enough so that it will hold together when you roll it out. I was really pleased with the apple pie that I made using the refined techniques in the class. I plan to make another one very soon with the first fruits of spring in a couple weeks - for a strawberry rhubarb pie!

Pie Crust Formula (works for any fruit pie)
2 1/4 cups AP flour
hefty pinch of granulated kosher salt
pinch of sugar
1 cup (two sticks) of cold butter
1/4 cup ice water (can adjust slightly as needed)

It is very important that the butter be cold. You can use any cold fat source (butter, shortening or lard) but it must be cold. I've always used butter and when worked properly, it makes for a fabulous crispy crust in my opinion, so read on.

Cut the cold butter into cubes and scatter in the dry mixture. Gently incorporate the butter partially into the flour using your hands, snapping the butter cubes between the thumb and middle finger. Splash the ice water into the mixture. Do not put the water all in one place, but scattered throughout. Add more water if needed (a tablespoon or two) until the dough can just hold together when you squeeze it. Lumps of butter are not a problem here, but a blessing. Remember, you want to work the dough with your hands as little as possible, or so I learned. In the past, I had been overworking the dough.

Form two balls (one for the top lattice and one for the bottom). Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for exactly 20 minutes for the fat (the butter) to firm up.

To roll out the dough, you will need a well floured surface. Roll with a rolling pin to 1/8 of an inch thick. I had not been rolling thin enough. Another important trick: if you have had problems with the dough sticking even with plenty of flour, be sure to rotate the dough. You should do one or two rolls only, then turn a quarter of a turn with each roll or two.  If you are constantly turning as you roll, this will ensure that you can roll it to the desired 1/4 inch thickness. You will want to have a large circle (or as close to a circle as possible) that extends well beyond the borders of the pie dish. Use the pie dish to eyeball the size.

Use a pyrex glass pie plate. The Brooklyn Kitchen supplied those and I recommend this over ceramic ones like I previously used. It distributes the heat more evenly and doesn't require any Pam. Gently fold the dough circle in half and lift into the pie plate, then unfolding. Press into the glass pie dish, and trim the edges with a pair of pastry scissors. I had not been trimming before, which is fine (it's all about aesthetics), but this made the pie look so much more professional. Leave about an inch at the edges, and pinch upwards to form the rim of the pie (another trick I leaned how to do that the class).

For the fruit portion - you can use this to make any fruit pie, depending on what is in season. The key is that you always want to have about four cups of fruit, and resist the tendency to heap the fruit. The fruit should be about 1/4 inch lower than the pie pan. This is another thing I may have been over-doing in the past. This will ensure the fruit and pie crust cook at the same rates.

A basic fruit filling works best for me. It should basically consist of the fruit, some lemon, any spices you plan to use, and some sugar, being sure not to overdo the sugar. You want to showcase the fruit, remember, you are not making candy. That's my criticism of the Bill Yosses (White House pastry chef) apple pie (and the rare harsh criticism you will hear from me of the Obama administration). It just uses way, way too much sugar in the crust and in the filling. You just don't need it. Trust me.

Apple Filling (from Joy of Cooking)
2 1/2 lbs of apples (5-6 total) - I prefer macintosh or gala
3/4 cups of sugar
2-3 T AP flour
1 T lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (I may prefer closer to 1 tsp, to be honest and 1/4 tsp of nutmeg)
1/4 tsp Kosher salt

Prepare the filling and fill the pie with about 4 cups of the filling. You may have a bit leftover and as I leaned in the class, resist the temptation to put in ever last drop heaved over the top of the pie.

For the top of the pie, roll out the second ball of dough the same way as the first, expect into more of a rectangle. To create the lattice cut into 8 or nine long strips. Place four or five strips along the top of the pie, and weave in (lifting up either evens or odds accordingly to do so) the other strips going the other way. I like to do a 4 X 5, personally, but its up to you.

Glaze the top of the pie. You can use various combinations of eggs, egg yolks, cream and milk to achieve the desired color. I usually do a plain egg gloss. Brush on gently with a pastry brush. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

Before this point you should have the oven preheated (sorry I forgot to mention earlier) to 425. Cover the pie with a piece of foil (loosely) which will keep the top from burning. Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 and cook for another 30-45 minutes. The amount of time will depend on how hot your oven runs. Mine runs reasonably hot, so it took me 35 minutes. The pie is done when the apple is tender when poked through with a knife. Don't overdo it, as you are not trying to make applesauce. I removed the foil about 15 minutes before the pie was done to get the color on top of the pie that I desired. Allow to cool, and serve.

Needless to say, this tasted amazing and might just be my best apple pie yet!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Root Beer Float Cupcakes

I love root beer, from Saranac to Virgils to plain classic A&W. So when I saw that had bottles of root beer extract for sale at The Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg a couple weeks ago, I knew that root beer cupcakes would be my next cupcake.  I figured I could make a rootbeer flavored cupcake, combine with a bit of chocolate (in the form of chocolate chips) and decorate it like a sundae or a float - with some root beer flavored frosting, whipped cream, little straws, and a cherry on top - kind of a cross between a float and a sundae, I suppose. Just a note - whipped cream will break down in a couple hours, so I don't recommend adding the whipped cream, cherry and straw until you are ready to serve the cupcakes. I was really happy with how these came out - I think they are pretty darn cute. The chocolate chips with the root beer cupcakes worked out well. Without them, it might have a bit too much rootbeer so this gives them some texture and varies the flavors a bit in a nice, complementary way.

Sasha's Root Beer Float Cupcakes
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp root beer extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup of milk
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips with a tsp of flour to coat

Sasha's Root Beer Buttercream
1 1/2 sticks of butter
1 small box (about four cups) of confectioner's sugar
1 T milk
1 tsp root beer extract

For Decorating
Jar of maraschino cocktail cherries
whipped cream
long striped straws, cut into small pieces

To make the cupcakes, beat the butter with the sugar in the basin of your stand mixer until well blended and slightly lightened in color, about three minutes. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract and root beer extract. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and alternate adding the milk and the dry ingredients. Beat until combined. Toss the chocolate chips with a teaspoon of flour (this keeps them suspended, rather than sinking to the bottom of the cupcakes) and stir them into the mixture with a spoon. Fill cupcake liners in a silicon cupcake tray about 3/4 full. 

Bake at 350, in a preheated oven. This should take about 30-35 minutes, but it will vary with your oven. You know they are done when a toothpick comes out clean, which is before they will start to brown.

Tp make the frosting, beat the butter and confectioner's sugary until whipped and creamy, on the highest speed of the mixer, for about 3-5 minutes. Beat in the root beer extract, which will give the frosting a light root beer flavor, as well as a lovely ivory color. If the color is not ivory enough for you, you can add some Ivory colored gel food color (Americolor carries one, which I used a drop of).

Frost the cupcakes using a frosting bag. When you are ready to serve them, top with the whipped cream, cherry and slide in a bit of the straw, after trimming with scissors. Happy Sunday!

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