Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Ah strawberries - my absolute favorite thing about spring. As a kid, there was nothing I loved more about spring than strawberry picking with my mom.  Right now, I have plans for two types of strawberry souffles (frozen and regular), and plenty of other uses for these fabulous sweet spring berries. This time of year, just about everything goes better with strawberries. Click here for my strawberry rhubarb pie. Panna cotta is an easy dessert that is wonderful with a multitude of berries. I decided to make some plain vanilla panna cottas and serve them with local fresh strawberries, and the dessert was perfect. Some might prefer to soak the strawberries, say in sugar or amaretto, but I prefer to just use the natural essence of the berries and keep the sugar down a bit, thus I simply sliced them up and served them with the panna cotta.

Sasha's Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberries (makes 4)
1 pint of fresh, local strawberries
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 small packets of instant gelatin
2 cups of organic heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup cold water

Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan. Simmer ver low heat for about five minutes to dissolve the sugar. Set aside to cool for a few minutes. In a separate bowl, mix the gelatin and the cold water. Then add the hot water until all of the granules of gelatin are dissolved. Mix the gelatin-water mixture into the cream, and divide among four ramekins. Refrigerate for about eight hours.

To serve, cut around the edge of the ramekin with a knife and carefully remove from a ramekin. This takes a bit of extra work to get it out without destroying it in the process. Serve with fresh, local strawberries.

From Amasea's Kitchen in Sun Valley: An early experiment with a deep fryer

So last week we bought a deep fryer.

I'd been wanting one for quite a while -- it was even on our wedding registry, but we didn't receive one -- and so I decided to use a gift certificate to buy (it helped that it was on sale). I felt very modern looking up its Amazon reviews on my iPhone right there in the store (don't judge me, I've only had the smartphone since March, and am only just starting to appreciate its useful functions aside from tracking me at all times, which I've actually found to be quite useful in monitoring my new workout regimen).

So we bought a 1.1 liter Cuisinart deep fryer, which seemed like a good size for two of us. Last Saturday night I deep fried everything in the house that seemed appropriate, and a few things that didn't (Triscuits = NOT good deep fried). It's hard to stop once you start.

Some things turned out excellent, including the spicy pickles I canned last year that I am seriously looking forward to tempura battering and cooking in the awesomeness that is hot oil. I might even get some of those delicious refrigerated grocery dills, just so I can eat them deep fried. With whole-grain mustard. I would be tempted to say OMG if it weren't so teenage girl.

But tonight, I used Nasoya wonton and spring roll wrappers I bought this week with great aspirations. Tonight, I got pineapple, mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, ginger and bean sprouts, and added some ground pork, garlic and about half a dozen different underused Asian sauces, in various combinations. The pork, mushrooms, ginger and garlic (with soy sauce and Mongolian Fire oil) I sauteed in one pan, and the julienned carrots and cabbage with sesame seeds and sesame oil in another, so I could play with proportions.
I tried both wontons and spring rolls and only after about two batches realized I hadn't turned up the deep fryer to the right temperature. *sigh*
But the ones at the right temperature turned out AWESOME. Seriously, they were equally as good as anything I've had at a restaurant, and I'm not one to equal my skills to any professional chef's. Y'all need to try this.
Oh, I nearly forgot to mention -- the wrappers hold up best if you very lightly moisten them before adding filling; just a finger dipped in water and rubbed across the interior surface of the wrapper significantly increases their ability to hold up during wrapping and frying. And if you don't end up with holes in the wrapper, a lot less oil gets into your filling, which makes them easier to drain and not taste "oily."

The various fried bits, dipped in Thai Kitchen Sweet Red Chili Sauce (thank you, Costco!), totally filled us up, but I wasn't quite done yet. So I julienned a fresh strawberry and added a little bit of goat cheese and balsamic reduction, wrapped all that up in a wonton and did one final fry. I think it would have been significantly better with cream cheese, as the goat cheese was too grainy, but still, a perfect end to my first truly successful deep frying experience.

Anyone have any excellent deep frying experiences/recipes they want to share? I'm eager to do some fish & chips, panko-breaded stuff, etc!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Mango Chutney

Kebabs - perfect for the start of summer grilling season. I made these indoors on a grilling pan rather than on a regular grill, but it still worked out beautifully. I decided to make lamb kebabs this time, though of course there's a million and one ways to make kebabs. This time I decided to do pretty traditional kebabs, and used good quality lamb from Fresh Direct, which I prepared using a somewhat Indian styled yogurt based marinade. I served the kebabs with two kinds of chuntey - cilantro mint chutney and my favorite mango chutney recipe that I have been making since I was a kid. The mango chutney was fabulous with this dish, and hence I decided to share that recipe. Happy Grilling!

Sasha's Lamb Kebabs
2 cups of lowfat Greek yogurt
2 tsp coriander
2 tsp cumin
1/4  tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 to 1/2 lbs of lamb, cut up into chunks for kebabs

Mango Chutney (recipe loosely derived from this cookbook)
4 francine mangos (you can use 2 regular mangos if you prefer), skinned and cut into small pieces
2 gala apples, peeled and diced
3/4 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (you can use a whole pepper if you prefer to add more heat)
1 T minced fresh ginger
3 cloves of minced garlic
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cloves
pinch of Kosher salt
pinch of cayenne pepper

Mix the ingredients for the marinade with the yogurt.  Mix with the lamb and allow to chill for about an hour.

To make the chutney, combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. Simmer for about 25 minutes until the mixture has a jam-like quality. Allow the chutney to cool before serving.
All ready for the grill!

Using kebab skewers (I used wooden ones, but you could also use metal), prepare the kebabs by alternating the meat with onions and cherry tomatoes and grill away, rotating as you grill so everything cooks evenly.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Bucatini All'Amatriciana

Lupa is one of my favorite restaurants in New York. Babbo's twin sister, it has a more relaxed atmosphere and more reasonable prices, but its still classic Mario Batali.  My favorite thing to get when I go to Lupa (though they have the same dish at Babbo) is Mario's classic pasta dish bucatini all'amatriciana. I was able to score some bucatini, or hollow tubular pasta at Eataly a couple weeks ago, in preparation to make this dish using Mario's original recipe.  You really do need to use actual bucatini pasta to make this dish properly. Yes, you can use spaghetti, but it really takes away from the dish having the proper texture and feel, and maybe even taste. This time I did everything to the letter and I was thrilled with the results of this textbook bucatini all'amatriciana. Yes, I usually do not eat pig-derived products as a rule, but this is the one dish I make an exception for!

Mario Batali's Bucatini All'Amatriciana (adapted from this recipe)
3/4 pound guanciale
3 garlic cloves
1 red onion, halved and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes (I used closer to only 1 tsp)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups basic tomato sauce (see below; note I used more than Mario because I like a saucy pasta)
1 lb bucatini
1 bunch fresh leaf parsley
pecorino romano or parmesan for grating

Mario's basic tomato sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 spanish onion, chopped in a quarter inch dice
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 T chopped fresh thyme
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded
2 cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand, juices reserved
salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and onion and cook until golden brown. Add the thyme and carrot and cook five minutes more until the carrot has softened, before adding the tomato and juices. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes. Season with salt and serve. This makes 4 cups and technically you are only supposed to use two cups, but I used all of it and the dish was saucy and amazing.

Next, bring a large pot of about six quarts of water to boil with two teaspoons salt.  In a saute pan, cook the guanciale slices over medium heat until most of the fat has been rendered from the meat, rotating occasionally.  Remove the meat, and use the remaining fat to cook the onions, garlic and red pepper flakes. According to Mario you are supposed to discard some of the fat if you have too much but I didn't so I kept it all. Return the guanciale to the pan and cook for another five minutes until the onions look golden brown in color. Season with salt and pepper and add in the tomato sauce.

Cook the bucatini in the boiling water until al dente. Drain the pasta and add to the simmering sauce, while adding the parsley at the end. Then, turn to high heat, and toss to coat. Serve immediately with grated cheese.

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