Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bacon and Date Tart

 Success! This Puff Pastry Tart with bacon, dates, blue cheese, greens and a balsamic reduction made a delicious open-faced appetizer.

Cover the tart with it's own lid and presto! it's a sandwich ready for "ladies who lunch".

In early March I vowed to recreate a dish from our SW road trip, Cafe Bink's savory tart. (see here) It has taken weeks to follow through on that public declaration. So why the delay? The various components, taken one by one, seemed manageable. 
  • Create a balsamic reduction - check, did that. (see here)  
  • Bacon, cheese and greens - chilling in the refrigerator.
  • Sweet California medjool dates - stored in the pantry.
  • Puff pastry - no way, not going to happen! Have you ever read through a recipe for puff pastry? It is daunting. It takes so much butter, and effort, not to mention time and patience. 
Thoughts of this tart have darted around in my mind for weeks, nagging me to find the courage to tackle puff pastry. In the end, I gave up and bought a package of Trader Joe's frozen puff pastry sheets. I'll face my puff pastry fear some other day.

Below are the brief directions I used in my first attempt to capture those remembered flavors.
Bacon and Date Tart
inspired by a tart served at Cafe Bing, Cave Creek, AZ

1 sheet of puff pastry, rolled 1/8-inch thick, divided into 3 rectangles
3-4 thick slices cooked bacon (not maple-flavored), in 1/2-inch dice
8-10 soft medjool dates, chopped into small dice
a handful of blue cheese crumbles
a handful of arugula or other small greens
balsamic vinegar reduction with a bit of honey and rosemary added
  1. Bake the pastry pieces according to package directions. Cool on a wire rack.
  2. Slice each pastry in half horizontally, separating top from bottom (or leave whole for a thicker tart base)
  3. Distribute the bacon, dates and cheese over the pastry bottom (if you separated top and bottom). Use a squirt bottle or spoon to decoratively drizzle the balsamic reduction over all. Finish with a sprinkle of greens. 
  4. Cover with the pastry top (if you separated top and bottom). Slice into pieces and plate.
  • For this first attempt I used only 1 of the rectangles cut from the single sheet of puff pastry. I separated the top from bottom and cut each piece into thirds; then made 3 little sandwiches using a total of 1 1/4 slices of cooked bacon, 3 dates, about 3 tablespoons of cheese, and 6-9 pieces of lettuce.
  • Next time I will reduce the honey and balsamic reduction even further, to a thicker, more syrupy consistency. There should be ribbons of balsamic reduction running across the plate, not dots or puddles.

What happened to the remaining 2 rectangles of puff pastry? They made really fabulous black pepper cheese straws that disappeared quickly. 

I love puff pastry, when someone else makes the dough.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mexican Pork with Poblano Peppers

... it was a dark and stormy night. No, actually it was a damp and dismal day, the kind of day when only a fragrant kitchen would improve the afternoon. What is more appealing than the smell of roasting peppers? or more tantalizing than the sizzle of onions and garlic? You see where I'm heading with this, right? Southwest something! The refrigerator and freezer held a variety of protein choices, and any of them would have worked with chiles, onions and garlic. I think cardboard might even taste good with this sauce, but I chose pork. Mexican Pork with Poblano Peppers, yum.

In the midst of chopping, slicing and organizing my ingredients, I broke into giggles and turned to check the computer. Sure enough, last year around the same time I grumbled about March Madness (my own version, not the basketball tournament). The 2010 post was about chile verde, another tasty pork and poblano recipe. The two recipes showcase similar ingredients, but the preparations create different results. RL prefers this year's dish... a very diplomatic choice on his part. I'll share the recent recipe, this newly-declared favorite that's delicious, and quite a bit speedier to prepare. 

Mexican Pork with Poblano Chili
Based on Rick Bayless' Puerco a la Mexicana in Mexican Everyday
Serves 4

2 large fresh poblano chiles
1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 medium onion, in 1/4-inch slice or medium chunks
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 small jalapeno, minced (optional)
1 can diced tomatoes in juice, drained
1 can beef broth
1 teaspoon dried cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/2 cup frozen corn (I like Mexicorn with peppers and beans)

Optional accompaniments: fresh cilantro, avocado slices, shredded cheese, warm tortillas, salsa verde, etc.

  1. Place the peppers on a foil-covered sheet; roast about 4 inches below a preheated broiler element; turn regularly, until blistered and blackened on all sides. Remove peppers from the oven, cover with a kitchen towel and cool until you can handle them comfortably. While the peppers cool...
  2. Pat the meat dry using paper towels, then salt all over. Heat the oil in a large skilled over medium-high heat; add the meat cubes in a single layer; stir and cook until browned on all sides. Do NOT overcrowd the pan or you will stew the meat instead of browning it. Use a strainer or slotted spoon to remove the meat from the pan; set aside on a plate. (You want to leave as much oil/grease in the pan as possible.) Don't wipe out the pan, but set it aside.
  3. Rub the charred skin off the chiles; remove stems, seeds and veins. Cut the peppers into 1/4-inch strips, about 3-inches in length.
  4. Reheat the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion pieces; stir and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapenos and poblano strips; cook and stir briefly until fragrant. Then add the drained tomato bits, beef broth, and spices. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the meat and corn to the pan; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the pork is just cooked through (still pink in the middle). This will just take a few minutes - don't overcook the pork.
  6. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve in a bowl, with your choice of accompaniments.
 * I served the sauced pork in crispy, oven-baked tortilla shells. Oops! The bottoms grew soggy and they were not knife and fork friendly. Impractical, but they were cute and the filling was still delicious. Next time I will use bowls.
 * Chicken thighs are a good substitute for the pork, but chunks of breast meat might become too dry after the browning and simmering.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Deli-Style Rye Bread Recipe

We dined well on Thursday, St. Patrick's Day, but when the celebrating was over we were left with good memories and a lot of corned beef. Extra meat? not a problem, it was just an invitation to enjoy a corned beef sandwich... Oh yes! Reuben sandwiches, always a favorite.

The Reubens were my excuse to try a new recipe for rye bread from the Hertzberg cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I had been searching for a versatile rye bread recipe, something tangy but not too strongly flavored, tasty with or without caraway seeds, etc. This cookbook has sat on my bookshelf for a while and I've read through it with interest, but have not tried its recipes or technique yet. Friday would be bread experiment day.  

Hershberg's premise is that mixing a giant batch of dough and refrigerating it for days will produce great bread with a minimum of effort. The Deli-Style Rye recipe as written yields four 1-pound loaves, far too much for the first trial of any new recipe. Besides, my refrigerator was too full to store a 5-quart bowl of dough for a week or two. 

I settled on halving the recipe and baking on two days. On Friday, the first day of baking, I used half of the half-recipe for a small loaf and two smaller sandwich buns. Mmmmmmm, good! the bread had a nice texture, held together well during grilling and was a good match for the assertive flavors of a Reuben sandwich. An unusual cornstarch wash anchored extra caraway seeds on the crust and produced an attractive, glossy crust. Two thumbs up on the Reubens.

On Saturday I used the remaining half of the half-recipe to form one torpedo-shaped loaf. I may have undercooked the bread, it was a bit moist inside and had a less-pleasant flavor. I think the flavor change was due to underbaking, not related to refrigerating an extra day.I had really looked forward to eating a warm slice, slathered with salted butter or maybe a piece of soft cheese. It was edible, but nothing special. However, when toasted it was delicious.

This Deli-Style Rye recipe was a success, and we enjoyed the taste test. However the search still goes on for the best-ever rye recipe.

Deli-Style Rye
From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Hertzberg and Francois
Makes four 1-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (1.5 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds, plus more for sprinkling on the top
1 cup rye flour
5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Cornmeal for baking stone
Cornstarch wash for top (see below)

  1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast, salt and caraway seeds with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
  2. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon or a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook. If  mixing by hand, you may need to wet your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.
  3. Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
  4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 14 days.
  5. On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough lightly with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit size) piece. Dust the piece lightly with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Elongate the ball into an oval-shaped loaf. Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel for 40 minutes.
  6. Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 450 F, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place a clean, empty broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread.
  7. Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust with cornstarch wash and then sprinkle with additional caraway seeds. Slash with deep parallel cuts across the loaf, using a serrated bread knife.
  8. Slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm. Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in baking time.
  9. Move bread to a baking rack to cool before slicing or eating.

    Cornstarch Wash: Using a fork, blend 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch with a small amount of water to form a paste. Add 1/2 cup water and whisk with the fork. Microwave or boil until the mixture appears glassy, about 30 to 60 seconds on high. It will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks; discard if it has on off smell.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rye Crackers

...with lox, cream cheese, capers and dill for a St. Patrick's Day appetizer.

I'm not Irish. No, I'm not even close to Irish, not with my ancestry from Austria, Germany and Alsace-Lorraine. Nonetheless I do love to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with Irish music and food. On the 17th our house will ring with old songs from the Chieftains, Irish Rovers, Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, with a little James Galway thrown in for a jig or two in the kitchen. A tumbler or two of Red Breast or Bushmills might keep the cook smiling as well.

Ireland, the Emerald Isle, the land of 40 shades of green - the name alone brings to mind vivid images of a patchwork quilt of fields separated by stone walls, a rugged coastline where thundering waves crash against the cliffs to send plumes of spray into the air, tranquil lakes and salmon-filled streams set against a background of lushly forested hills. There are no big cities in my mind's travelogue, just the occasional widely-scattered small town filled with a few cottages, communities where pub owners and customers alike welcome you by name. Nope, I've never traveled to Ireland, but I've seen some really old movies that pictured it that way. Did Pat O'Brien get it wrong? 

Our St. Patrick's Day menu tends to remain the same. It's not carved in stone, mind you, but the expected dishes include corned beef, colcannon, roasted carrots and small ramekins of sweet bread pudding with a whiskey-flavored hard sauce and possibly Irish coffee. No soda bread, thank you very much. There is room for flexibility in the appetizer category. A platter of Lox and smoked salmon, appropriate condiments and rye crackers will greet everyone this year. 

The rye crackers are an experiment for 2011, a change from my usual crostini. The cracker recipe came straight from the back of a rye flour package, purchased for a yet-to-be-tried bread recipe. The crackers proved to be winners, so good that we nibbled away most of the first batch as it cooled. Our unrestrained sampling did point how important it is to roll the dough to an ultrathin 1/8 - 1/16th-inch thickness, and not overcook the crackers. Roll them too thick and they're cookies, not crispy crackers. Bake them a wee bit past slightly-browned edges and the caraway can develop an unappealing burned taste. Done correctly they are quite good.

RL enthusiastically suggested that we give up store-bought crackers completely. Not going to happen! But I am eager to try another batch or two with other flavorings in the dough, or maybe a sprinkle of seeds, cheese shreds, sea salt or fresh herbs on top for a different flavor finish.

Rye Crackers
From Bob’s Red Mill package and website
Makes about 24 crackers (depending on size)

1/2 cup Unbleached White Flour (AP)
1/2 cup Dark Rye Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Baking Powder
2 tsp Caraway Seeds
4 Tbsp Margarine (Might Irish cooks use butter?)
3 Tbsp Milk

MIX together dry ingredients and seeds.

WORK in margarine until fine.

STIR in milk.
FORM into ball and roll out to 1/8 - 1/16 inch between waxed paper.

CUT into desired shapes, prick with fork and transfer to ungreased cookie sheet.
BAKE 400 F for 5-6 minutes until lightly browned on edges.
COOL completely on rack.

STORE in airtight container.
(They might need a quick crisp in the oven if you store them longer than a day or two.)

Other cracker recipes for you to try:
Gluten-Free Pecan Crackers at glutenfreegoddess
Olive Oil Crackers at 101 Cookbooks
Parmesan and Thyme Crackers by Ina Garten
Parmesan Cream Crackers by N.Y. Times Minimalist

Monday, March 14, 2011

Daring Cooks: Papas Rellenas

Kathlyn of Bake Like a Ninja was our Daring Cooks’ March 2011 hostess. Kathlyn challenges us to make two classic Peruvian dishes: Ceviche de Pescado from “Peruvian Cooking – Basic Recipes” by Annik Franco Barreau. And Papas Rellenas adapted from a home recipe by Kathlyn’s Spanish teacher, Mayra 
A quick read through Kathlyn’s March challenge post brought to mind several other "filled" foods; Salvadorean pupusas, Polish pierogi, Indian samosas, Latin empanadas, and the list goes on. One notable difference stood out, Papas Rellenas traditionally have a filling encased in potatoes, not in a flour or masa dough. Potatoes! reminiscent of a British cottage pie or shepherd’s pie, perhaps? Dough, bread or potatoes wrapped around a savory filling, and baked or fried - that could describe comfort food in many cultures.

I procrastinated this month, leaving the challenge until the last possible moment. What was I thinking? Sigh, I could relate to the drooping daffodils outside the kitchen window, me feeling a wee bit stressed while the flowers struggled against rain and wind.

The March Daring Cooks' Challenge was to make one or both of the posted recipes, an option I truly appreciated this month. Thank you, Kathlyn! It was no surprise that once I busied myself in the kitchen - chopping vegies, riceing potatoes, sauteing and stirring filling, forming and frying the Papas - any lingering stress disappeared from my day.The following decisions helped me out too.
   1. Ignore the ceviche portion of the challenge. Been there, done that many times, so provide a link to my previous halibut ceviche post. (here)

   2. Use Kathlyn's suggested method, but substitute the filling ingredients from my lamb merguez sausage recipe.(here) I had everything in stock so that eliminated a trip to the store.

   3. Add additional vegetables to the Salsa Criolla, just in case we decided mid-dinner to switch the entree to lamb burgers or tacos instead. 

The Good News:
   The many varied parts of the recipe were completed in one afternoon, albeit a long one.
   RL enjoyed the Papas Rellenas, and we already know he loves ceviche. ("Why bother cooking halibut any other way when this is so good?!")

The Rest of the Story:
   Procrastinating right up to the last day meant it did take the entire afternoon to prep, cook, dine and photograph... and that still left some writing to do. (So here I sit, after midnight, editing like crazy.)
   The kitchen is a mess, the stove glistens with grease droplets, the house reeks of oil, and yes, I really did enjoy The Papas Rellenas Experience.

Did We Enjoy the Dish?
   I liked it, but didn't love it: too little filling in too much potato. Perhaps forming a small meatball first, then coating it in a thin layer of potato, would be a workable alternative.  
   RL was more enthusiastic: he loved the crunch of the crust, and had fun evaluating the taste effect of different sauces and condiments. Salsa Criolla was his favorite, though HP Sauce ranked right up there.

Would I Prepare it Again?
Probably not, but I won't hesitate to share a small plate of Papas at any local Latin restaurant.

Papas Rellenas (de carne)
Made 6 small papas and 4 larger ones (with 1.5 cups of potato left over) 

For the dough:
2¼ lb russet potatoes

1 large egg
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a medium pot cover the potatoes with cold water: boil until cooked through. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Peel the cooled potatoes; force them through a potato ricer, or smoosh them with a potato masher.
  3. Add egg, salt and pepper and knead “dough” thoroughly. Be certain these additions are well combined and evenly distributed.
While waiting for the potatoes to cool down, before finishing the dough, you can 

Make the filling:
I used a 1/4 recipe of my Lamb Merguez ingredients, adapted to Kathlyn's suggested method.
  1. Place all ingredients, except onion, red pepper and garlic, in a medium-sized bowl.  
  2. Lightly coat a small skillet with oil, or spray with a cooking spray: saute the chopped onion, red pepper and garlic over medium heat for a few minutes, until soft but not browned. Remove from the skillet and add to the mixture in the bowl and mix well - until it is really, really well-integrated.
  3. Using the same skillet, saute the meat mixture until cooked through, but not hard and crispy. Remove from the heat and place in a strainer to drain off the grease and juices. Set aside and let cool.
While the filling is cooling, you can assemble the ingredients... 
For the final preparation:

1 large egg, beaten

1 cup AP flour
Dash cayenne pepper

Dash salt

1 cup dry or fresh unseasoned bread crumbs or regular panko
Oil for frying (2” deep in a heavy pan, like a medium-sized dutch oven)

Forming and frying the papas:

  1. Use three small bowls for the breading. In one, combine flour, cayenne and salt. In the second, a beaten egg with a tiny bit of water. Put panko or bread crumbs in the third
  2. Flour your hands and scoop up a portion of dough to make a round pancake with your hands. Make a slight indentation in the middle for the filling.
  3. Spoon a generous amount of filling into the center and then roll the potato closed, forming a smooth, potato-shaped casing around the filling. Repeat with all dough (you should have about 6 large papas).
  4. Heat 1 ½ to 2 inches of oil in a pan to about 350 – 375° F.
  5. Dip each papa in the three bowls to coat: first roll in flour, then dip in egg, then roll in bread crumbs.
  6. Fry the papas (in batches if necessary) about 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Flip once in the middle of frying to brown both sides.
  7. Drain on paper towel and store in a 200ºF oven if frying in batches.
Serve immediately with salsa criolla and/or other sauces of your choice.

Salsa Criolla:
2 medium red onions, cut in half and very thinly sliced (as half-circles)
1/2 chili pepper 

1 tablespoon vinegar

Juice from 2 limes

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Soak the onions in cold salt water for about 10 minutes to remove bitterness. Drain.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the onions with the rest of the ingredients, season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for the onions to macerate and the flavors to combine.
Note: I blanched chunks cut from 2 medium-sized carrots and 2 celery stalks and added them to the mix. That required additional liquid to cover: a 60/40 mix of water and vinegar, juice from additional limes, 1 heaping tablespoon of sugar, and a generous splash of juice from a jar of pickled jalapenos. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Light and Luscious Lemon Cake

Gateau au Citron or French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

Need to add a little sunshine to your life? just one slice of this lemon cake can do just that. At the very least it will cause a smile,a happy sigh of pleasure. I promise. It's just that good.

I don't need much help in the smile and sunshine department lately. The delight of a recent sunny road trip along the coast and in the southwestern states still lingers in memory. Our Seattle weather can do it's changeable, unpredictable thing, but I'm still smiling remembering February sun and enjoying a slice of lemon cake.

Lemon meringue pie is too sweet for my taste, but other lemony desserts hold appeal. I remember Eric Z's homemade lemon bread, a long-ago gift from a second-grade student. The bread had been glazed while still warm, topping that dessert loaf with a sweet lemony crunch. My recipe box still holds a well-used card for Mrs. Z's Lemon Bread. Over the years I have added citrus juice and  orange or lemon zest to numerous cookie recipes, here and here, but nothing matches the success of this lemon cake. This recipe just might be my favorite dessert slice - or breakfast/brunch choice, or anytime snack.
This cake is smiling too!
Oops! I didn't sift the powdered sugar for the icing.
Gateau au Limon
Adapted from Orangettewith added inspiration from APlumByAnyOtherName, lauriebot, et al. Orangette noted this cake is an old French classic and traditionally the ingredients are measured in a yogurt jar, a small glass cylinder that holds about 125 ml.

One 9-inch round cake pan
Butter for greasing pan
Parchment paper

For the cake:
1/2 cup whole-milk yogurt(or Greek yogurt) 
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unbleached AP flour
2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of kosher salt
1 Tbs. grated lemon zest
1/2 cup canola oil (or olive oil)

For the syrup:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup powdered sugar
A few drops of vanilla extract

For the optional icing (from APlumByAnyOtherName):
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Scant 1/4 cup lemon juice
For the optional lavender cream (from lauriebot)
1 Tbs. honey
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
scant 1/4 tsp. lavender blossoms
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously butter the sides and bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter it too. You really don't want this cake to stick when you turn it out!
  2. Combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl; stir until well blended.
  3. Using a sifter or sieve, add the baking powder to the flour and sift into the yogurt mixture; add the lemon zest and mix all to just combine.
  4. Add the oil and stir until it all combines into a smooth batter. Initially it will look like a dreadful mistake, as though the wet and dry ingredients will never blend. Just keep stirring, it will eventually come together.
  5. Pour and scrape the batter into the buttered cake pan: it will just fill a 9-inch round pan.
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not remove from the oven until the cake tester comes out clean, but don't overbake either.
  7. Cool the cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan to cool completely. Run a knife along the sides of your pan to assist in the unmolding. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, parchment side up. Put the rack on a baking sheet (to catch any drips from the syrup). Remove the parchment paper. Slowly spoon the syrup over the cake; it should soak into the cake top, not run over the sides onto the plate. Cool completely and enjoy a slice, with or without toppings.
  8. Option 1: Just before serving, whisk together the icing ingredients and spoon or pour over the cooled cake. 
  9. Option 2: Add honey, cream and lavender to a small pan and bring just to the boil. Remove from the heat and let steep, covered for 5 minutes (no longer, since lavender can be an overpoweringly strong flavor. Strain and place in refrigerator to cool. Just before serving, whisk until light and fluffy.
Are you a lemon fan too? What's your favorite lemony recipe?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits - that's a tempting entree or appetizer in any month, so don't wait for Mardi Gras to indulge.


Picture a bowl of decadent cheesy grits, finished with a bit of cream and butter, tucked beneath sweet wild shrimp and sauced with a zingy andouille gravy. Garnished with a gremolata of lemon zest, parsley and green onion, mmmm mmm, that’s comfort food at its best. If you just can’t resist the temptation, go ahead and add some crispy bacon bits, but the dish is plenty tasty without them.

Before any food purists shout out that “real” Low Country Grits don't feature cheese or dairy, I’ll admit this recipe could be non-traditional. Too bad, I like my grits this way. For the best results use stone-ground grits rather than the instant or quick-cook varieties that come in a box. It’s a textural thing, a different mouth-feel that in no way resembles the dreaded Cream of Wheat cereal of my youth. 

The shrimp and sauce part of the recipe tends to change each time I prepare this dish. Variations spring from suggestions in cookbooks or online sources (like this and this) and it’s fun to mess with the basic recipe. Last Saturday's version for a Mardi Gras Potluck Party was based on a Tyler Florence recipe, found online and in his cookbook, “Stirring the Pot”.

Some of the best suggestions come from the online readers’ comments. For example, an alcohol reduction* blended into the roux added extra depth and richness to balance the zing of cayenne and hot sauce. Not knowing the heat tolerance of the partygoers, I kept this batch on the mild side. Bottles of Cajun Sunshine and Green Tabasco sauce let everyone add heat as desired.

Note to self: the andouille gravy mellows and loses some of it's spicy heat when prepared a day ahead of time.

Shrimp and Grits
Recipe based on Ultimate Shrimp and Grits by Tyler Florence
Serves 4-6 an an entree

2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup milk
1 cup stone-ground grits
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup shredded cheese (any mild, white, meltable not stringy when heated variety) 
Kosher salt and white pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound spicy sausage, cut in chunks (andouille, chorizo, spicy Italian, etc)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 green onion, white and green part, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Hot sauce and/or cayenne pepper to taste 

To make the grits, place a 3-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the milk and slowly whisk in the grits. When the grits begin to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon so the grits don't stick and scorch. Cook according to the package directions, or until the mixture is smooth and thick. Remove from heat and stir in the cream, cheese and butter; season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more cream as desired for looser grits; they will set up and thicken a bit as they stand.

To make the shrimp, place a deep skillet over medium heat and coat with the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic; saute for 2 minutes to soften, not brown. Add the sausage and cook, stirring, until there is a fair amount of fat in the pan and the sausage is brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to create a roux. Slowly pour in the chicken stock and continue to stir to avoid lumps. Toss in the bay leaf. When the liquid comes to a simmer, add the shrimp. Poach the shrimp in the stock for 2 to 3 minutes, until they are firm and pink and the gravy is smooth and thick. Remove from the heat. Do not overcook the shrimp! Season with salt and pepper; add cayenne and/or hot sauce to taste. Stir in half of the parsley, lemon zest and green onion. 

To serve, spoon the grits into a serving bowl or into individual bowls. Add the sauced shrimp mixture and garnish with the remaining parsley, lemon zest and green onion. Serve immediately, with extra hot sauce available.


  • Use really good, spicy sausage; I prefer andouille or a mix of andouille and chorizo.
  • Shrimp shells simmered in the chicken stock add extra flavor. Discard the shells before adding the stock to the roux. 
  • Alcohol Reduction*: For the liquid, I used the chicken broth, but I also brought to a boil about 1 scant cup of dry white wine, about 3/4 cup of a dark lager and a jigger of Kentucky bourbon. I slowly reduced it all down to about 1/3, and added it to the gravy along with a bit of butter just before serving. It sounds like a bit of a bother, but it really added a richness of flavor. 
  • The Cajun Sunshine contributed a sweet, mild heat to the dish, without the harshness of cayenne. It may be hard to locate, but it's worth the search.
 Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Balsamic Reduction

... the basics.

Basics indeed! the recipe is more a brief list of suggestions with room for personal tweaks and experimentation. 
ReluctantGourmet notes: 
You can make reductions sauces from all sorts of liquids. One of my favorites is a balsamic reduction sauce where you slowly cook down a cup of balsamic vinegar until it reduces by half or if you like, even further until it becomes syrupy. This is great to drizzle over fish, chicken or pork chops. 
You will often hear chefs say or cookbooks describe reducing a sauce until it is “thick enough to coat a spoon.” All this means is you dip a spoon in the sauce, and if the sauce sticks, it’s ready. If you reduce the sauce too much, just add a little more [liquid].
It's true, a basic balsamic reduction can be just that easy. 

A Basic Balsamic Reduction

Begin with a medium-quality balsamic vinegar (mine came from Trader Joes) and measure a generous cupful. 

Transfer the liquid to a non-reactive cooking pan. This is a good time to measure the liquid with a dipstick and mark the starting height

I chose a small saucepan but will use a saute pan next time. This will expose more surface area to the heat and should speed up the process somewhat. 

Bring the vinegar to a slow, rolling boil over low-medium heat and slowly reduce the liquid by 75%. My first batch took about an hour, but I was overly cautious with the heat. Sources report that high heat will cause a burnt, bitter flavor - not a good thing in a sauce, so keep it low and slow. Be careful not to over-reduce the sauce, it burns easily! Use that dipstick occasionally to measure progress. 

Check the consistency when there is roughly 1/4 cup left in the pan. The sauce should coat a spoon, but note that it will thicken more as it cools. 

That's it, a basic balsamic reduction. The real fun begins when you play with the flavor, adjusting it to suit your taste and the intended use. My first attempt produced a pleasant tart/sweet syrupy sauce. Next time I will try adding a tiny sprig of rosemary and a few peppercorns at the start and add a touch of honey or brown sugar during the final minutes of cooking. This might result in a thicker version of the piquant white balsamic dressing for Kale Salad

I think my targeted use, the savory Bacon and Date Tart, calls for a sweeter, slightly more assertive sauce. Hmmm, I wonder how Cafe Bink flavored their reduction. Any extra sauce will be drizzled over avocado slices and orange rounds, or spooned over roasted lamb, or accompany a cheese plate, or perhaps... You get the idea, a balsamic reduction is a terrific way to play with your food.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...