Sunday, March 30, 2014

Panna Cotta with Strawberries and Balsamic Reduction

Sweetened cream set with gelatin and served with strawberries and balsamic reduction.  This is a lighter super easy to make dessert that I usually make when it's warmer and fruit is in season.

Panna Cotta:
2 C cream
2 C whole milk
1/2 C + 2 T sugar
2 t vanilla
2 packets gelatin (~ 4 1/2t)
6 T cold water

Balsamic Reduction:
1 C balsamic vinegar
2 T sugar

Strawberries, cleaned and quartered or halved (other fruit could also work, but strawberries are the best match for cream and balsamic) 

Panna Cotta:
Combine the cream, milk, and sugar in a sauce pan.  Heat the mixture over medium low, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has fully dissolved.  While the mixture is heating, combine the gelatin and water and allow the gelatin to bloom.  When the sugar has dissolved remove the pan from the heat, and add in the vanilla and gelatin; stir to combine until the gelatin has melted.  Pour in to ramekins or other small containers and cool in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or over night.

Balsamic Reduction:
Combine the vinegar and sugar and cook over medium high until syrupy.

Serve the panna cotta with the berries and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce

This is one of the more important base sauces for Vietnamese cooking, but making it ranked right up there with the apprehension of pulling a sheet pan completely full of 400 degree oil out of the oven.  I mean what kind of recipe calls for you to heat a cup of sugar with a 1/4 cup of water until it starts to smoke, then pour water on top of it?  If you get it right though, and manage to not start a fire or coat yourself in culinary napalm, you create a rich, slightly viscous caramel sauce with rich, earthy notes of coffee and a hint of charred bitter flavor.  You'll need a stainless steel pot, and I'd suggest stopping up some cold water in your sink.

1 C sugar
1/4 C + 1/2 C water

Mix together the sugar and 1/4 C of water in the pot, and put over medium low.  Stir some until the sugar has dissolved, then leave it alone.  Cook it for a good long time ( ~20 minutes depending on heat) as the color goes from clear to pale golden to amber.  From this point watch it continuously, and when it starts to smoke slightly swirl it around in the pan.  Be careful! It's called culinary napalm for a reason!  Continue cooking and swirling until it turns the color of molasses.

Immediately remove it from the heat, plunge the bottom of the pot into the water in the sink, and pour the 1/2 C of water into the sugar.  It's going to be pretty spectacular, it's going to splatter, and you might get hit with some of that splatter.  Keep your face away, and when it dies down return the pot to the heat just long enough to ensure that all of the sugar melts in to the water.  The sauce will keep indefinitely without refrigeration.

Bacon Jam Two Ways

Massive amounts of bacon, onions, and garlic all cooked down with sugar and vinegar and pureed into a spread?  Yeah, it's crack in a jar.  I took the base recipe from here, but I've modified it some, then I went and made an Asian version that might even be better than the original.


For either version you're going to need:
3 lbs of sliced bacon, in 1 inch by 1/4 inch strips
6 medium yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced
10 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 C of strongly brewed black coffee
1 C brown sugar
1 t ground black pepper

Now if you want to make original bacon jam you'll also need:
1 C cider vinegar
1/2 C maple syrup

To make Asian bacon jam instead you'll need:
1 C chinkiang black vinegar (or sherry vinegar)
1/4 C molasses 
1/4 C Vietnamese caramel sauce (or another 1/4 C molasses; the caramel sauce is less sweet than the molasses, with a more pronounced depth and bitter/charred flavor)
6 T soy sauce
4 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1 t fennel seeds, ground
1 t Sichuan peppercorn, ground
5 black cardamoms
6 dried chiles
1/2 C water

Brown the bacon well over medium low, then remove the bacon to a plate with a paper towel, saving 3-4 T of the rendered fat in the pan (pour the rest off and refrigerate for some other use).  Add the onion and garlic and increase the heat to medium; saute until the onions are translucent and cooked through.

Add the rest of the ingredients except for the reserved bacon, and bring to a boil for a few minutes.  Add the bacon back in, and cook over a low simmer, uncovered, until the onions start to break up, adding a little water as necessary.

If making the Asian version, remove the cinnamon sticks, star anise, chiles, and cardamoms.  Using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor, puree the mixture in to a smooth paste.

Spread it on toast with some eggs, spread it on crackers, slather it on a sandwich (especially a banh mi for the Asian version), or just hide in a corner with your shame and eat it with a spoon.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Butter Chicken

Rich, decadent chicken in a butter and cream sauce with a touch of tomato.  The initial part is a riff on tandoori chicken made without a tandoor and without the food coloring.  There are three methods for the initial cooking; of these grilling is the best, then broiling, then baking if you want to make a large amount without working in batches.  I also use some liquid lecithin here, but if you don't have it you could use a little Wondra flour or add some flour to the butter to smooth out and emulsify the sauce.

Tandoori Chicken:

2.5 lbs of skinless boneless chicken, either breasts or thighs
Juice of one lemon
Half an onion, chopped
1 green chile (jalapenos and serranos are two grassy; ideally use a finger hot/jwala or a green cayenne), thinly sliced
1 1/2 C plain yogurt
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 t garam masala
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 t salt

Mix together everything except the chicken and food processor until smooth.  Cut the chicken into strips and score to allow the marinade to penetrate.  Marinate over night, then remove from the marinade and choose a cooking method:  Grill it over a very high heat until just done; broil it on high; bake it on the highest setting your oven has.  If you have to bake it I'd suggest taking a cooking torch to it if possible.  Remove from the heat and set aside; this part can be done a day ahead.

Butter Chicken:
1/2 of a 6 oz can of tomato paste
1 1/4 C heavy cream
1/2 C unsalted butter
2 T ghee
2 T methi (fenugreek) leaves
2 t liquid lecithin
1 1/4 t garam masala
2-4 green chiles (jalapenos and serranos are two grassy; ideally use a finger hot/jwala or a green cayenne), thinly sliced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
pinch of sugar
salt to taste
cayenne to desired heat
1 1/4 t toasted and ground cumin
3-4 cloves garlic, minced

Mix together the tomato paste with enough water or chicken broth to make 1 C.  Add in everything else except the butter, ghee, and lecithin.  Melt the butter and ghee in a skillet, then add in the lecithin and stir to combine.  Add in the tomato mixture and stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer for a minute or so, then add in the chicken and let it warm up and blend in flavor, another minute or so.