Recent Posts

Thomas The Accidental Gourmet

Monday, November 24, 2008

Scallop Soup

Most of the time when I go to the store to pick something up for dinner, I have no idea what is going to end up on the table. I like to browse around, see what catches my eye, and come up with something on the spot. It's fun. It also turns a shopping trip into an odyssey, as I criss-cross the store trying to find the "right" ingredients as I figure out what they will be.

This past weekend, our friend, Chris, asked if he and I could cook together. So while our wives sat on the back porch drinking wine, we engaged in the manly activity of providing food for the table and spent about an hour rummaging around at my crack dealer, Central Market. We decided on making lamb chops, calamari, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and mixed seafood with home made marinara over linguini But since I'd never made the seafood pasta dish, the lamb chops and asparagus were not going to provide a lot of food, and I'm still struggling with getting calamari cooked just right, I figured that it wouldn't hurt to cook one thing that I knew would taste good. Most importantly, it's easy for all but about three minutes, and then you just have to pay attention.

I particularly like this dish because I really like scallops, but I struggled for several years to find ways to cook them so that they didn't get ruined in the process.

Scallop Soup

What You Need:

Three large sea scallops per person.
1 to 1 1/2 cups of sauvignon blanc. Clos du Bois works.
2 roma tomatoes
1/4 to 1/3 cup oregano. Less if it's fresh
1/3 cup plain yogurt
Salt & Pepper

What To Do with It:

This recipe assumes enough food for 3-4 people. You'll need to increase everything except the scallops if you're cooking for more.

Slice the tomatoes, skin & all, about 3 mm thick.

Put equal parts wine and water into a wide pan. Something in the neighborhood of 10-12 inches.
Add your tomatoes, some salt & petter and oregano & cook on medium heat. Dried oregano will take longer, so you'll have to add some water along the way.

Once you've been cooking for about 20 minutes, your tomatoes should begin to fall apart. Mash them a bit with a wooden spoon to help the process along.

Mix your yogurt with just a little bit less cold water. Stir until it's smooth (this will help your yogurt not be clumpy when it hits the wine). Add to your liquid and continue cooking until your tomatoes are no longer recognizeable as such.

At this point, you should have about 1/2 inch liquid in your pan. Drop in your scallops QUICKLY. Scallops cook in a hurry, so you don't want to tarry.

After about 1 1/2 minutes, turn them over. Once they begin to split on top, they're done (about 3 minutes total, maybe more depending on how many you throw in). Put your scallops in bowls and pour the broth over them.

Drink with the wine you used to cook 'em.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Essential Kitchen Items

Question: if you don't have a ball and a bat, how do you play baseball? Answer: not very well.

Everyone understands having the proper tools for the job. Unfortunately, a lot of folks don't look at the kitchen as a place that needs the proper tools.

Now, I've done my fair share of cooking in condos, on sailboats, and other places where a kitchen isn't very well stocked. It can be done, and done well. However, it's a lot more challenging; and why would you want to handicap yourself? You can play baseball with a stick and a walnut. But it's a lot more fun with a ball and a bat.

Stocking Your Kitchen

1) A good set of knives. Not the serrated "ever-sharp" variety. Knives with an edge. You don't have to spring for a top-of-the-line set, but get something that has a firm blade. And since you have knives with real edges, you need a knife sharpener. I've got two sets: one is for everyday use, that I don't mind putting in the dishwasher. The other is for when I'm cooking for people--the the blades are sharper and firmer. Oh, and get a cutting board.

2) Spices. Lots of spices. Even if all you do is buy a pre-packaged set that hangs on the wall because you're intimidated by them, get a lot of spices. Two things might happen. First, you might find a recipe that calls for a particular spice. Second, you might just one day decide to experiment with some of your spices. Any junior chemist will tell you that without a chemistry set, chemistry ain't much fun.

3) Two good saucepans. Your smaller one should be somewhere around the 3/4 to 1 quart variety, the other 2-3 quarts. There are lots of varieties: copper core, hard anondized aluminum... Get one that's heavy, for starters. A thin sauce pan will not transmit heat evenly, so your food will cook unevenly. If you've got a heavy pan, usually this means that it's got three layers (bottom, some sort of core to transmit heat efficiently, cooking surface).

4) A cast iron skillet, and one regular frying pan. For the cast iron skillet, you must season it. Put about a teaspoon of oil in it, then put it on the stove and heat it until the oil burns away, spreading the oil around occasionally. Repeat 2-3 times. For the regular frying pan, again you want one that's heavy. Now about that cooking surface: I've got an apathathetic/hate relationship with non-stick cookware. Non-stick surfaces generally still stick, anyhow, and you can't use anything metal on them. If you're looking to make an integral sauce, then they don't stick enough. But they are a little easier to clean. And since I hate cleaning dishes, I'll deal with the non-stick surfaces on some of my cookware.

5) A wooden spoon; a set of mixing bowls; a hard spatula and a soft, scraping spatula made out of silicone; a wire whisk; measuring utensils (a set of cups and spoons); a cheese grater; and a vegetable peeler. Finally, a good pot holder.

There are, of course, myriad other things that you "need." But getting the ones I've listed will get most people off the ground.

Think I've missed an essential? Post it in the comments.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Smoked Turkey--Your oven will miss you

I know. The latest thing in turkeys is fried. Or turducken. Or carpaccio. (Just kidding about that one). The latest fad, if the amount of ads I receive is indication, is smoked turkey.

Fads come and go. Good taste: that's enduring. Somewhere around 45 years ago, my parents were on a hunting trip at Thanksgiving. Having no oven, they used a charcoal grill to cook their turkey. They've never used an oven since. And about five years ago, I cooked a turkey on an old beat-up weber for my mother in-law. That's her favorite way now, as well.

A couple years ago, my wife and parents bought me a smoker for my birthday. As much as I like turkey cooked on a Weber...a smoked turkey is even better. The last one I cooked, when I tried to pull off a drum stick, I got just a bone. The meat was that tender.

What you need:

A turkey. Preferably fresh, and without injected solution. That stuff just tastes awful. I'm assuming a turkey that's 16-20 pounds.
2 sticks of butter
1/2 to 3/4 cup of rubbed sage leaf
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

What to do with it:

Let your butter soften. Once it's to room temperature, mix in your spices.

Next, if you've never cooked a turkey, pull out the bag from the inside with the neck, giblets, etc. Trust me. You don't want to cook that in there.

Cut some of the excess skin from the back end of the turkey, close to the meat. Now, separate the skin from the meat. You're not cutting it away, just pulling it. Once you've got some separation, make a fist and continue separating skin from meat. Concentrate on the breast, but separate all the way around (don't separate the drum sticks). You're not going to skin the turkey--you're just making space for butter.

Once you've got most of the skin separated from the breast, put about 1/3 of your butter under the skin. You don't want one big clump--spread it around. Put another 1/3 of the butter under the skin in other places (the back, for instance).

Using paper towels, dry the outside of the turkey. Massage in the remaining butter on the outside of the skin. Place the turkey in an aluminum pan, breast side up, throw in 1/4 white onion, a couple stalks of celery, about 12 ounces of water, cover with aluminum foil and set aside.
If you've only got a grill, get a good bed of coals going. Move the coals to the outside rim, close down all the air intakes, and put on the turkey. You'll cook about 20 minutes per pound. About every 2 hours, add fresh coals. Baste at the same time. The key is to keep the coals on the outside: you don't want direct heat.

If you've got a smoker, get your fire going at least an hour before you put on your turkey--you don't want it flaring up. Once your temperature is steady, put your turkey on, covered in foil. Your turkey will take 20-30 minutes per pound, with a temperature between 200 and 220 degrees. You're going to want to check the fire box about every two hours: baste the bird at that time. I like to use pecan wood for the first 4 to 5 hours, then switch to something more mellow, like fruit wood.

In either method, once you're done let the turkey rest for about 20 minutes prior to carving. It may be pink in places. That's OK. It doesn't mean it's raw, only smoked.

Remember that bag o' parts? About two hours before your turkey is due to come up, place them, along with some celery, onion, and a tiny bit of carrots into a pot with 16 ounces of chicken broth, and cook on medium-high. Check occasionally to be certain that you haven't cooked away the liquid. When your turkey comes off the grill, pull out the parts and add some of the juice to this broth along with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of milk, and then add flour or corn starch (in incremental, small amounts) to thicken to your preference. Chop up some of the liver and throw it in. Now you've got gravy for your turkey. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a good pinot noir.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

10-Minute Miracle--Veal Scallopini with Mushroom Sauce

I had some issues getting home from work the other day. Long story short, my parking garage is valet only, and I'm currently driving a rental car. I had lost my ticket, and sent them searching for a white Ford. Unfortunately, I was driving a white Chevrolet...

Anyhow, I'd promised my wife that I would pick up something for dinner. But now I was running late. So, I picked up a bottle of wine, and headed for the fish counter...which was closed. OK, plan B.

I decided to cook something that we found by accident one night when we were tired of chicken and pork, but didn't want steak: veal. Of course, we'd never cooked veal before, and had no idea what to do. So, we went rooting around and picked up some tarragon, white beech mushrooms, and a lemon for a bit of tang. What follows is now one of our favorite recipes. The best part is that it takes 10 minutes, start to finish.

Veal Scallopini with Mushroom Sauce

What you need:

Veal scallopini (I cook for 2, so I use four 1-ounce pieces)
Fresh tarragon, about 1 tbsp., chopped
1/2 cup white beech mushrooms (you might also try shitakes--either way, go for something pretty aromatic: your standard button mushrooms won't cut it)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp minced white onion or shallots
Juice from 1/4 lemon (you can substitue 1/8 tsp. white wine vinegar)
1/2 to 1 tbsp. butter (depending on how much fat you like)
2-3 tsp. olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of a pan when heated)
3/4 tsp. salt & 2 grinds on a pepper shaker
1/3 cup chardonnay (I like Chateau St. Michelle)

What to do with it:

First, preheat an oven to "Warm" and put a plate in it.

Put the butter & olive oil in a skillet on medium-low heat. Add salt, and warm until the butter melts.

Add the garlic, tarragon, onion, mushrooms and lemon juice. Cook until the onions turn translucent (about 3 minutes).

Turn the heat up to medium, push the vegetable matter to the edges of the pan, and put on your veal scallopini. Cook for one minute on one side, and 1.5 minutes on the other. If your onions & garlic start to brown, throw in a bit of your wine.

Take up the veal, put it on the plate, and place in the oven to keep it warm.

Add the wine to the pan, turn the heat to medium-high and reduce the liquid until it thickens. Use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan. Pull your veal out of the oven, and pour any juice from the plate into the pan. Keep cooking, and scraping the pan. Your sauce should be a light brown color.

Plate your veal, ladle on the sauce, and serve. Sides could include asparagus, rice, or potato-leek soup.

Total cooking time, start to finish: about 10 minutes.

Want the potato leek soup recipe? Ask my wife. She got it from a cookbook. :)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cedar Planked Salmon--Why I will never fish for salmon in Alaska

I like fish of all kinds. But I've always liked salmon above all.

A few years ago, however, I ruined my salmon experience forever: I shelled out the cash for copper river salmon as opposed to the $6 "Atlantic" (e.g. farm raised) salmon I had previously purchased. Almost deep red in color instead of orange, and full of flavor, this wild-caught salmon is certainly worth it. In season, it's a least relatively speaking.

Which is why I almost feel sorry for my brother in-law and sister in-law. Poor babies went salmon fishing in Alaska. I suspect that they will never again be able to eat salmon bought from a store, even copper river. And if they try this, they'll never eat salmon again until they buy a grill. :)

I must admit, when I first heard about this, I was very skeptical: anyone who's ever roasted marshmallows over a fire with a lot of pitchy pine will understand. But it's good. Really, really good.

Cedar Planked Salmon

What you need:

Salmon filet
Cedar plank (some people will buy cedar from a lumber store, but I'm concerned about chemicals that may be in it)
Garlic powder
2 Green onions
Salt & pepper

What to do with it:

Soak your cedar about 15-30 minutes in water (start it at the same time you get your coals going). I've thought about soaking the cedar in various things such as bourbon, or red wine, but haven't tried it out, yet.

A quick note on your grill (not your gold teeth, the one with the coals in it): if you don't have a charcoal grill, get rid of the gas one and spring for a good one, such as the grillmaster smoker--you can adjust the height of the coals, it's got a large cooking area, and with the firebox, you can try cold smoking your salmon next time!

Place your salmon on the cedar plank, skin down.

Around 5 minutes before you put the salmon on, squeeze 1/2 a lemon on top. Add salt, pepper and garic powder (sparingly), and sliced green onions. Finally, cut off a few lemon slices (little circles). Now, cut them almost in half, but not quite (place the point of your knife at the inside of the rind, and pulll straight back). Now twist the lemon slice--you should have an "S" shape formed by the rind. Place these on top of the salmon (about 1 for every 3 inches of salmon). The lemon juice adds flavor, as well as a little moisture.

Place the cedar directly on the grill (not on the coals).

Cooking is key. I lower the coals to as low as they will go (distance, not heat), and close the lid of the grill. Depending on how many coals I've got on, as well as how much salmon, I first check it after about 8 minutes. Once there are little white spots (fat) just outside the middle of the thickest part of the salmon, it's done. Don't overcook! If the fat comes up in the middle, all is not lost, but remember that your fish will continue to cook after you take it off the grill. So, if the fat is in the middle, slice your filet quickly so that heat will dissipate.

Try serving this with Maudite Ephemere, a green apple beer. If not, go for a light pinot noir--the salmon is too heavy for most whites, and the fat in the salmon needs a red to cut it.

For sides, go for brown rice, and fresh asparagus, but if you do serve asparagues, try pairing your meal with a viognier wine.