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Thomas The Accidental Gourmet

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mai Tais: All My Drinking Friends Have a Sailing Problem

Two of our best friends, JD and Susan, have a J122 that they keep on Lake Texoma. For about half the year, we race. The other half, JD and Susan are happy to have us up for a night or a weekend.

The only cost of admission is (i) food and (ii) drink. I really think that Susan was the inspiration for the Finding Nemo fish, Dory ("Fish are friends, not food"). And JD, unfortunately, shares my philosophy regarding alcohol: "Life is too short for cheap booze." So, we don't do fish on the boat, but we do drink well.

Next week, they're going to be gracious enough to take us and our nephew out for a sail. Because it's almost sailing season again, I suspect all the pots and pans will be off the boat. And although JD and I would both be content with just a bottle of Anniversario rum, Jenn and Susan don't think that straight rum is acceptable.

Therefore, I think that we'll make laab gai spring rolls and mai tais: easy to eat, tasty to drink.

Laab Gai (with props to Beth, who gave me the recipe originally)

What you need:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1-2 jalapenos (or serranos, or similar peppers), minced
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/8 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp ginger root, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp fish sauce (to taste)
1-2 tbsp soy sauce (again, to taste)
1 tbsp rice cooking wine
1/4 cup lime juice
Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
cucumber and carrot, julienned
Spring roll wrappers

What to do with it:

Chop up your chicken in a food processor. Basically, you're going to be making ground chicken. Boil it until it's cooked, then drain.

Put it in a bowl, add everything else except the cabbage, and mix. Once you have the flavor balance you want, refrigerate for an hour or so.

Prep a spring roll wrapper (place in warm water for about 8 seconds, removing before you think it's ready). Drop in a little cabbage, a couple tablespoons of laab gai, roll and enjoy.

Mai Tais

What you need:

1 ounce gold rum (I use Cruzan)
1 ounce spiced rum (meet my friend, Sailor Jerry)
1/2 ounce amaretto
juice of 1/2 key lime
3 drops Angostura bitters
small pinch allspice
2 1/2 ounces pineapple juice

What to do with it:

Mix it.

Pour it over ice.

Drink it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ceviche Peruano

Do you remember your "first?" It doesn't really matter the first of what...your first car, first kiss, first apartment...chances are you remember your first fondly. In some cases, your first may even outshine anything subsequent.

My first car is that way. It was a 1964 1/2 Mustang. It had no A/C, the windshield wipers had two speeds (too fast and too slow : i.e. one speed), and it went through transmissions the same way I go through a package of Little Debbie Zebra Cakes (Ford used three different transmissions that first year of production, none of them designed to actually match up with the engine).
But it was perfect. It had the original radio and was painted the original Rangoon Red--a real classic. It may have lacked a bunch of gadgets, but I could still get out there and adjust the timing by moving the distributor cap. What it may have lacked in newer-model accessories, it made up in simplistic coolness.

So it is with ceviche. My first was in Peru, and nothing can ever top it. Unlike Guatemalan or Mexican ceviche, ceviche peruano is very simple: fish, sweet potatoes, corn, onions. It is light and refreshing, and not at all over-complicated. Other ceviches may be good, but ceviche peruano is simply the best.

Ceviche Peruano

What you need:

(serving for four)
3/4 cup lime juice (about 20 key limes)
1 1/2 pounds white fish (anything from basa to mahi mahi)
1 habanero (or more, depending on your heat preference)
2 sweet potatoes
corn (or choclo if you can find it)
red onion
juicer (trust me: you don't want to hand squeeze 3/4 cup lime juice from key limes)

What to do with it:

The day before, slice about 1/2 of a red onion thin and put in salt water to soak. This will (i) soften up the onion and (ii) take some of the bite out. About an hour prior to serving, dump out the salt water and put in fresh water. Continue soaking until it's time to eat (this will remove the excess salt).

Get your juice on. Using key limes is important: a limon from Peru is much more acidic than the persian limes we get here in the states. If you use persian limes, expect to almost double your cooking time. Finely mince the habanero (if you can get aji, use that) and place in the lime juice.

Cube your fish into 1/2" bits. (I used to use red snapper, then I learned a dirty little secret: the restaurants tend to use the cheapest fish they can find. It makes sense, I suppose: you're pretty much destroying the taste of the fish and replacing it with lime. Obviously, a stronger fish will give you a stronger taste, but for $15 per pound difference, basa tastes just fine.)

Once cubed, place on a cookie sheet and run hot water over it (not hot enough to cook, just hot water out of the tap--all you're doing is rinsing the fish). Now put your fish in your lime juice. If the juice doesn't cover the fish, add a bit more. Refrigerate, and stir about every 30 minutes.

For timing purposes, it takes about 3 hours for the juice to cook your fish. So at about 2h 30min, start boiling your sweet potatoes. If you couldn't find choclo, get your corn ready (you're going to make corn on the cob, microwaved, boiled, or whatever floats your boat).

If you did find choclo, drop a little (1 tsp) butter and some kosher salt (2 tsp) in a pan and sautee until golden brown. (In Peru, the corn is actually pithy, like pop corn. I haven't figured that out, yet... Maybe I need to try dried choclo.)

Plate by slicing the sweet potato in 1" wheels, add your fish, onions and corn. Give everyone a shot of the leche de tigre (the juice left over from the fish and limes) prior to eating. Serve with a bit of hot sauce (such as Cholula) and Cristal beer (or another lager).

Friday, August 7, 2009

Stilton-Stuffed Pork Loin Chops

In my never-ending quest to rid myself of the freezer full of pork I bought, I'm having to find more and more willing victems...errr...guinea pigs...errr...dinner guests.

This Friday, we cooked dinner for our friend, Donna, for her birthday. Donna's fun to cook for: she's up for just about anything.

She's also no slouch in the kitchen herself. So the pressure was on: no faking my way through this meal. I also wanted a bit of "wow factor." I settled on making an emulsified sauce for the "wow." Half way through dinner, I decided that a little chutney would add the punch I was looking for.

While I'm still working on getting that sauce right (I really need to buy a saucier pan), and I'm going to have to work on the color palette, the flavors all came together quite nicely on the palate.

Stilton-Stuffed Pork Loin Chops

What You Need:

Pork chops
4 pork loin chops (fairly thick, about 1 1/2"-2")
1/2 cup toasted, crumbled walnuts
1/2 cup stilton cheese at room temperature

Sauce and Chutney
1 Beet, roasted
1/2 cup diced granny smith apple (peeled)
1/2 cup diced white onion
2 sprigs fresh thyme (stripped)
1 cup chardonnay and 1 cup water
8-10 cloves (ground)
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp water
3 tbsp butter
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 sprig thyme, chopped
Salt to taste
2 grinds black pepper

What To Do With It:

Start prepping the sauce first. Saute the onions for about 15 minutes over medium-low heat. I used 1/2 tbsp of butter for this. Throw in 1-2 healthy pinches of kosher salt.

Separtely, roast your beet in the oven at about 350 (this takes about an hour--alternatively, you could nuke it for about 6 minutes).

Add the wine & water, apples and stripped thyme, and boil over medium-high heat.
While your sauce is reducing, sear the pork for about 2 minutes on each side over medium-high to high heat. You want a little bit of brown. Butterfly each chop.

Mix the walnuts and stilton together. Apply evenly to each chop (on the inside).

Fold the chops back together and secure with a toothpick.

Back to the sauce... Once the liquid is reduced to about 3/4 cup, strain it into a separate container and reserve. The apples and onions left in the strainter now become your chutney. Chop up your beet, add the ground cloves and a couple of grinds of pepper and get them good and mixed in.
Go ahead and put the chops in the oven at 400 for about 20 minutes (I left mine in a little longer, on the advice of my sous-chef, and over cooked them).

When the chops are about 10 minutes from being done, things get busy. Melt the butter. (Experts will say to clarify it, as well, but I just left most of the solids at the bottom of the butter container, which worked pretty well.) In a pan with sloping sides, whisk together the egg yolks and 3 tbsp water until frothy.

Place the pan over medium-high heat and whisk the tar out of it, paying particular care not to let any one area rest (you'll just end up with boiled egg yolk in your sauce). As soon as the sauce thickens (and this will happen very quickly, and it looks like pudding), count to 5 (still whisking), and remove from heat. Whisk for another 20-30 seconds more. This is called a sabayon.

Add the butter and lemon, using the whisk to gently stir them in. Now add the chopped thyme and the reserved liquid to taste, gently stirring the liquid in. Add salt, if necessary.

Plate by putting sauce on top of the pork chops, then the chutney on top of that. We served ours with a wild rice mixture (Safeway brand, no less) that was quite tasty, and a field green salad with toasted walnuts, stilton and fresh, diced apple on top and a raspberry-chipotle vinaigrette.

We paired this with a Perrin & Fils Cote du Rhone, which was very tasty.