Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Duck Stock, Duck Ramen, Duck Heaven

Every year for Thanksgiving I roast a whole duck.  And then, without much thought, the duck carcass gets discarded.  But this year, it finally dawned on me to make duck stock from the leftover bones. Deliciously rich, luscious stock.  Oh, and don't forget to strain all that heavenly rendered duck fat from your roasted bird.  Duck rillette (a rustic pâté made from meat poached in it's own fat), anyone?

Making homemade stock is time consuming.  However, the process entails very little "hands on" work.  Not sure why I feel the need to point this out anytime a dish takes more than 30 minutes or so to make.  How did a seemingly arbitrary duration (i.e., 30 minutes) become the threshold for how much time one should devote to preparing a dish.  As for anything requiring more than 30 minutes, well, for some, its's too much work, too time consuming, why bother?

You should bother, because the payoff is BIG.  Not to mention, delicious.  Not to mention, you're literally throwing money away if you discard those bones.  You'll be amazed how a few ingredients can be transformed into the most heavenly of flavors.

You'll never want to go near those boxed stocks/broths again.  Unlike the flat, tasteless store-bought stocks, homemade stock has depth of flavor.  It's intensely flavored.  It's a thing of beauty.  It's fundamental.  It's the basis to many a memorable dish.  Homemade stock is your secret weapon in the kitchen.

Beef bones, lamb bones, chicken bones, fish bones, shrimp shells, vegetable scraps, leftover Parmesan rinds, etc., all make great stock.

Now that you have homemade stock, it's time to make soup.  Duck Ramen is on tonight's menu.

Slurp away (your winter blues)!

Making duck stock is as easy as this:

First, I roasted the bones.  Roasting the bones yields a darker, more flavorful stock.  Simply place the bones in a roasting pan with carrot, onion, celery, shallot, garlic, and herbs, and roast for a good hour or so, until the bones are well-browned.  Next, take the roasted bones, put them in a big stock pot with water and fresh herbs, and let them simmer away for a good two hours until you have the most flavorful, heavenly stock.

Strain.  Refrigerate overnight (skim off the fat from the top).  Use right away or freeze for a later date.  You can cook down and concentrate the stock, and freeze in ice-cube trays for easy storage and use.

The next day, I reheated the stock and infused it with lemongrass, ginger, and star anise for my duck ramen soup.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ikarian Green Pancakes

I've spent more than a decade travelling through Greece (mainly the Greek Islands).  Am not of Greek heritage, but quickly fell in love with Greece on my first trip back in 2001.  The more trips I made, the more I wanted to see and explore.  I was instantly hooked.

Yes, Greece is beautiful.  The water, the beaches, the landscape, sublime.  Yes, the food is excellent, but by no means flashy or over-the-top.  Merely the freshest of ingredients prepared in the simplest of manners.  Yes, the people are friendly; in fact, there is a Greek term, filoxenia, (φιλοξενιά) pronounced fee-lohk-sen-YAHA, that literally translates into "love of strangers", a generosity of spirit.  And, yes, maybe it's that I'm on vacation; when isn't life good when on vacation?  But still, there's something more.

There's a strong pull that brings me back year after year.

It's an inner peace.  An appreciation for the simplicity and beauty of life that I so long for here at home.  A reminder to slow down, to take the long, meandering, scenic path (through the twisty mountain roads, often lacking guard rails, that give me heart palpitations) and see where it takes me. To realize that it's okay to not have it all figured out, but to appreciate each day as it comes.

I came across this recipe for green pancakes in Diane Kochilas'a new book Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die.  The title of her book inspired by this 2012 New York Times Magazine article.

Here's a recap of this inspiring, must read NY Times article:

The story is about a Greek war veteran named Stamatis Moraitis living in the United States.  In his mid-60s he was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Doctors gave him nine months to live.

Moraitis considered staying in America and seeking aggressive cancer treatment.  But he decided instead to return to Ikaria, where he could be buried with his ancestors in a cemetery shaded by oak trees that overlooked the Aegean Sea.  Six months came and went.  Moraitis didn’t die.  

Today (the article was written in 2012), three and a half decades later, Moraitis is 97-years-old -- according to an official document he disputes; he says he’s 102 — and cancer-free.  He never went through chemotherapy, never took drugs or sought therapy of any sort.  All he did was move home to Ikaria.

The journalist asks Stamatis, "How do you think you recovered from lung cancer?"
Stamatis replies,“It just went away. I actually went back to America about 25 years after moving here to see if the doctors could explain it to me.”
The journalist asks, “What happened?”
Stamatis replies,“My doctors were all dead.”
Coincidence?  Luck?  Karma?  Random chance?  Divine intervention?  Fate?  The Ikarian way of life??  Perhaps yes, perhaps no. 

These pancakes are chock full of vegetables.  There's an assortment of greens in the form of swiss chard, fava bean greens (a new discovery of mine), and spinach (you can use any combination of hearty, leafy greens), along with fennel, onion, mint, and dill.

If you have access to wild greens or wild fennel, even better.

Simply mix the greens, herbs, onions, and fennel...

Add the batter and mix well...

Form into little patties...

Pan-fry.  The key, make sure they're cooked all the way through -- otherwise the pancakes will be doughy.

Serve with a dollop (or quenelle) of thick, Greek yogurt...

 Kalí óreksi! (Καλή όρεξη!) = Good Appetite!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Braised Lamb Neck with Fregola Sarda

A reader emailed me to see if I could recreate a meal they had out -- a lamb's neck stracotto from chi SPACCA (in Los Angeles).  I was flattered to say the least, but me...I'm just a [highly inquisitive] home cook.  When I googled the dish, it looked fantastic and got rave reviews, and so I was instantly intrigued (and wanted to hop on a plane to LA just to try the dish).

Stracotto = an Italian term for a slow cooked 'sublime' stew.

Wasn't sure that I would be procure lamb's neck, but just so happens, a week or two later, I came across lamb neck slices at a local farmers' market.  Fate, perhaps?  Am always up for a challenge, so why not give it a try.

Lamb neck is considered scrap cut by most.  In fact, the woman in line in front of me was buying some to cook for her dog (a well fed [lucky] dog, to say the least).  As with any meat that you cook on the bone (e.g., oxtail, short rib), it's extremely flavorful, not to mention inexpensive.

Since I wasn't able to taste the aforementioned dish, I went with what I would do for any long braise -- sear the meat, add the aromatics, red wine, and stock, and let it cook slowly, until fall-off-the-bone tender.

I cooked the lamb neck for a good two hours in the oven.  It created the most scrumptious sauce, which I then reduced and drizzled over the meat.  I served the lamb neck over fregola sarda (a Sardinian toasted pasta), which acts like a sponge to soak up the flavors (use Israeli couscous if you can't find fregola).

Added thinly sliced preserved lemons (refer to this post for making preserved lemons), which added a really nice brightness to the dish.  Garnish with chopped mint or parsley if you like.

The dish was delish, but I'm not sure if it resembles anything like the dish at chi SPACCA?  Perhaps a starting off point for others to add their own spin.

And, thank you reader, for introducing me to lamb neck.  Am now a big fan and will most definitely be incorporating this under-appreciated cut of meat into my cooking repertoire.

Buon appetitio!

 Pat the meat dry.  Season liberally with salt and pepper....

Sear the meat...

Ready for a long, slow braise in the oven...

And, the finished dish...served over fregola sarda and garnished with thinly sliced preserved lemon.

Enjoy with an earthy red wine.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Choosing Sides IV: Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem Artichokes) with a Garlic Mojo

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, just a few days away day away.  Consider this bright, easy to prepare, piquant side dish for your final menu.

In my never ending quest to discover and showcase new vegetable preparations, today's focus is the humble root -- sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes -- no relation to either Jerusalem or artichokes).

Sunchokes are a member of the Sunflower family.  They're native to eastern North America. Sunchokes may not be a staple at the Thanksgiving table, but they nicely complement any fall meal. They're nutty and become sweet (as their sugars caramelize) and tender when roasted in the oven.

Think roasted potato, but nuttier.

I have two (roasted) sunchoke preparations today: One prepared simply with olive oil, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper, and finished with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar; the second, tossed with roasted poblano chiles, thinly sliced green onions, cilantro, and Greek yogurt, and finished with a drizzle of garlic mojo and toasted pumpkin seeds (a la Rick Bayless).

Poblano chiles have a distinct, but not overpowering, flavor profile (herbal, smoky, slightly spicy) such that they will gently stand above, without overpowering, any of the traditional flavors on your Thanksgiving table. As for the roasted garlic mojo, well, you'll be tempted to drizzle this addictive liquid on anything and everything.

I have a small collection of root vegetables left over from a cooking demo (featuring roots) I did at the National Geographic Museum last weekend.  Hmm, now just need to figure out what to do with the rest of them...

Simply roast the sunchokes with plenty of olive oil and seasoned with salt, until nicely browned and tender to the bite...

For the roasted garlic mojo...

Roast the poblano chiles (this can be done over an open flame on a gas stovetop or grill; alternatively, you can roast the poblanos under the broiler).  When nicely charred, cover them with a clean kitchen towel (the steam helps to loosen the skin) and set aside for a few minutes.  With the side of a chef's knife, scrape off the skin and any charred bits, de-seed, and chop...

Lastly, top with toasted pumpkin seeds...