Thursday, February 26, 2015

Brandade – Hot Cod

There are certain things that if I see on a menu, I will almost always order them, and brandade is one of those things. This amazing dish from the south of France can be made many different ways, but it’s usually some sort of combination of salt cod, potato, garlic, and olive oil.

Once made, it can be eaten as is, or turned into a beautifully browned and bubbly gratin. Actually, forget I said that, as this should always be baked and eaten piping hot, ideally with some homemade crostini.

The biggest (and only) challenge with this dish is handling the salt cod. It needs to be soaked in cold water for a day or two before you can work with it. However, depending on which salt cod you use, the time this takes can vary. If you’ve never used it before, follow the instructions herein, but maybe cut off a small piece once it’s soaked, cook it in a little bit of water, and test it for salt content. It should still be kind of salty, but not unpleasantly so.

As I mention in the video, the final product should get precariously close to being too salty, without going past that point. It's going to be similar to things like smoked salmon, prosciutto, or salami. This is why you should not do any salting, including when you boil the potatoes, until everything comes together.

This is a great recipe for entertaining, since you can make it ahead of time, and bake when you’re ready to serve. You can use one large shallow dish, or do a smaller size portion like I did here. Remember everything is cooked; so all you need to do is heat it through, brown the top, and serve. I really hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 24 snack-sized portions:
1 pound skinless salt cod fillet, soaked in cold water for 24-36 hours, changing water 4-5 times
2 bay leaves
6 springs thyme
1 1/2 cups whole milk
pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
8 large garlic cloves, peeled, halved
1 pound gold potatoes, cooked until tender with garlic
1/2 lemon, juiced, or to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp crème fraiche for the top, optional

- Bake at 450 F. for about 20, or until browned

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Homemade Beef Jerky – A Real Convenient Store

Until recently, beef jerky was a late night, convenience store impulse buy, and what was in it was the least of your worries at that hour. I’ve had beef jerky where MSG was the most nutritious thing in it, but times have changed. 

Thanks to a new wave of modern day cave-people, eating healthy, high-protein snacks is all the rage, and while you can find many artisan brands out there, making your own is fun, easy, and using this method, relatively quick. 

You can get great flavor with as little as a 3-hour marination, but feel free to go as long as 24-hours. I did half a batch using both methods, and I actually prefer the shorter period, which seems to produce a beefier jerky. Michele on the other hand, liked the longer method, and its spicier, slightly saltier taste.

You can use any lean cut of beef you want, but I think top round is a great choice, as I explain in the video. Whatever you decide to use, please do yourself a favor, and have the butcher cut it for you. Nice thin, even slices are key, so the meat dries evenly. Just tell the butcher you are making jerky, and they’ll know what to do. I hope you give this beef jerky recipe a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 6 (2-oz) portions Beef Jerky:
2 pounds thinly sliced beef top round
3/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 rounded tablespoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 generous tablespoon honey
- Marinate for 3 hours or more.
- Bake at 175 F. for 3-4 hours or until dry and leathery

Friday, February 20, 2015

Farro with Wild Mushrooms – So Old it’s New

We don’t get to eat a lot of food that’s identical to what the ancient Romans would have eaten, which is one of the things that makes farro so fun. 

They must have had mushrooms and fermented cream back then, so it’s easy to imagine Cleopatra and Mark Antony enjoying this before an evening of who knows what.

You can buy dry farro in whole-grain form, but I prefer the “pearled” style, where the tougher outer layer has been polished down. Mine took about 40-45 minutes to cook, but that will depend on the brand you buy, as the sizes, and amount of polishing can vary.

I think this makes the perfect winter side dish, and while you could serve it as an entrée like a risotto, for me it’s much better as a co-star. It has a very unique, firm and chewy texture that makes it a great contrast for roasted or braised meat, but all by itself, it could get tiresome. That said, I hope you give this exciting “new” grain a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 portions:
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms (a small handful), *soaked, and chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
10 brown mushrooms, cubed
1/2 onion, small dice
2 clove minced garlic
salt to taste
1 heaping cup pearled farro
3 cups chicken stock, divided
2 tbsp crème fraiche
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
grated Parmigiano Reggiano

*Note: You can strain and use the soaking liquid in the dish, but after only 20 minutes it’s fairly weak, and I wanted the extra flavor of chicken broth, so I didn’t use it. If you soak them for a longer time, and/or want to stay vegetarian, then go for it.