Monday, February 27, 2017

Serious Eats: Muffuletta


It's that time of year again!  Time for lots and lots of gluttony in anticipation of Lent.  Except I don't celebrate Lent.  So there's no future of abstaining from something delicious for me.  But that doesn't stop me from celebrating Fat Tuesday in all its glory.  And this year I decided to go with a beautiful muffuletta sandwich.  Now, I did not bake the roll all myself, but the olive salad is from scratch, and I picked out the most beautiful meats to adorn this lovely beast.  And it was....too much for a mere mortal.  You'll need a couple of friends to help you finish this off.

Muffuletta
Adapted from Serious Eats

1 large round Italian sesame seed roll
¼ pound thinly sliced soppressata
¼ pound thinly sliced mortadella with pistachios
¼ pound thinly sliced coppa
4 slices mozzarella
4 slices smoked provolone
Olive Salad

Split muffuletta roll in half and spread each cut surface generously with olive salad, making sure to include the juices when spreading. Layer half of soppressata on bottom half of bun, followed by half of mortadella, half of coppa, half of mozzarella, and half of provolone. Repeat layers with remaining meat and cheese. Close sandwich and press down gently to compress. For best flavor, wrap tightly in paper or plastic and let rest for 1 hour before serving. Cut into triangular wedges to serve.

Makes 1 to 4 servings

Olive Salad
¾ cup pitted mixed oil-packed olives
2 tablespoons capers
¼ cup chopped roasted red peppers
2 tablespoons parsley leaves
½ cup giardiniera (Italian-style pickled vegetable salad)
1 medium garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Combine olives, capers, peppers, parsley, giardiniera, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to chop until no pieces larger than ½-inch remain. Transfer to a bowl. Add vinegar and olive oil and stir to combine. For best results, let olive salad rest overnight.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Black Pearl: New England Clam Chowder


Having grown up outside of New England, I've never been a big clam chowder fan.  Especially since the versions you get in the rest of the US are pretty poor imitations.  But when I found myself in Rhode Island a year or so ago, I got the opportunity to try The Black Pearl, and boy, have my thoughts on clam chowder changed.

As explained by Chef Knerr in the old RI morning show footage I found on YouTube, ocean clams are tough little buggers, and they just aren't appealing to chew, but they have fan-friggin-tastic flavor.  Sea clams are light and tender, but don't pack a flavor punch.  What is a chef to do?  Well, ground up the tough ones and throw in the tender ones in pieces, thus achieving clam chowder nirvana and possibly world peace.

Note: This version of the soup may actually have more clams in it than the original restaurant version.  I fail to see that this is a bad thing.  Also, there is no bacon in this soup.  Shocking, I know.  This may in fact be NE chowder sacrilege.  However, as much as I love bacon (and boy, do I ever love bacon), I feel that it has a tendency to trample everything in its path, especially lovely delicate things.  Like sea clams.  So I think that while this soup would probably still be delicious with bacon (what isn't?), you really get to enjoy the loveliness of the clams in their purest form by leaving it out.

New England Clam Chowder
Adapted from Chef Daniel Knerr at Black Pearl restaurant, Newport, RI

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1½ teaspoons sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 (51-ounce) can chopped ocean clams (quahogs), drained, liquid reserved
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
2½ cups potatoes, peeled and diced small
2 cups half-and-half
1 (51-ounce) can chopped sea clams (surf clams), drained
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce (optional)
Dry vermouth (optional)

Place the drained ocean clams in a food processor with a couple tablespoons of the reserved liquid and process until ground.  Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven, then add the onions and saute for a few minutes until translucent.  Add the thyme, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.  Sprinkle the flour and cornstarch over the onions, then mix together and cook for a minute to two until the flour starts to smell nutty, but doesn't change color.  Add the ground ocean clams, remaining reserved liquid, bottle of clam juice, and the cubed potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat back to medium and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or just until potatoes soften.  Remove from the heat and chill until thickened, preferably overnight.

Place Dutch oven over medium high heat and stir in the half-and-half.  When the soup starts to loosen up and warm through, add the chopped sea clams, butter, and dill.  Stir to combine and heat through.  Add Tabasco and vermouth, if desired.  Serve hot.

Makes 12 servings

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Bon Appétit: Potato Skins


Okay, I gave in.  I never really watch the Super Bowl (except for the halftime concert), but I always enjoy an excuse to make delicious little appetizers.  They aren't really enough opportunities in life for appetizers.  And I could probably be okay with just having appetizers for dinner.  Especially when they're these delicious roasted potato skins, full of melted cheese and cool sour cream.  These are pretty much the pinnacle of appetizer goodness.  And I love having a recipe that turns out some fantastic skins, regardless of occasion.

Potato Skins
From Bon Appétit magazine, January 2014

8 russet potatoes (about 5 pounds), scrubbed
Olive oil for rubbing and brushing
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese
1 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled
Sour cream and chopped green onions, for serving

Preheat oven to 400°F. Prick potatoes all over with a fork and rub with oil; season generously with salt and pepper.

Place potatoes on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until very soft when squeezed and skin is crisp, 60 to 75 minutes. Let cool.

Heat broiler to high. Halve potatoes and scoop out flesh (save for another use), leaving a ¼-inch border attached to skins. Brush both sides of potatoes with oil and season insides with salt and pepper; return to rack. Broil, turning once, until skins are crisp and flesh is golden, about 5-7 minutes per side.

Divide cheese and bacon among potatoes and broil until cheese is melted, about 2 minutes. Serve topped with sour cream, green onions, and black pepper.

Makes 8 servings

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Donald Link: Bayou "Chicken Wings" with Fines Herbes Butter


You can tell it's Super Bowl time.  The grocery stores are packed to the gills.  Everyone is buying snack food.  And things like these little goodies show up in the fish market case.  I didn't even know my grocery store carried frog legs.  However, as soon as I saw them, I knew I needed to try them.  So I did some digging and came up with the recipe below, which I think does a good job of making frog legs accessible to the general public.  Yes, they do taste a little like chicken, but a lean chicken.  And with a crunchy crust and drizzled with butter, they are fantastic.

Bayou "Chicken Wings" with Fines Herbes Butter
From Donald Link, in Crescent City Cooking

Peanut or canola oil, for frying
8 pairs of frogs' legs, cut into individual legs, or 1 pound chicken wings, defrosted if frozen
Salt and pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup buttermilk
Fines Herbes Butter

Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet over medium-high heat.

While the oil is heating, rinse the frogs' legs and pat dry with paper towels.  Combine the flour with a light sprinkling of salt and pepper in a pie tin or plate.  Pour the buttermilk into a wide, shallow bowl.  Coat the legs with seasoned flour, then dip in buttermilk, then coat again with flour.  Shake off excess flour.

When the oil is hot (about 350°F), fry the frogs' legs in batches (to avoid overcrowding) until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes (cook chicken wings a bit longer, for about 7 minutes).  Use tongs to remove the legs from the oil, and drain them on paper towels for 1 minute.  Place the hot legs in a large serving bowl and toss with Fines Herbes Butter.  Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

Fines Herbes Butter
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons minced fresh fines herbes (parsley, tarragon, chives, chervil)
1 tablespoon hot sauce
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice of ½ medium lemon (1 to 2 tablespoons)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place the butter in a bowl and stir in fines herbes, hot sauce, cayenne, garlic, and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.  Taste, and adjust the seasoning.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Clinton St. Baking Company: Cherry Crumb Muffins


What do you do when your freezer is bursting at the seams?  You start grabbing things out of it and finding recipes.  Which is exactly how I decided to make these muffins.  Now, I know they're not super pretty.  For the life of me, I cannot get a crumb topping to look pretty once it has run through the oven.  Someday I'll learn.  And the frozen cherry on top of each sure made its own little mess.  But these muffins are absolutely delicious and make a fantastic breakfast.  In addition to helping clear some freezer space for new culinary adventures.

Cherry Crumb Muffins
From Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
½ cup sour cream
1 cup frozen or fresh sour pitted cherries
10 tablespoons Crumb Mix

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Lightly grease muffin tins or use paper muffin cups.

In an electric mixer on medium-high speed, with the paddle attachment cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla.

Sift the remaining dry ingredients together into a bowl.

Add the egg to the butter mixture and blend until combined.  Add ¼ cup of the sour cream to the butter mixture, then half of the dry ingredients, mixing and repeating with the remaining sour cream and then the remaining dry ingredients until the batter is combined.  Be sure to end with the dry ingredients.

Reserve 8 cherries and fold in the remaining cherries until evenly mixed.  Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, leaving room on the top for the Crumb Mix.  Top each muffin with 1 tablespoon of the Crumb Mix and 1 cherry.  Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool for at least 10 minutes for best release of the muffins from their tins (if not using paper liners).

Makes 10 muffins

Crumb Mix
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cubed

Mix the dry ingredients with the butter by hand until the mixture is pea-sized.  Keep the Crumb Mix in a cool place until you are ready to use it.  The mix can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Makes 1½ cups, enough for 2 to 3 batches of muffins