Holidays, Q&A

Mulling it over.

A reader asks whether metal pots are safe for mulling wine. The answer, and a recipe for the holiday drink, on the Mulled Wine page.

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Vegetables

Vadouvan.

The outstanding kitchen supply store Le Sanctuaire used to operate a brick and mortar store near my brother’s place in Southern California. Some years ago, I visited and the proprietor, who sources the spices and spice blends herself, introduced me to vadouvan, a French interpretation of masala that incorporates slices of shallots and garlic as well as ground turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, coriander, curry leaf, salt, and nutmeg. Toss with oil and roast until a deep golden brown.

Here’s one of the first dishes I ever made with vadouvan. I first made this about five years ago, thinking that the spice seemed somewhat acrid and needed something sweet to bring it up. Last night, I served it to friends with a spice-rubbed roast chicken and an oyster mushroom fricassee.

Batata is a type of sweet potato common in Latin American cooking. When first peeled, its flesh is snow white. If you don’t have batata, feel free to substitute sweet potato, preferably of a less-sweet variety.

Carrot/batata/vadouvan

1 lb carrots, peeled, 2-inch lengths
2 batata, peeled and cut into chunks
4-9 tbsp butter (depending on desired richness), divided
1 scant tbsp vadouvan (if using a powdered form, use 1 scant tsp)
salt
white pepper

Braise the carrots in 1 tbsp butter and a little water with vadouvan until tender. At the same time, simmer the batata in lightly salted water until tender and the drain. Place both the batata and carrots through a ricer or food mill and fold to incorporate all seasoning evenly. Loosen with a little warm water if necessary. Add butter and season with salt and a pinch of white pepper.

Pass through a tamis using a flat silicone paddle to achieve a fine texture. Serve with roasted or braised chicken, bitter greens.

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Beef, eggs, Holidays, Legumes, Vegetables

Simple and spectacular.

A reader from America’s Greatest City writes to ask for assistance making a fancy, but not technically complex, dinner for New Year’s Eve. Read about a roasted beet salad with Maytag Blue and walnuts, and a braised beef short rib in a rich wine reduction, with gremolata, on the New Year page. (And for the vegetarians, there’s a vegetarian option. With poached eggs!)

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Latin, Leftover Recycling, Pork Products, Quick Meals

Recycling is good, part 4.

If you’ve been following the saga of the ham, you must know that, after eating the roasted fresh ham, making a quick ragù with some of the leftovers, and a pork noodle soup with some more, I still have several pounds of roast pork in the freezer. As it happens, I also have an avocado and some limes I need to use before we leave town for the New Year holiday – and that, to me, says Mexican.

“Enchilada” means “to have added chile pepper [to it]” – and enchiladas, found throughout much of Central America, generally are corn tortillas stuffed with a cooked filling, and enrobed in a chile sauce. Sometimes the chile sauce contains tomatoes; sometimes it contains tomatillos; sometimes it contains only chiles. According to Rick Bayless, in their earliest incarnation, enchiladas merely were corn tortillas, often fried in oil, dipped in the chile sauce. When you bake the rolled and filled tortillas in the chile sauce, they become soft, like filled pasta.

Feel free to vary the filling – you can use another protein (if you’re looking to use a vegetable protein, I don’t recommend tofu as it is too moist, but seitan will work and so will cooked beans), or fill the enchiladas with sautéed vegetables, such as onions, green chiles, huitlacoche, and corn. Using a variety of chiles adds complexity, but you need not use these particular chiles – even a couple of canned chipotles with a tablespoon or so of adobo sauce will add rich flavor.

Quick enchiladas

1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced pole to pole
1 lb roast pork (or any other suitable protein), diced 1/4″
salt
8 corn or flour tortillas

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 28-ounce can tomatoes
dried ancho, pasilla, guajillo, chipotle, and/or New Mexico chiles OR several fresh green chiles
salt and pepper
vegetable oil

optional – 1 c grated asadero cheese (you can substitute parmesan or another aged grating cheese)
cilantro
limes, cut into wedges
sliced avocado

Oven 375F

If using whole chiles, toast in a dry pan until just fragrant and then grind (in a spice grinder) to a powder. If using fresh chiles, hold with tongs over an open gas flame on the stovetop and blacken the skin; transfer to a paper bag to steam for several minutes before removing the stem and skin.

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add about 1 tbsp oil when hot, and add the onion; reduce the heat to medium low; sauté until the onions are translucent and begin to color. Add the diced pork and sauté until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Place a sauce pot over medium heat. Add about 1 tbsp oil when hot, and add the onion; reduce the heat to medium low; sauté the onions and garlic, and, once translucent and beginning to color, add the ground or diced fresh chiles, and sauté a minute more until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and simmer about 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth; season with salt and pepper to taste.

If using corn tortillas, brush each with vegetable oil and spread onto a sheet pan; place in the hot oven and bake until just pliable, about 3 minutes. Remove from the oven. If using flour tortillas, you may omit this step.

Spread about 1/2 c sauce in the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Spread about 1/8 of the onion-pork filling lengthwise down the center of a tortilla and roll tightly. Place in the baking dish. Repeat, placing the filled tortillas side by side. Ladle the remaining sauce over the top of the filled tortillas (or most of the sauce; you may have more than you need). Sprinkle cheese, if using it, over the top. Bake until hot through – about 20 minutes.

Serve with garnishes.

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Brassicas, Quick Meals, Vegetables

Gratin.

Last night, we went to the home of some family friends for dinner. I asked what I could bring, and was told “vegetables.”

Here’s the conundrum. We had to travel an hour, so the food either had to stay hot for the trip or needed to be cooled completely and reheated. So a barely-cooked vegetable like a garlicky sautéed spinach or kale was out. So were brussels sprouts or cabbage – they would be nice on first cooking, but the reheating would send them over the edge into stinkland.

Time to fall back on an old favorite – cauliflower gratin. To prepare this quickly with minimal textural or nutritional loss, use the microwave to pre-cook the cauliflower. I know the microwave takes a lot of flack, but for certain tasks, it is ideal. Microwave radiation heats water molecules in food, cooking it at the boiling temperature of water. Although microwave cooking is less gentle than poaching – making it unsuitable for cooking proteins – it is ideal for cooking vegetables that can be steamed or boiled. In addition, because water vapor escapes during microwave cooking (as opposed to steaming or boiling), it is a useful cooking method for collapsing cell volume in vegetables such as eggplant. Microwaving cauliflower allows you to cook it in five minutes rather than waiting for the pot to boil, cooking the cauliflower, and draining it well so the water in the crannies doesn’t water down a gratin.

I sliced the cauliflower thinly (1/4″) and microwaved for five minutes per batch. Meanwhile, I made a béchamel. To develop the most flavor, I browned the butter first. I finished the gratin with a panko and cheese blend. Into the oven for 10 minutes and under the broiler for 2. Gratin, really fast.

Prep time is minimal. Slice the cauliflower straight from the head after washing.

Cauliflower gratin.

1 head cauliflower, washed (about 1.25 lbs)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp Wondra (or all purpose flour)
2 c milk
salt and white pepper to taste
espelette pepper, or hot Hungarian paprika
2 sprigs thyme, leaves only, minced
2 tsp minced chive
1 c finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided into 2/3 and 1/3 cups
2/3 c panko

400F oven

Slice the cauliflower (1/4″), arrange in a single layer on a plate, cover with a slightly moist paper towel, and microwave on high for 5 mins. Repeat as necessary until all cauliflower is cooked.

Meanwhile, prepare a brown butter béchamel sauce. Brown the butter and sprinkle in the wondra/flour. Whisk well and cook for a minute or two to cook off the floury taste. Add the milk slowly, adjusting to the thickness of a medium béchamel (just thick enough to coat a spoon). Season with salt, pepper, espelette, herbs, 2/3 c cheese. Fold in cauliflower in gratin pan/dish.

Combine remaining cheese and panko and sprinkle mixture over cauliflower. Bake 10 minutes. Turn on broiler and broil 8″ from heat for another 2-3 minutes. Turn for even browning if necessary.

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Beef, Leftover Recycling, Potatoes, Quick Meals

Recycling is good, the breakfast edition.

Happy Boxing Day, friends! So it’s noon, and you’ve got the remains of a roast beef in the refrigerator, and a potato or two that didn’t make their way into the purée, or even some leftover roast potatoes. It logically follows that you would have a roast beef hash for brunch.

Hash follows the tradition of great leftover foods – most Northern European cuisines feature a dish of leftover roast meat, fried up with potato and onion, and, if you think about it, fried rice is the same thing in Asian cuisine, featuring leftover rice instead of the potato. The beauty part is that you can use any leftover protein – roast beef, corned beef, roast pork, smoked salmon, chicken, turkey…the method is the same no matter what you use.

roast beef hash, poached egg, chive

Roast beef hash

If you have any leftover salt mixture from the Roast Beef recipe, use it to season the hash. The coriander and black pepper flavors will complement the flavors in the roast.

1/2 lb leftover roast beef, diced 1/4″
2 medium russet potatoes (alternatively, equivalent quantity of leftover roast potato), diced 1/4″
1 small onion, peeled and diced (1/4″)
Leftover salt mix from the Roast Beef recipe, or salt and pepper to taste
oil
poached or sunnyside up eggs, one or two per person
ketchup

Place a skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp oil. Add the onions and sauté until just translucent; then add the potatoes and toss well with the oil. Turn as the onions become golden. Add a few tablespoons of water if necessary to aid cooking and cover to steam.

When the potatoes are nearly tender, add the diced meat. Toss well and do not disturb for a few minutes to allow the potatoes and beef to brown; turn and brown for several minutes more. Season with the salt mixture (or salt and pepper), and serve with a poached egg, ketchup on the side.

Poaching an egg

Authorities differ on the best way to poach an egg. Some say you should add vinegar to the water; some recommend swirling the water quickly to form a vortex, and then adding the egg to the center of the vortex. Although the vortex method presumably allows the swirling water to shape the egg, I find it a giant pain and never use this method. I also do not use vinegar, although it does help the egg white proteins coagulate quickly and maintain the egg’s shape. If you do choose to use vinegar, a small amount will do – about 1 tbsp per quart of water.

The key is to maintain the water’s temperature just below a simmer. In other words, the water should not actually be simmering and bubbles should not break the surface. It helps to bring the water to a simmer and turn it down. Anything more vigorous may cause the egg white to break up as you add the egg to the water. Remove using a slotted spoon and blot on a clean cloth towel.

1 quart water
eggs, any size or type
white vinegar (if you like), 1 tbsp per quart

Add vinegar to the water if you are using it, bring the water to a simmer, and turn down so the water is just below a simmer and bubbles do not break the surface. Break an egg into a small bowl one at a time before adding to the water – you should be able to poach a couple of eggs at a time. Use a slotted spoon to shape the egg white as soon as you lower the egg into the water. Watch closely to determine when the white has cooked through completely and then remove the egg using the slotted spoon. Blot gently on a clean cloth towel if necessary.

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