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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Czech liver gravy with rosemary

Chicken livers in rosemary gravy

We had posted a recipe for liver chilli fry before, and back then I had mentioned a liver dish that I had eaten during my stay in the Czech Republic a few years ago. I was staying with an old friend that I used to work with, and his wife made dinner one night that was so simple, and as is often the case when it is so simple – utterly delicious. What’s that? Lies, you say! Liver can’t possibly be delicious! Oh, but it can. This dish hugged me from the inside, because it’s very much like comfort food. I asked her for the recipe, which she graciously shared, and to my surprise - nay, shock - it contained soy sauce. I know. Soy sauce! A genius addition, I thought. So let’s get started, and you too, can be in on this soy sauce sorcery.


As is my absent-minded way, not all ingredients are pictured. 

1 pound of chicken livers, cleaned and trimmed of fat
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
Rosemary, enough to give you a heaped half tablespoon when chopped
1 pint chicken stock, homemade or a good market brand
Soy sauce, 3-4 tablespoons
2 tbs flour
Olive oil
Butter, salted, 1 tablespoon
Parsley, chopped

We had purchased our chicken livers from a local farm, and I don’t know if they do a really good job of cleaning their livers, or if they just keep their chickens really healthy (which they do), but these livers didn’t need much cleaning and barely had fat to trim. 

See? Quite clean already. 

The first thing to do is add some olive oil and the butter to a deep, wide pan. I used our large cast iron pan. Bring the heat up to medium-high. Season the livers with salt and pepper, and then carefully place the chicken livers in the pan to sear them. Be careful. These things can splutter and head straight for your eyeball. You don’t want to cook them through completely, just long enough to get a nice brown sear, about 30 seconds-1 minute per side. Once they are all done, remove the livers and keep aside in a bowl. 

You will have a few fried liver bits remaining in the pan, this is good. Add the chopped onions and garlic, season with salt and pepper. Sautee until the onions are translucent.



That's right. Deglaze. Add the soy sauce and use it to deglaze the pan. Pick up all those yummy liver and onion bits. My friend had mentioned that some people use red wine at this stage, which you can, but she accidentally discovered that soy sauce imparted a better, earthy, slightly twangy flavor with just a touch more depth. I’ve often added soy sauce to stir fried dishes, as one does, 
but never to deglaze. It just never occurred to me to do so. 
In a Czech liver dish, no less. 

Once deglazing is complete, and the soy sauce has been cooked off, add the flour and stir. Cook for a another couple of minutes, stirring often.
Once it looks like this, add the chopped rosemary and then....

......Add most of the pint of chicken stock. Note that you can always add more a little later, and adjust the consistency to your liking. Stir, season according to taste with salt (you might not even need salt at this point) and pepper.

Lower the heat to medium, and let it simmer and reduce. 

After a few minutes (10, maybe?), or once you notice it start to thicken, add the seared livers back into the pan. 

Continue to cook on medium heat until the livers are done, which shouldn’t take too long if you’re going for a slightly pink center. I’m not good with timing this yet, so I usually give it a few minutes, slice open one of the livers to gauge where it is, and go from there. This is what I usually shoot for. Just don't overcook it or it'll be like chewing rubbers.

Panda: You're 'Murican now! Don't need none of that communist talk.

I mean, erasers. 

As it cooks, it will develop a rich, dark hue. It's ready at this point, so turn off the heat and add some freshly chopped parsley to make it purty. 

I made a loaf of crusty bread to have with the dish. 

We also had some peas and carrots on the side. 
Because, fiber.

And there you have it. I'm really grateful to have experienced this dish. Hands down, one of my top five favorite international culinary experiences of all time. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Spinach Soup with Salmon Patties

Salmon patties on brown rice and dal. 

By Mango.

We've been away. Since April 2014, apparently. I would deny it, but the interwebs never lies. Several things happened to cause our absence. We've been traveling. We adopted the sweetest dog who has consumed our days in the best way possible. We also moved into a new home. In between all of these amazing moments, we just couldn't bring ourselves to blog. The motivation was dwindling because we were starting to take it too seriously.

We have been cooking a lot, promise. And the end results have often been amazing, but we'd forget a bunch of blogging requirements after the fact. Did I take a photo of the pre-seared scallop? No?? @!#$! Is the lighting right?? Does the amount of paprika that I scooped up with a butter knife - because I couldn't find a clean spoon - really translate into a tablespoon??? Because the last thing I want to do is give bogus measurements, and then a dish that you may want to try to make turns out to be horrible. It further complicates things when I keep switching back and forth between metric and US measurements in my head while cooking, especially when baking. I lean towards metric. Panda calls me a communist. This is okay. But I don't want to be an inaccurate communist. I at least want my propaganda to be tasty. So I try my best to recall what was done and with what, and now we have just resolved to relax about the blog. 

If you take away anything from our posts, it's simply that we love to cook. I personally get things wrong quite often. I don't know nuthin' 'bout no chef techniques. We just want you to enjoy our posts, and perhaps each of our dishes and combinations thereof will inspire you to mix and match foods that you didn't think were possible before. Korean ribs with biryani? Of course. Sorpotel on a hotdog? Yes. Spicy chicken curry with spaghetti? Definitely. So thank you for sticking around, and read on. 

Spinach soup.
Delicious and healthy.

This right here, is the bees knees. And credit goes to one of my best friends. It's the easiest, quickest, and most delicious soup to make. It's her go-to, and it is now mine. I tweaked it a bit, adding thyme and cumin. The following makes about 4 normal-sized servings.

Half a large onion, rough chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped or sliced.
2 Tbs light olive oil
1 Tbs butter
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg, adjust as needed
10 oz pack of frozen packed spinach
1 pint of good unsalted chicken stock (I used Panda's homemade stock)
Salt and sugar to taste
Half a lemon

Fry the onions and garlic in the oil and butter on a low-medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the thyme, cumin, nutmeg. Stir, and then add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, and then throw in the spinach. Add some salt and sugar to taste. Reduce the heat and let it simmer on low-medium heat for about 10 minutes to let the flavors come together. Then grab a hand blender and buzz it all up until smooth. Taste again and adjust seasoning with salt, sugar, nutmeg. Turn off the heat. I added a squeeze or two of lemon to brighten it up a bit - again, adjust according to your preference. You don't end up tasting the lemon, but it somehow lightened it just a touch, or maybe it's just in my head. You can add a quarter cup heavy cream to it but it already tastes pretty rich and satisfying without any. And that's it! You can also change things around, and just buzz up all the raw ingredients in a blender first, and then simmer the blended soup on the stove top. As with most soups, this tasted even better the next day.

Salmon patties.

We had the soup as a starter, followed by brown rice, dal (Indian spiced lentils), and salmon cakes. For the salmon cakes, I used the following ingredients:

Half a large onion, finely chopped
5-6 curry leaves, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Half a medium tomato, finely chopped
1 yellow squash, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon mild chilli powder 
A handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
3 Thai chillies, chopped (optional)
Light olive oil
1 large can (14.75 oz) of good pink salmon, any large bones removed (or use freshly cooked salmon. I used a can of wild Alaskan salmon.)
Salt to taste
1 lemon

Fry the onion, curry leaves, garlic and tomato in oil, until the onions start to turn translucent. Then add the yellow squash - I included squash for some sweetness. Season with salt. Once the squash looks nearly done, which will be fairly quickly, add the spices and stir fry for a further 2 minutes or so until fragrant, and then turn off the heat. Add the cilantro and Thai chillies into the mix. I prefer to add the chillies at the end so that they retain their fresh spicy flavor. Once cooled, I used my hands to mix and lightly mash in a can of salmon along with 1 egg. I also mixed in freshly grated lemon peel (about 1 lemon) and one squeeze of lemon juice. Salmon is quite rich, so lemon helps. Taste and season with more salt if necessary. 

Formed into patties, dunked in panko, and pan fried. I got 7 decently sized patties out of 1 can of salmon.
Pretty good!

Mango: "I'm making soup. The weather is going to be awful all week. A high of -1 today."
Panda: "WHAT?!"
Mango: "Celsius."
Panda: "Oh. Communist."


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mid-week Munchies

Sausage and noodles in a light tomato sauce.

By Mango

No, not those kind of munchies. Panda and I have been MIA for several months now. We have no excuse. We've been lazy. And we got married! But that was back in November. So really, we've been lazy. But here's a short post to get back into the swing of things - Sausage and Pasta. We try to always keep "emergency sausage" on hand - fresh, frozen, smoked, or cured. Whatever floats your boat. It's one of the easiest things to turn into a meal - casserole, soup, pasta sauce...the possibilities are almost endless.

This is a quick meal, typical of what we usually cook during the week. Although I made the pasta from scratch (Anne Burrell's pasta dough recipe is amazing), the sausage dish itself takes about 30 minutes to cook. The pasta also doesn't take too long - 15 minutes to prepare the dough, 30 minutes rest time before it can be rolled out and noodle-ified. Of course, fresh pasta isn't necessary. We use the ready-made stuff too.

I made noodles of a larger width, so they were more like ribbons. 

This is my pasta holding station. The melon is key. 

These are the ingredients for the sausage sauce (some of these aren't pictured. Because, as usual, I forgot):

- Sausage, sliced thick. We had 2 fresh Italian pork sausages.
- Sliced onion (one half of a very large onion).
- 1 tomato, sliced.
- 1 large garlic clove, chopped.
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste.
- Half of a chicken bouillon cube, crumbled.
- Quarter cup white wine. I used pinot grigio.
- 1 tsp each of dried thyme, dried basil, herbes de provences.
- 1 1/2 tsp non-smokey paprika. I used Hungarian paprika.
- 1/2 to 1 tsp dried chili flakes (adjust to your spice level preference).
- 1 cup water.
- Salt and pepper to taste.

See how that reads sage? Yeah. I didn't use sage.
I used basil. I'm horrible at photo-documenting ingredients.

First, brown the sausage in some olive oil on medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove the sausage. Add the onions to the pan first, season with salt and pepper, and stir fry until it starts to brown. Add the garlic, herbs, paprika, bouillon bits, chili flakes. Stir fry for a minute, then add the white wine and once it cooks off, add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Add the sausages back to the pot and stir fry for an additional 5 minutes or so. 
Add 1 cup of water, season with salt and pepper to taste,
and let the sauce reduce on a medium-high flame.

Once you're able to swipe a 'trail' through the sauce, it has thickened enough. In the mean time, cook the pasta until it's almost done.
Toss the noodles with the sausage sauce,
along with a quarter cup of pasta water (the water leftover from cooking the noodles). Panda says this helps the sauce to better coat to the noodles.
And there you have it. Sausage with noodles. We had this with a side of steamed broccoli.

Panda (walking to the kitchen after he's done eating): "You made it too good. Now I have to go and get more."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Adventures in Stupidity 1: Trinidad Scorpion Pepper Mixed Nuts

Product of Canada?  Really?
by Panda

Mango and I stopped by Buford Farmer's Market one day to pick up some groceries for the week.  As we walked through the produce section my gaze fell upon the little plastic container above.  Mango and I both gave each other a look, I shrugged, and I threw it into the basket.  Common sense would not prevail this day.

Cute huh?
The Trinidad Scorpion pepper is currently the world's hottest pepper, recently ousting the Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper) as the world's hottest pepper.  The heat of chile peppers is rated using the Scoville Scale.  The Scoville Scale was originally based on the number of squirts of a water + sugar mixture needed to completely cool the mouth after eating a particular chile; nowadays, however, they use liquid chromatography to determine the capsaicin content of each type of chile, since a sugar liquid test was both subjective and impractical with hotter chiles.  A bell pepper has a rating of 0 on the Scoville Scale since it has no heat whatsoever.  Jalapenos have a rating of around 5000.  Habaneros have a rating of 300,000.  Ghost chiles come in at around 1,000,000.  The Trinidad Scorpion have a Scoville rating of 1.5 million, or the equivalent of 300 jalapenos.  If you're bored and enjoy the suffering of others you can find plenty of videos of people eating these things on YouTube.

I had to try a bit of one just to see what I was dealing with.  Yep.  They're spicy alright.

A Word on Chile Pepper Safety

Needless to say, you need to be careful with these things, or any of the really hot chile peppers.  I highly suggest working with rubber gloves when dealing with extremely hot chiles.  Even for something like serranos, which are "only" 10,000 - 25,000 on the Scoville scale, you really ought to use gloves.  This is not a matter of being a whimp - it's a matter of not getting capsaicin on your hands and then transferring it to your eyes* later on.

*Or, y'know... "down there".  Which I did once when I forgot to wash my hands before using the little panda's room.  Lesson learned.

Make sure you keep things very clean.  Wash everything off after you use it, and try to avoid touching things with your bare skin before you wash them.  I'd also suggest using a cutting board on top of your regular one that you don't mind getting chile juices on (this keeps you from getting capsaicin on your cutting board, which in turn can get on other foods you'll chop on it).  Also make sure you do this in a well ventilated room, as the fumes that are produced from extremely hot chiles can sometimes sting your nose/eyes a little; open a window if you can.

If the idea of using chile peppers that can be weaponized kind of freaks you out, or you're just not stupid into hot chiles like I am, feel free to use milder chiles in any of the recipes I'll be posting for the Trinidad Scorpions.  Jalapenos or serranos will provide a nice tingle and chile flavor without all the heat.  Also feel free to mix up your chiles for a variety of flavor and taste combinations.

In short - just use common sense and be careful.

On to the Nuts

Not too many seeds in this one
I often roast up mixed nuts to snack on using different spice blends.  It lets me control what fats go into the nuts, as well as the level of salt and other seasonings that go into them.

When putting a "wet" ingredient like a chile pepper into a dish like this, you want to make sure you get an even distribution, otherwise someone will eat a big chunk of pepper and blow their head off.  The best way I've found is to turn the ingredients into a paste, and then cook that paste in the oil you're going to coat the nuts with.

Simply mince your chile up on your cutting board, sprinkle on a good pinch of kosher salt, then use the flat side of your knife to grind the chile against your board.  This will turn it into a paste.  The same thing can be used with garlic (and garlic would be a mighty fine addition if you wanted to throw some of that in, too).

Put your oil(s) in a pan over medium heat and toss in your crushed chile.  Stir it up a bit and let it cook.  Keep your face pointed away from it if the fumes bothers you.  You're done when it stops foaming.

Pour the infused oil over your mixed nuts and toss to coat evenly.  I used cashews and almonds, but most any nut will do.  Just be sure to use raw (unroasted) nuts because we're going to be roasting these in the oven.

Put together your spice blend (recipe below) and buzz it up in your spice grinder or grind it up with your mortar and pestal.  Then sprinkle this over your nuts and toss to combine.

NOTE: It is actually pretty important to pulverize everything, especially the salt.  If the salt or anything else is too "chunky" (the grains are too big) it won't stick to the nuts.  It has to be pretty fine.

How much of the spice mixture you use entirely depends on how much you want.  Sprinkle on about a quarter of your mixture, taste a nut, then adjust from there.   Then just pop them in the oven and cook until fragrant!

The end product is actually not that spicy.  Spicy for sure, but not spicy enough to incapacitate you.  I brought them with me to a July 4th party and, while everyone did acknowledge that they were pretty spicy, they appeared to be a big hit.

I hope you enjoy putting my nuts in your mouth*.

* I had to work one of those jokes in somewhere.  I know, I'm 12.

Trinidad Scorpion Mixed Nuts

2lb unsalted mixed raw nuts (almond, cashews, walnuts, etc)
1/2tbsp coconut oil or butter
1/2tbsp olive oil
1 fresh Trinidad Scorpion pepper, or any other combination of chile peppers your like
Spice blend (to taste):

  • 1 part whole pepper corns
  • 1 part herbs de provence, rosemary, or any other dried herb you like
  • 1 part chili powder
  • 1 part kosher salt
Preheat oven to 300F.  Put mixed nuts in a large bowl and set aside.  Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Mince the chile pepper, then crush using kosher salt and the flat side of your knife until you've made a paste. Add the oils to a small pot and place over medium low heat.  Add the chile paste to the oil and stir to combine.  Cook until the mixture no longer foams.  Pour the chile infused oil over the mixed nuts and stir to combine.  Add the spice blend incredients to a spice grinder and grind until fine.  Sprinkle spice mixture over the nuts, stirring to combine and tasting until you're happy with how they taste.

Pour the nuts onto the sheet pan, spread out evenly, then roast in the oven until fragrant, about 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and a allow the nuts to cool thoroughly before putting them in a container.

Panda: Trinidad Scorpion pepper mixed nuts are in the oven.  Please say a prayer for my gastrointestinal tract.
Mango: *bringing home gas masks and gloves from work*

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Chicken Stock for the Soul

By Mango

Today was a quiet, lazy Sunday. It was also clean-out-the-overflowing-what-in-the-world-is-in-here freezer day. We routinely save chicken bones, either from raw chicken that Panda cuts up, or from roast chickens that have been cooked whole. We also hang on to every and any veggie and mushroom bits left over from cooking preps, and everything goes into the freezer to make either chicken or veggie stock. The great thing about stock is that there is no fixed recipe, and it will taste just a little bit different every time. Home made chicken stock is so versatile, and can be used for soups, gravy, sauces, even for cooking rice. This time, I used our stock to make a simple chicken noodle soup.

For the chicken stock, this is basically what I started out with:

The chicken bones (backbones, leg bones, wing bits etc) are at the bottom of the stock pot.

The veggies this time around included leeks, cabbage leaves, fennel tops, carrot tops, asparagus ends, radish pods (hard to find, but we lucked out and had these left over) a large onion chopped in half, a whole garlic bulb sliced in half, and a bunch of fresh thyme.   You can throw in any herbs and veggies that you like. It doesn't matter if the onion and garlic peels/skins are still on. This will all be strained out later anyway.

Fill the stock pot with water and bring to a boil. Then lower the flame and simmer for 4 to 6 hours, with the lid on.

I simmered this batch of stock for 5 hours. This is what it looked like when done:

Isn't the color so beautiful?! 
The next step is to strain it.

The chicken parts and veggies are mush by now, and will taste like nothing. Throw this away. They have served their delicious purpose.

And here is the stock. Golden brown and rich in chicken and veggie flavors that have had 5 hours to mingle. 

Cool the stock and portion into pint sized containers. We usually keep this in the fridge overnight. The chicken fat floats to the top and solidifies, forming a distinct layer that can be scooped off and discarded, or saved separately for other cooking uses (Panda says it is called "schmaltz"). The containers are then put in the freezer, and can be stored for several months.

Panda: To cool the stock quickly, just do the following.  Put a stopper in the drain of your sink.  Set your pot in the sink and surround it with ice (the more the better).  Then fill the sink with water so that the pot is surrounded with water and ice.  The icy water will cool the pot down quickly.  The faster the stock cools down the better!

And there you have it, chicken stock! We got about 5 pints out of this batch. 3 are shown above. I used 2 pints to make chicken noodle soup.

1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 peeled carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped (including celery leaves)
Half a tomato, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoon dried herbes de provence (you can use whatever herbs you like)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
a dash of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
Egg noodles
Left over chicken breast, chopped (any chicken meat will do. We had leftover roast chicken breast.)

Sautée the onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil until softened. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomato and garlic, cook for a couple of minutes. Add fennel seeds, herbes de provence, nutmeg, and bay leaves (cloves would be really good in this too). Cook for another 2-3 minutes, add 2 pints of chicken stock, chopped parlsey, and the Dijon mustard. Bring to a boil, them simmer for about a half hour. Add the egg noodles, cook for about 5-10 minutes or until done. Throw in chopped chicken breast, simmer for 5 minutes and then turn off the heat. Let the chicken soup sit for 30 minutes to an hour so that all the flavors can come together. The soup will taste even better the next day.