Monday, June 30, 2008

Love me like a reptile!

Guy: The title of this posting, borrowed by Motorhead, is influenced by the combination of rock and roll and reptiles, specifically Alligator. As you may have guessed by Zola's posting last week, I have been out for the first 3 weeks of June on an east coast and southern tour as Mudhoney were out promoting our new album "The Lucky Ones".  As it happens, we were very lucky indeed. Not only did we survive 18 shows in 18 days, hard work for the 40 plus rock and roll set, but we ate like kings. I'm not talking about the sort of toothsome offerings to be found at White Castle, or Chic Fil A (I kid you not, our Garmin could find the nearest Chic at will, and I loved it for that), but we had a couple of sensational restaurant experiences that provide the background for the dish appearing this week. 

About day 6 of our tour we rolled into Columbus OH. I will not regale you with the tale of the tiny, moldy, not entirely open, un-usable bathroomed club we played, but will point you in the direction of Alanas Cafe.  It is well worth your while to seek out Alana's excellent restaurant next time your in Columbus. So as it turns out Alana's husband and sommelier Kevin is a huge Mudhoney fan, and the two were kind enough to invite us for an excellent tasting menu before our gig. Alana's menu features local produce incorporated into an inventive French/Asian fusion style. Standouts from the dinner were the vietnamese lettuce wraps, the goat casserole and the skate wing all blew my mind. All other dishes and the wine were outstanding. The inspiration for todays dish was a conversation we had with Alana after dinner. She had worked for many years in New Orleans in Emeril's original restaurant. I was fascinated by the idea of eating 'gator, and after my chat with Alana I knew this was my goal down south. My first attempt in Pensacola, FL was not very successful. A deep fried egg roll with a butt load of smokey bacon that made the Alligator in the roll undetectable. So it was on to Noor-lenz for another stunning meal at the restaurant par excellence Cochon.  I ordered mainly for the apps menu here, but my band brothers were kind enough to let me try all of their entrees. Stand outs were the Whole deep friend soft shell crab and the house speciality the Cochon pork shoulder. One of my apps became the side dish tonight. The original was a Crawfish and green tomato casserole baked in a ramekin, my version  was with prawn flesh and yellow vine tomato. But it was at Cochon that I finally got to have my real gator experience. Deep fried nuggets, a'la calamari fritos. It does not taste like chicken but was white meat. It's its own thing, one must try it to know it, suffice to say all at the table enjoyed it.

So to the Alligator de jour. As it is hard to get Alligator in Seattle, I brought back 2 cans of Dales wild west Alligator cajun style. Available in any tourist trap in the French quarter. I asked around and apparently locals will serve this stuff over rice with red beans on the side. 
So there is not much to this recipe. Boil rice add tumeric or saffron to make it yellow. Heat the tinned 'gator and poor over rice. 
My red beans were done in chicken stock, with chopped celery and onions. Spices are the classic cajun spice combo of Cayenne, black and white pepper and thyme. Slow cocked for a couple of hours. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vanilla Slice

Zola: I know, I know. I've been a complete slacker lately, but trust me--this one is worth the wait. Okay, so Guy has been on the road for the last few weeks and I wanted to make something really special for him when he got home. I usually try to make a nice, simple home cooked meal after he's been on tour, because I know there's been a lot crappy fast food, as well as some really good but rich dining experiences (for example, he finally got to go to Cochon in New Orleans--that place is amazing). I had my roast chicken, stuffed with lemons, garlic and thyme, some salad, a nice baguette; but I wanted something that said, "Welcome Home!!" Which made me start thinking, "what says welcome home to an expat?" Well, nothing says comfort like a dessert and I needed something very Australian. Enter Bryony. Bryony is a very dear, old friend of Guy's from Perth. I've only had the pleasure of meeting her once (ironically, in Perth, although she's been living in Philly for quite some time). Bryony and her posse showed me that I needed something that made Guy feel like this:

[sonofabitch. i've been messing around with this video all week and I can't get it to load. Here's the
link to the video]
Bryony (and her posse):

Vanilla Slice:

2 bought puff pastry sheets
1 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, split
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup custard powder
1 cup sugar
pinch salt
3 cups whipping cream
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
Powdered sugar, to dust

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a 9" square pan with aluminium foil or plastic wrap, so that the foil/wrap comes up over the sides (this allows you to lift out the slice). You can use a slightly bigger pan, like I did, but your VS won't end up as thick.

Bake pastry sheets as directed and replace any guilt over being a former pastry chef that has given in to using store-bought pastry sheets with the sheer pleasure of not having to do anything but thaw and bake, then convince yourself that the Vanilla Slice Australian kids grow up on is decidedly NOT made from hand rolled pastry.
Set pastry (and any lingering guilt) aside to cool. Once cool, place 1 pastry sheet, cooked-side up, in bottom of pan. (You may need to trim it slightly to fit.)
Place milk in a pan over medium heat. Scrape in vanilla seeds and add bean too. Warm gently, then set aside for 10 minutes.
Place cornstarch, custard powder and sugar in a pan. Strain milk, discarding bean, into pan with cornstarch and whisk until smooth. Add cream, then return to heat, stirring constantly, over low heat until the mixture thickens and boils. Now here's the thing: that is crap load of cornstarch you've got in there. When this thing starts to come together, you'll know it--it changes quite suddenly from being a liquid to becoming like pudding. IMMEDIATELY, take the pan off the heat (especially if you're cooking on an electric element). Keep stirring all the while--the residual heat of you pan will keep cooking the custard and you don't want to overcook it. Add butter, stirring well to combine, and whisk in egg yolks, one at a time, until smooth. Pour into pastry-lined pan and set aside to cool slightly before placing other piece of pastry, cooked-side up, on top. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove from pan, cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar. OR if you want to get really technical, you would make icing from powdered sugar and add some food dye to make it pink and spread that on the top. Eat with your hands and watch video again one more time for good measure.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Latvian Bacon Pirags

Zola: This recipe is lovely--simple and comforting and just what the doctor ordered when your home is a construction zone. Latest apartment news: my ceiling has gone missing!

Georgia: My mother came to Australia as a refugee from Latvia some time after World War II. Whilst technically she was born en route to Australia (in a barn no less, in the middle of winter somewhere in rural Germany), she’s a Latvian chick through and through. My grandparents lived a good life in Latvia, as both worked (and meet) as solicitors in Riga, and as the son and daughter in law of the President of Latvia (1930 – 1936). Obviously they didn’t want to leave their beloved home land, and in fleeing as quickly as they did, left primarily without possessions and keepsakes to make a quick exit from the Russian tanks rolling into the city. They became separated from each other and only met up again several months later in Germany, before being confined in a German refugee camp for several years. On release, they by chance stepped onto a ship bound for Australia and the rest is history.

My mum has spent her life trying not to be Latvian – in the 50’s, Australia had a high proportion of migrants and refugees from Europe. Mum was picked on and called a wog by the other kids in school, and spent her early school years wishing that Nana would make her a vegemite sandwich instead of a salami one for lunch.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, and grew up with all things Latvian instilled in me, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I actually gave my heritage much thought! In 2006 I was lucky enough to go to a reunion of the descendants of my great-great-grandmother. Over 100 relatives from quite literally all over the world met in Riga and until then, I had no idea any of these people existed. I instantly realised just how Latvian I actually am – everything just felt right. It was incredibly humbling and moving, and my biggest regret is that my grandfather was no longer around to share the experience with me as he died the year before.

Whilst there, I had one main “must do” mission – to find out how good the local Pirags were compared to my Nana’s. Whenever I visited Nana, pretty much without fail, she’d ask if I’d like some Pirags and would whip a small bag of them out of the freezer and warm them for me. I would also help her make them on occasion; the smell of the sweet-ish dough rising in the kitchen is one that I still remember many years on. It wasn’t until Nana had to go into a nursing home that any of us thought to ask for her recipe, since Nana couldn’t make them for us any more. She turned 98 in January. And no – none of the ones I tried in Latvia came close to Nan’s.

Here is her recipe. Make sure you pronounce words where appropriate with an eastern European accent.

Nana’s Pirags (makes approximately 3 dozen)

450-500g plain flour (3 1/2-4c.)
250ml milk or water (little over a cup)
25g fresh yeast (or a 7g sachet of dry yeast)
75g butter (3/4 stick)
25g sugar (2 Tbsp)
5g salt (heaping tsp)
2 peckets bacon (Nana’s pronunciation, my poetic license), aprox 500 grams
Onion powder
White pepper (ground)

[Zola: this conversion site rocks:]

Mix yeast with a little bit of sugar, flour and a bit of warm water or milk (30-35 degrees centigrade), sift some flour onto yeast and keep in warm place for 10-15 minutes to rise.

Sift flour into a bowl together with the salt.

Put all of the salt, remaining sugar and butter into milk and warm.

Dice bacon finely, sprinkle with onion powder and white pepper, cook until warmed (do not over cook).

Put milk and yeast into flour and mix. (Keep mix quite damp). Mix first with spoon and then by hand. Sift some flour on top when mixed (enough to cover) and let sit for approximately 30 minutes in a warm place. Cover heavily with cloth to keep warm.

The rest is from memory…

Dust table with flour. Knead and roll dough then cut into circles with a glass. Place a spoon of bacon mix onto middle. Fold dough circle over, pinch edges and roll by hand to desired size. Form into crescent shape and place on baking tray (with seam on the bottom), brush with milk.

Put into a hot oven at around 180 degrees C and cook until you can smell the aroma that only one of Nan’s bacon rolls can emit (and until nicely browned on top).

My memory of Nan’s bacon rolls were that they were a little dusty from flour when cooked. I remember this being a nice thing so perhaps be liberal with dusting flour when rolling and not too liberal with the milk.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Quinoa Soup from Ecuador

Zola: I'm all mixed up. I just learned that Obama won the nomination (yay!) but am sitting in my apartment that would more accurately be described as a sieve (boo!). Oddly enough, it's raining in Seattle and the water is leaking through all the construction. There's not much more a girl can do in such a situation except to cook. And empty pans of water.

Emily: This was my favorite dish from the year I spent in Ecuador. None of the recipes I have found included the big matzo ball like thing that would float in the middle of the soup, but to me that is the crucial component.

The quinoa soup has a nutty flavor, and reminded me of the peanut soup my mom used to make when I was kid. Floating in the soup is a matzo ball like thing, that surrounds a boiled egg. You break up the matzo ball with your spoon and use it like a cracker to soak up the yummy soup.

I don't remember if people ate this with popcorn. The Ecuadorian family I lived with ate a type of soup lately, and usually served with popcorn instead of crackers. I'm not sure how much of a story I can share about this. I generally ate lunch by myself, as I was a boarder, in the kitchen. Sometimes I would talk to the maid, who lived in a tiny room with her young son off the kitchen. I have strong memories of the smell of the kitchen, bananas, flowers, and the smell of soapy water. The drinking glasses were made of metal, and I remember their glinting taste with the sugary lemonade that always was served.
Fried plaintains were also a staple, and often served with a piece of fried fish along with the soup of the day. The quinoa soup, however, was a special dish, and only served occasionally. I don't know if it was expensive to make, or too-time consuming for daily preparation, but it was definitely my favorite of may wonderful soups I had in that house. My other favorite was a green plantain empanada, which the mother of the house made for me on my 21st birthday. Neighbors and their family gathered around in their dining room for an afternoon spread of empanadas, horchata, and rosa de jamaica.

My other favorite food memory from Ecuador was trying to make my grandmother's cornbread dressing on a Thanksgiving meal that some American friends and I wanted to make for our host families. It was my first Thanksgiving away from home and I had to call my grandmother on the phone [very expensive - before we had Skype] to get the recipe for it. It was a challenge to translate it when I went to the market to find the ingredients, but I came to a close approximation. The Ecuadorian family I was staying with loved it so much they asked for the recipe.

Zola: I'm also mixed up about this recipe. I looked high and low for something that gave me some indication of what this egg/matzoh ball thing could be and came up empty. When I checked in with Emily she said she remembered it being perfectly round and with a breading on the outside. Anything? Ringing any bells for anyone? All I could find were references to hard-boiled eggs as a garnish to the soup. So, I'm hoping someone out there can solve this eggs garnish mystery for us. I just went with a plain old hard-boiled egg. Lame. But true. I actually tried breading the egg once it was hard-boiled (I even stuck it in the oven to crisp it up) but it just got soggy (much like my apartment) when it hit the soup. Until we get to the bottom of this, I suggest just sticking with the naked egg.

1 cup quinoa, cooked according to package and set aside
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup thinly sliced leeks, white part only
1/2 cup sliced onion
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 cups low-fat (2%) milk
1/2 cup whipping cream

Heat butter and oil. Add leek and onion, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, without browning. About 20 minutes. Season with paprika, salt, pepper, and cumin. Add peanut butter and quinoa, and stock. Stir in milk and cream. Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. If desired, thin soup with a little milk or stock. It's very thick and rich. Serve hot, garnished with eggs (mystery or otherwise), avocado, and cheese.