Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fun with Shrimp

Fun with Shrimp, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
...Not! The gumbo was a hot mess...but it's all about the journey right?
I needed some distance to reflect on my labored and unfortunate attempt at preparing my first gumbo, to evaluate if I'd ever want to go there again. Whether I do or not it seems that my little kitchen debacles need as much reflection as the successes, even more so.
A few posts ago I wrote about my Test Kitchen Dummy requesting gumbo when I pressed him for something special to make him for his birthday.
I chose this Alton Brown recipe, compelled by his use of  whole shrimp and baked roux. A good fish stock using all that shrimp detritus seemed like a fine idea. No short cuts for this gal when all fired up to attempt something new and strange to the little kitchen. It's all about the journey right? What better way to introduce myself to the uncharted territory of preparing shell fish.
As I had mentioned in the Gumbo post, I google the crap out of every new adventure. Yet, as I stood there over that 2 pound bag of fresh shrimp, roux already baking in the oven, I had no idea what to do with it. Hadn't googled that part. No internet in the little kitchen. Too late to turn back now.
I did know, after watching an episode of Simply Ming ages ago, that fresh shrimp needs to be kept cold while you work with it. So at least I had bowls of ice at the ready. Yay me...uhmnn... Ming!
Now what? I examine a shrimp. Cut the head off or pull it off? I try pulling it off and I'm wincing at the mess already...and all that orange ooooze...BLECH! Do I rinse that off? None of the cookbooks I yanked out mentioned the ooooze. Pull apart the shell and pull off the legs. Uh...check. On to the de-veining. Well, It doesn't take a Julia Child to realize THAT is not a vein. Stop. Consult Bittman and my Cooks Illustrated bible of 2000 recipes. Oh and there's what seems to be a perfectly good recipe for Gumbo right there. Too late to switch gears now. Ok... make a slice along the bottom and pull it out. More BLECH!  What the hell have I gotten myself into?
Alton instructs to clean the shrimp during the 90 minutes the roux is baking...took me a lot longer than that so the recipe's 3 1/2 hour prep/cook time took closer to 5. It's all about the journey.
I couldn't journey into the stock until the shrimp were cleaned and the stock then needed time to reduce. It was late and I was hitting the wall. The journey was growing tiresome. That's when I screwed it all up. I got impatient (I was tired) and I just strained and dumped all the stock into the pot before it was sufficiently reduced. I didn't look back at the recipe  and use the slow pour whilst wisking technique (I used a wooden spoon 'cuz I forgot to switch) necessary to  create emulsion. I forgot I was emulsifying.
Needless to say, the Gumbo was not only watery because the ratio of stock to roux was off, the roux didn't emulsify into the stock so there were tiny globules of roux floating in the stock. It was a hot mess.
Yet, when all was said and done, it didn't completely suck. The texture was way off, but it actually tasted surprisingly good, or so I had convinced myself and keep from hurling the  whole disappointing pot against the wall and curl up into a sobbing heap on the floor. It's about the journey.
I was to drop off the next day. The upside is that it was never meant to be consumed that night or served for guests. I had no idea how this was going to turn out in the re-heat and almost called the whole thing off. I didn't. The next day my TKD called to thank me for the amazing gumbo. I thought he was kidding but he wasn't.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A first: home-made pasta!

I made pasta!, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
Last evening, whilst waiting for my sable dough to chill, I was sipping wine on the patio, enjoying a lovely night of leisure, looking forward to the day off ahead and flipping through back issues of Cooks Illustrated. Next thing I know I'm separating eggs and making pasta!
There was a big ol' slab of marble with it's mate of a rolling pin calling me from the kitchen as I read through instructions on how to make pasta without a machine. It was the footnote about how to freeze it that lit my jets.


Sables, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
I'm hanging out in an alternate kitchen this week while I cat & house-sit. It's delightful jenga of premium cookware which includes a Kitchen Aid standing mixer, a fixture the little kitchen is sadly lacking.
The second night I was here, I was just chilling out on the sofa, sipping a glass of wine, OCDing on marathon episodes of "No Reservations" on the big flat screen and simultaneously flipping though a stack of Cooks Illustrated back-issues, I suddenly got the urge for something sweet. It only took me a whole 5 minutes to land on  Sables.
With the most basic of staples, I fired up the behemouth of an old firehouse stove and started creaming butter.
The recipe comes from the brilliant Dorie Greenspan, master of the World Peace Cookies I raved on about a while back and these couldn't be easier. Best. Cookies. Ever.

p.s. I made the second batch a couple of days later. In spite of what I thought to be the most horrendous blunder (I'd forgotten the egg yolks!), they turned out brilliant anyway.

p.p.s. 3rd batch of dough is chilling now...maybe it's a good thing I don't have a Kitchen Aid after all.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

caramelized onion and bacon skillet cornbread

...or corn salsa mash-up cornbread. This is another hot mess I concocted, inspired by, and a million apologies to, my muse at Smitten Kitchen. 
It starts with her Corniest Corn Muffin recipe which I only just now noticed, she adapted from another of my muses, Dorie Greenspan. I've made this as a skillet cornbread countless times and it's brilliant just as is...but of course I can't leave well enough alone.
I was having coffee the other morning, looking forward to an aimless day off. I had one brief errand to run which involved pedaling over to the Haight Ashbury to meet up with my nephew. He lives there with his two twenty-something roommates. I pondered what kind of kitchen gift I should bring by for a trio of slacker dudes and I knew it had to involve bacon....skillet...corn...bread. I wondered how the corn salsa would work in skillet cornbread and this evolved.
I have a medium sized cast iron skillet that works perfectly for this. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. I lump two heaping tablespoons of bacon fat into the skillet and place that in the oven while it pre-heats.
I let it go for a good 30 minutes as cast iron takes awhile to really heat through.
I prepare the corn muffin batter as instructed. Carefully pull the hot skillet out of the oven and swirl a few seconds to coat the sides with the hot grease as well, then carefully but quickly pour the batter will immediately sizzle as the batter will begin to fry. Place it back into the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the top is slightly golden and a wooden skewer poked into the center comes out clean.
I set the skillet on the stove top for about 5 minutes then onto a wire rack for another 15 minutes. Then flip it out of the skillet onto the wire rack and let it cool for another 10 minutes.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

grilled corn salsa

grilled corn salsa, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
Yesterday I had a day off. I made a promise to myself to do two things. Cook something and write something and it didn't have to be related...just post something. Finish something.
Clearly there's been an appalling lack of content here. The month is half over and I've only posted once? What the hell have I been doing?
It's not due to lack of kitchen exploits. I've got 5 posts sitting in draft suspension because I just can't seem to finish anything these days. It's not due to lack of time because I've had more of that than usual. I've just hit a wall and I am trying to crash through it.
I'm calling this a salsa until I can come up with a better word. It's much more than a salsa. Salsas are usually simple. This is anything but. It's a mash-up of all my favorite sweet, savory, slow-roasted amigos...and an ungodly amount of work if attempted all at once. Don't do that.
It started last week when out of sheer boredom a rare and leisurely day in the kitchen produced bacon jam, caramelized onions and slow roasted tomatoes. A few days prior to that I'd made a batch of Chipotle Cilantro Butter, most of which got slathered onto corn on the cob.
This Smitten Kitchen recipe for Charred Corn Tacos is the bomb. I discovered it last year and have been torturing adapting it with my mad skills ever since. SK's simple and beautiful corn saute is all one needs to do. Not this hot mess.
Yesterday, I sauteed about 4 cups of fresh corn kernals (2 of the 4 cobs were charred over a medium flame on the stove top) in the Chipotle Cilantro Butter over medium heat. Then I added about 2 t.of ground cumin, 1 t. of ground coriander and 1 t. of cayenne,. In goes about 1/4 c. of Bacon Jam, 1/4 c. Caramelized Onions, the zest and juice of two limes, about 1/2 c. of slow roasted grape tomatoes and 2T roughly chopped cilantro.
Anyone can get by perfectly with the saner and simpler version that inspired me to begin with. I make a huge batch and throw some in an omelet, in a quesadilla, in a salad or a just as a side dish....oh I almost forgot... I threw a cup of this into a skillet cornbread I made last night! Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Shrimp Gumbo

Shrimp Gumbo, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
My friend, who I affectionately refer to as my test kitchen dummy (or would that be kitchen test dummy?) requested gumbo for a special birthday treat.
Gumbo. A week ago I didn't even know what Gumbo was...well, I had vague images shrimp in a soupy stewey concoction that would involve a lot of mysterious spices...or was that jambalaya? Then Emeril began making appearances. Now, I don't have much to do with Emeril since early on in the little kitchen, when I tried to make what I seem to recall as a vegetable stock. I consulted Emeril and the Food Network. That recipe ended up involving about 80 ingredients and a trip to the produce market which not only overwhelmed the grocery budget but the bicycle basket as well. Live and Learn.
I lept into my newest kitchen challenge as I do with any creative venture: procrastination by googling it to death. I now know more about Gumbo and the Cajuns and okra and the Creoles and sassafras and roux than any normal person should know.
All roads seemed to lead to The Food Network...which I tend to resist these days...where I scrutinized the top 3 Gumbo recipes. #1 Paula Deen. I don't go there. #2 Emeril. #3 Alton Brown.
And apologies to Emeril (his variations of  gumbo dominate the top of the 152 recipe search) but I ended up coming back to Alton Brown. His method of baking the roux intrigued me and the dismembering of whole shrimp stirred up the adventurous side my kitchen OCD. Stay tuned on that one.
Lesson learned: Don't attempt your first Gumbo from scratch, after work, if you plan on eating it before midnight. That should of been a no-brainer but did I let the 3 hour cooking time deter me?
It's clearly clear who the dummy is in this scenario.