Friday, August 26, 2011

New Recipes: Coconut Jasmine Rice

Forgive me father for I have sinned…

Last Saturday for the Nook beer dinner, I committed the ultimate food party/ meal planning faux pas imaginable: I served my guests and patrons something that I had never tasted, yet alone prepared. 

I have had this hand scribbled recipe for years and the only use I ever had for it was a book mark in whatever cook book I was reading.  And every time I reach for “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” or “Back to Basics” it falls out and derisively taunts me as I bend over to pick it up.  So this past Saturday, I finally decided to banish my inexplicable fears of this dish and take a considerable risk. 

I couldn’t have been more surprised.  I admit the rice was slightly drier than I typically enjoy it, but the flavors more than compensated for any loss of moisture.  And if you find it’s too dry for your preferences, don’t worry just add some more butter right before serving! 

*a note on garnishes:  all too often our garnishes simply make our plates look pretty and appealing, but add little to the final flavor of the dish.  This is not the case here!  Make sure to include the toasted coconut for textural contrast and the cilantro for a nice balance of flavor.

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy!

Coconut Jasmine Rice (from the Nook Tavern)

Coconut Jasmine Rice
By: Samuel Parks (August 2011)
adapted from an unknown source

INGREDIENTS

-1 tbs. vegetable oil (use only with the stove top version)
-2 cups long grain rice (I used scented Jasmine rice for this preparation)
-2 cups coconut milk
-1 cup water
-1/2 tbs. Kosher salt
-1/4 lb. sweetened, flaked coconut
-1/2 lb. toasted flaked coconut (garnish)
-chopped fresh cilantro (garnish)

DIRECTIONS (rice cooker)

1.      In a standard rice cooker, combine the rice, coconut milk, water, salt, sweetened coconut (NOT the toasted coconut).
2.      Cook according the manufacturer’s directions.
3.      Fluff with fork before serving.
4.      Top with toasted coconut and fresh cilantro immediately before serving.
5.      Enjoy!

DIRECTIONS (Stove Top)

1.      In a standard 2 qt. sauce pan with a tightly fitting lid, pour in the oil and rub evenly over the entire inside of the pan.
2.      Combine the rice, coconut milk, water, salt, sweetened coconut (NOT the toasted coconut).
3.      Heat over medium-high heat, until gently simmering.  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Continue to cook for 15-20 minutes.
4.      Fluff with fork before serving.
5.      Top with toasted coconut and fresh cilantro immediately before serving.
6.      Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Food Wednesday: August 24, 2011

That's not tomato sauce!

The Dinning and Wine section in this morning's NY Times featured a surprising article on the rise of Nordic (Scandanvian) cooking in maintream gastronomic circles world-wide.  And being the grandson of a deovted Swede, I have no choice but to applaud the rest of  the world on their discovery that we offer more than just meatballs! 

For the NY Times article written by Julia Moskin on the subject please see the following address:


Anywho, one of the more provacative photos was of a dish made from reindeer blood and sheeps sorrel...a combo that I am probably  not likely to try in the near future, but it made me wonder "what else could be out there?"

Of course everyone has heard of blood sausage, but were there other items of a largely regional fare to which we as Americans had never been exposed?  Of course there were!

This week's new food is actually a popular Polish/ Czech dish...and it's a soup that features the blood of a duck as the thick red base. 

For the recipe and to see the above photo in its original context please visit the good folks at Coat Hanger Chicken.  Here is their address:


Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Dangers of Beer and Baking

"When the Bread Gods Demand a Sacrifice, They Only Accept Payment in Flesh"
Miracle Worker Triple (from the Yellowhammer Brewery in Huntsville, Ala.) Sourdough Bread
Since my current list of hobbies reads like the program guide for the Food Network, my Friday nights are often spent doing things around the kitchen…making a birthday cake, brining a turkey, or maybe I’m practicing my knife work on an unfortunate cucumber.  The point that you should really take away from this, is that I don’t have a life. 

And like most young men in my generation, I enjoy a good glass of craft beer, especially when I don’t have to be at work at the ass crack of dawn the next day.  So this past Friday, I came home, ate my celebratory payday order of sushi, and began to celebrate a private homage to the great Brewfests of the Rhineland.  

Sometime after 8 pm, I decided that I should probably get started on the sourdough bread I had promised to bake for my coworkers at the Nook Tavern the next day.  I have been experimenting with new starter made from the Miracle Worker Triple from Alabama’s savant of Belgian Beer, Keith Yager at Yellowhammer Brewing, and everyone was anxious to try it. 

Unfortunately, my starter took substantially longer to rise than usual.  I’m still not entirely sure why, but for whatever reason it was glacially slow.  By the time my starter was ready to be incorporated into the dough it was nearly 11 pm and I had a few more beers. 

I finally managed to get the dough into the oven so that it could rise (again a glacially slow process), when I was suddenly overtaken by one of those alcohol induced desires to do something stupid, in this case I had the compelling urge to the watch the B-rated, sci-fi thriller Starship Troopers.  Ok so not the best movie on planet Klendathu, but is does have its moments.  Needless to say I was so enticed by the well nuanced plot of this flick that I fell asleep before the opening credits were finished. 

After a few hours of drooling on the sofa like a homeless inebriate I was startled by the sound of my blackberry telling me that the wonderful editorial staff of the NY Times had decided to send me a message at 2 am on what was now a Saturday.  Normally, I would have been very upset… today I was overtaken by a Julie Powell-esque sense of panic. 

“Ahh crap the bread!” 

It turns out that the bread was fine, and was just about ready to hit the oven.  So I pulled it out, preheated the oven, thought “what the hell”, and grabbed another beer.

Now there are two secrets to making a crusty loaf of bread.  The first one is that your oven has to be hotter than the surface of the sun (or at least as hot as you can make it), and the second trick is to put a pan of slightly simmering water into the bottom of the oven.  The steam generated from this pan slows down the activity of the yeast in the exterior crust of the bread, allowing the bacteria present to develop a wonderfully crunchy crust. 

The first two loaves of bread came out of the oven looking a little flatter than I would have liked, but with a glossy light-mahogany colored crust that would have sent Mario Battali into a diabetic coma. 

So I pulled the steam pan out of the oven, and started preheating it for round two.
With my left hand I reached for the egg wash to start prepping the second batch of loaves.  With my right had I instinctively reached for the steam pan to put it back into the oven. 

It was at that moment that I began shouting a string of cuss words and profanity that would have made my younger brother in the U.S. Coast Guard cringe.  I had forgotten to use an oven mitt to grab the pan that been in the 450 degree oven for almost an hour. 

So needless to say, I spent most of the night with my hand in an ice water bath after suffering severe second degrees burns and looking like the Nazi from Indiana Jones who burned his hand on the Staff of Ra or whatever…except mine looked like the handle from a 2 quart sauce pot. 

The bread tasted delicious.  It was the perfect blend of sweet and sour, with a wonderfully colored and crunchy crust.  But unfortunately, the Bread Gods demanded a sacrifice for my insolence.


So remember kids, don’t drink and bake!


Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy.



About five minutes after the incident...still pretty red, but the blisters eventually became pretty gruesome



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Food Wednesday: Aug. 17, 2011



(photo provided by Andrew Testa of the NY Times)
 
Ok...so not the most unusual edible items on the face of the planet, but this one certainly has me thinking... Let me know what you think, would you ever try something like this?

Find out what it is after the jump.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

(easy-ish) Taste of the Tropics Cake

BY: SAMUEL PARKS (August 2011)


(Taste of the Tropics Cake made for Dad's 51st birthday)

Coconut, Lemon, and Rum Oh My!  This simple yet elegant and delicious cake combines the flavors of the tropics in a visually appealing package that is sure to impress even the most jaded diner.  Try it on your friends and family and they’ll beg you for the recipe (which is the primary reason I’m putting it online). Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

Cake
·         1 box DUNCAN HINES (not betty crocker) Yellow Cake Mix
o   replace the water called for in the mix with buttermilk (make sure the buttermilk is warm)
o   replace the oil called for in the mix with melted butter
o   add one extra egg (four total)
·         2 tbs. rum
·         1 tsp coconut extract

Filling (lemon curd)
·         4 lemons
·         1 ½ cups sugar
·         4 eggs
·         ¼ cup unsalted butter
·         1/8 tsp kosher salt
·         ½ cup lemon juice

Frosting/ Topping
·         1 pint heavy whipping cream
·         ¼ cup sugar
·         1 tsp vanilla extract
·         ½ lb. toasted coconut (purchase a 1 lb. bag of sweetened, shredded coconut)

DIRECTIONS

Cake
1.      Preheat the oven to 340 degrees.  Butter and flour two, 8 inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper.
2.      Thoroughly melt the butter in the microwave or in a small sauce pan.
3.       Add the melted butter to your mixing bowl with approximately ¼ cup of the cake batter mix.  Combine until creamed together.
4.      Add the warm buttermilk to the butter mixture and mix until well combined.  (if your buttermilk is cold, the butter will re-solidify and form a lumpy batter)
5.      Divide the remainder of the batter mix into fourths.  Add the first, fourth of mix to the butter mixture until combined. 
6.      Add one egg and mix until combined.
7.      Repeat above two steps until all of the eggs and batter mix have been incorporated.
8.      Add the rum and coconut extract to the batter and stir to combine. 
9.      Divide and pour into the prepared pans.
10.  Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake, comes out cleanly.
11.  Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before decorating.

Filling (lemon curd)
1.      Using a microplane, zest the four lemons to remove only the outermost layer of the skin. (DO NOT remove the white portion called the pith, this is very bitter and will distort the flavor of your filling)
2.      Combine the zest with the sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment, and process until the zest and sugar for a very loose and evenly distributed paste.
3.      Using a separate bowl, combine the sugar with the butter and cream.
4.      Add the eggs and continue to mix until well combined.
5.      Add the lemon juice and salt.  Mix until well combined.
6.      Transfer the mixture to a small sauce pan and heat over low heat (for my electric stove this was approximately a setting of 3.5) for approximately 10-15 minutes until thickened.
7.      Chill until cooler than room temperature.

Frosting/ Topping
1.      Whip the heavy cream on low for approximately 3-4 minutes.
2.      Add the sugar and steadily begin to increase speed to medium.  Continue to whip for 3 minutes.
3.      Add the vanilla, and increase the speed to high.  Whip until stiff peaks are formed.
4.      Toast the ½ lb. of the coconut in the oven on 350 degrees for approximately 12 minutes until well toasted.  Make sure to stir the coconut occasionally.

Assemblage Instructions
1.      When the cake is cool, remove from the pans and carefully remove the top “domed” section using a long serrated kitchen knife of cake level.  (a cake level is a specialty tool that can be found in most craft stores.  Essentially it is a long serrated knife attached to two leveling feet that ensure an even cut every time) You should be left with two level sections.
2.      Mix the remaining, UN-TOASTED coconut with the chilled lemon curd.  Slowly pour onto the top of one of the cakes.
3.      Carefully place the remaining cake onto the top of the cake-lemon curd structure.
4.      Frost the outside of the cake with the whipped cream.
5.      Using your hand, gently coat the outside of the cake with the TOASTED coconut.

Pair with a chocolate milk stout and enjoy!

Note: because of the whipped cream frosting make sure that this cake is kept chilled in the refrigerator.


Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Restaurant Review Monday: Demos’ Steak and Spaghetti House of Nashville

Demos' Steak and Spaghetti House on Urbanspoon

http://www.demosrestaurants.com/

Good steak with a steaming helping of identity crisis

First, I would like to apologize to the good citizens of Nashville.  I don’t typically review restaurants off of my “home turf.”  I mean how can a tourist be expected to take a single dining experience and objectively compare that establishment to the rest of the scene in that city?  It just ain’t happenin.  But…I couldn’t resist this review.

Located a block off of Music Row (Broadway) in Nashville’s business/ financial district, Demos resembles those iconic Italian and Greek eateries that were once mainstays of the East Coast; big awnings, bright neon signs, and an overabundance of chutzpah.  This is not a place for a quiet romantic meal.  This is one of those loud, brassy joints that isn’t ashamed to let you know it!  Children, families, and shorts are all welcome, so if this isn’t your milieu you may want to make reservations somewhere else.

The service at Demos is some of the best that I have ever experienced at a casual dining venue.  While we were waiting for our table in the “stall” (they really should rethink this area of the restaurant so that diners don’t feel quite so much cattle) the bar tender overheard us talking about ordering drinks, and came from behind the bar to take our drink orders.  This added service was most welcome as it was nearly 100 degrees outside, now if they would only expand their beer menu!  Our waiter and server were friendly and approachable without being overly chatty, which complimented the overall convivial atmosphere of the restaurant. 

Unfortunately however, we didn’t go for the service.  The menu was a misguided mess of meat and ethnic cuisine, with more options than an itemized Federal tax form.  Greek salad served alongside chili chicken nachos, Mexican spaghetti, and an assortment of steaks.  11 different forms of sauce comprise the “spaghetti” menu in addition to the “homemade lasagna.”  Word of advice: anytime a restaurant puts the word “homemade” in front of any item on the menu it means that not everything on the menu is homemade despite their claims to the contrary. My recommendation would be eliminate half of the menu and spend more time focusing on what's really important...Steak and Pasta!

All of their beef is aged for 36 – 48 hours, and is well seasoned and expertly cooked.  The various cuts that I “sampled” from the plates of my dining companions were all excellent, though not necessarily transcendent.  My seafood fettuccine ($9.99 served with a salad and bread) was an immense disappointment.  The seafood was previously frozen while the sauce was bland and uninspired.  The complimentary bread served with the meal was oily and coated the palate with that distinct taste found only in processed animal fats. 

The cherry “cheesecake”  was a perfect presentation of what could have been an enjoyable dessert, if it had only been actual cheesecake instead of the new fangled cheesecake mousse being distributed by Altira. 

So my recommendation: skip the pasta, order a steak and potato, and because you’ll be skipping dessert as well make sure to order the Giant Ribeye.  Good service and descent food at a remarkably fair price. 

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Ode to Cinnamon

There are certain smells that simply make you happy: the smell of fresh earth after a rainstorm, roses, bread baking in the oven.  These aromas just make you feel better.  They might awaken some long lost childhood memory, or make you think of a lover.  They may refresh your sense of awe, or merely put a smile on your face. 

Sight and sound are hard, almost scientifically clinical senses.  They are passive, unintended, and automatic.  But your sense of smell (and therefore taste) demands your full participation.  A smell will smack you square in the face and insist you pay attention.  

For those who believe in the theory of evolution (myself included, but not passing judgment on other belief systems) this makes absolute sense!  In terms of sensory evolution, smell and taste were there first.  These represent the most basic and primal of our senses.  Why do you think babies are instinctively compelled to put things in their mouths?

For me, cinnamon is one of the most alluring of all common kitchen spices.  It can so hot that all you want to do is gag.  Or it can provide just the right amount of balance to a sweet dessert.  Some people put it in their chili recipes.  Others simply prefer it on their ice cream.  And then are those strange thrill seekers who put it in their mouths by the spoonful and then try to swallow (I know because my younger brother in the U.S. Coast Guard is one!). 

Being an avid collector of recipes and cookbooks, I’ve come across scads of recipes that feature cinnamon as the main event.  Snickerdoodles…Sweet potatoes… Even ice cream!  But one of my favorites is candied pecans. 

Last week I was asked to make a batch of these little gems for some family friends so they would have something to “munch on” as my mother put it, while they drive across several states.  I agreed, though turning on the oven in the afternoon after work takes serious effort some days. 

Now for those who haven’t experienced the joy and pleasure of an Alabama Summer, imagine the hottest level of Hell then increase the humidity to about 99.99%.  VOILA!  Instant Alabama Summer!

Nothing could be further from the mental images of Christmas and Thanksgiving.  But for a few short hours last week, the smell of roasting pecans covered in sugar and cinnamon was enough to shatter the brutal hold of a summer on steroids.  And any aroma that is evocative enough to challenge an Alabama Summer is OK in my book.

So “Thank You” cinnamon!  You will always hold a special place on my palate and in my culinary heart!

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy.

Recipes: Candied Pecans

  
These little gems are all Southern!  Pecans coated in a sugar-Jack Daniels glaze are brilliantly balanced by the subtle spice of ground cinnamon.  Enjoy as a crushed dessert topping, or simply eat them plain.  Your choice, but watch out they can be addictive!


Ingredients
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey (aka Jack Daniels)
  • 1 pound pecan halves 
  •   ½ cup white, granulated sugar 
  •   ¼ cup light brown sugar
  •  ¼ cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  •  ¼ teaspoon ground mace
  •  ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease one baking sheet, or line with parchament paper.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whip together the egg white, vanilla, bourbon, salt, and honey until frothy. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, and spices (for extra spicy candied pecans add 1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder and 1/8 teaspoon chipotle powder)
  3. Add pecans to egg white mixture and stir to coat the nuts evenly. Remove the nuts from the egg white mixture, leaving as much of the liquid as possible. Toss the pecans in the sugar mixture until well coated. Spread the nuts evenly on the prepared baking sheet (I find using a silicon baking matt works exceedingly well). 
  4.  Bake for 1.25 hours. Stir every 25 minutes.