Friday, November 18, 2011

To Russia, With Love: Borscht

On our next installment of To Russia, With Love, a celebration of my Russian spam-bot visitors that have finally boosted me over 10,000 visitors since Mr. Onion's Neighborhood's first recipe post is a traditional recipe for borscht, we'll be making a wonderful soup of beets and cabbage.

Monday, November 14, 2011

To Russia, With Love: Kvass

I was hoping to start off early in the To Russia, With Love series with a borscht recipe since borscht seems to be so stereotypically Russian, but when I came upon this old recipe from a 19th century book I saw "kvass" listed as an ingredient. Indeed, a number of recipes called for it. So, anticipating I'll need it for more than just borscht I figured this would be a good one to try and make!

Kvass is a lightly fermented beverage made from a dark bread, usually rye. It's described as tasting sour and sweet, and sometimes can be slightly carbonated. The process is pretty simple: toast some bread, soak it in some water, drain it out, add some sugar and yeast, and in a couple days it's done.  I thought it might be interesting to add some flavor, so this has some berries mixed into it. (A lot of recipes I found called for raisins for some added flavor, but I used what I had on hand.) This is a multi-day project.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pasta alla Carbonara

My good neighbors, you all know how much I love pork. I make my own pancetta, love the taste of slow cooked brined pork, and have been known to make thirty pound batches of sausage.

Carbonara is one of my favorite dishes.  It's simple, tasty, filling, and is a great way to come off looking like a great cook even if you don't think you know what you're doing. (Seriously, it's not that hard!) A quick trip to a local farmer's market and you can probably obtain most of the ingredients from local producers. Even better!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spirits: Cuffs and Buttons, the Original Southern Comfort Liqueur

One can't live in New Orleans without, at some point, discussing alcohol. While I love a good, hearty beer, or a nice cold High Life after a hot day of working in the yard, my evenings are best ended with a nice cocktail. The only thing that can beat a good cocktail is a well crafted liqueur.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Quick Eats: To Russia, With Love: Baked Chicken Kiev

I was taking a look at the stats for Mr. Onion's Neighborhood and was surprised to see that I have a large number of Russian visitors. While I'm sure many of these are spam bots (I can never figure out what the referral sites actually are) I'd like to give a shout out to my most frequent visitors! In their honor, I'll be trying out some Russian recipes throughout the month labeled as "To Russia, With Love".

We'll start this off with a Quick Eats post, since this is a pretty basic recipe for Chicken Kiev. I learned that this is typically referred to as a Ukranian recipe, but that some have argued it is Russian in nature.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

I love pickled things. Okra, cucumbers, eggs. They're great with a good light beer: I have some fond memories of the Acadia Brew Pub, chomping down on some pickled eggs from this big barrel that I think had been there since the "War of Northern Aggression" (as it was once explained to me there).

These are super easy to make and they don't require any knowledge or experience of canning (which is what I initially thought). The only thing you need are some ingredients and a little common sense.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quick Eats: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Today's post is brought to you by the letter F, for Fire Marshall. (I'd tell you the whole story, but let's just say our oven at work was disconnected and we had no way of making our usual Friday frozen pizzas.) So in order to make sure we could maintain a happy office I offered to make one of my favorite things: slow cooker pulled pork.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Basics: Hard Boiled Eggs

This is probably the simplest of recipes I'll ever post unless there's a need for a how-to on boiling water.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Brie and Pancetta Stuffed Pork Chops

You all know by now that I like cheese and I love meat. We found these wonderfully thick pork chops for sale and my first thought was, "STUFF THEM!"

Monday, August 22, 2011

Braised Beef Cheeks, aka Beef Butter

I have a philosophy about new foods:

Try anything once, twice if you like it, three times to make sure.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Quick Eats: Flatbreads

Howdy, neighbors! I apologize for leaving you hanging for the past few weeks. Summer school has been a tour du force and I haven't had much time to myself. I have quite a few posts pending, so expect to see some catching up in the next week.

After a rough day of work I needed to decompress a little bit before jumping into writing a final paper and writing up the take-home final exam. Ms. Hightail had made some amazing cucumber dip and we had nearly run out of my favorite flatbreads from World Market that went so well with it. I poked around on the Internet a little bit and found a recipe over at Stresscake that seemed pretty easy to handle. (And the site seemed fitting!)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Möbius Steak: Accepting Delicious Defeat

I didn't fail the test. I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.

— Ben Franklin

Not everything goes as planned. You study something, follow the directions, and you find your end product is a total flop. I always think it important to refer to them as "learning experiences" and to try and find something positive despite the lack of success.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Basics: Mashed Potatoes

Mash. Mashers. Taters. Mashed-a-taters. The perfect white canvas of the food world. They go by so many names.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

1 / (Shepherd's π)

This was not the post I originally intended when trying to showcase some things you could do with transglutaminase, aka meat glue. Since this one was a success and the other was an epic failure (something that I plan on attempting again soon), I thought I'd start with the success.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Egg Ikura: Reconstructing Breakfast

I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés.

—Nicholas Kurti

Monday, April 4, 2011

Coming up soon: Science in the kitchen! And some changes ...

Howdy, neighbors!

I have a couple of very cool things planned that I wanted to mention, but hope to not give too much away! The start of Marcel's Quantum Kitchen on the Syfy Channel* has gotten me interested in some various molecular gastronomy techniques. I've been doing some experimenting and have a meal planned out, but I'm still trying to get my hands on some "meat glue" (transglutaminase) without having to spend $90 on buying a 1 kg package. I requested some samples from Ajinomoto, who sells the Activa line of transglutaminase products, but we'll see if they actually send it to a non-chef/non-retailer. What I have in mind for it's use isn't something you would normally do, but I think it would be a good way to show how modern science can be used to create interesting dishes. I'll also be showing you some spherification (more or less) techniques, making agar agar noodles, and converting oils/fats to powders. Expect a different post for each of the four, with the "meat glue" ending the series.

Also, I understand that not everyone has an hour to read my quite lengthy posts. I'll do my best to keep them short and from now on I'll also be attaching a link to a PDF of the simplified recipe for those of you who might be in a rush.

In the couple of months since I started posting somewhat regularly on Mr. Onion's Neighborhood I've had almost 1,700 site visits. A huge thank you to my followers and to all of you who come by and read, even if it's only to look at the pictures! My only hope is that you've been inspired in some small way to try something new, adapt something old, or just appreciate the good food that can come with a little bit of time and a lot of love from your very own kitchen!

Keep on cooking, friends. Until next time!

* I hate the new name, Syfy, for the record. Bleh.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Basics: Tomato Sauce

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of "basic" recipes. So much good food is based on the simplest of recipes, such as a good tomato sauce. I promise not to insult you by teaching you how to boil water or peel a potato. Let's get to it!

My grandmother, Edith Nero, passed away last year. She was 84, had a small portion of a functioning lung left (she had tuberculosis as a child) and was an awesome lady. She watched a lot of soaps during the day and, if you had the chance to sit with her she'd tell you all of their stories, using phrases like "the girl with the boobs" to describe the characters. She was a funny lady and is certainly very missed.

Some years ago when she first moved in with my parents I had her show me how she made her sauce and meatballs. (Yes, I call it sauce. Let's just let the whole sauce vs. gravy thing go for now, or you can read more on it here and make your own decision.) My older sister, from Ms. Fancy Pants Tris blog (for you running folk) learned how to make her pizzelles, something that my family still makes every Christmas. I was more interested in the meat ... and the sauce, of course.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hogs for the Cause 2011

It's all about the pork.

I love pork. If you know me at all then you know that I'm a huge fan of the Almighty Pig. I love it in all its forms: ground, cured, smoked, slow cooked, fried, baked, roasted, braised, grilled ... I'm drooling just thinking about pork.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Homegrown: Pork, Parsnips and Greens

My neighbors! I'm sorry for leaving you without my endless ramblings for so long, but life (including the flu) sometimes catches you off guard. Let's get right to it!

"Do you know where your food comes from?"

These days, how often do we hear this question? And do we truly know the answer? How many times do we blindly pick up a package of steaks or a head of lettuce with no concern over how it made it from farm to store? I never thought much about it until I started living with ducks. Our layers are pretty consistent, so we have a steady supply of eggs. When we run out and I have to buy chicken eggs, I kind of panic. What were these chickens eating? Were they healthy? Well kept? Did they have bumblefoot? (We had a case of bumblefootwith one of our ducks. It's apparently common in poultry, and probably pretty common in commercial poultry farms. I'll let you read up on it yourself.) I'm amazed, after buying eggs, how watery and weak tasting they are. I can easily replace "2 eggs" in a recipe with just a single duck egg. (Look back to my Cheese-Stuffed Meatballs for an example.) I see the ducks who lay these eggs every day. We feed them and care for them. I know where these eggs come from. And they're freaking delicious. (Don't worry. We'll have some egg recipes in the near future!)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cheese-Stuffed Meatballs

I doubt the title surprises you at this point. While I certainly do have a lot of love for things full of cheese or meat, or covered in cheese or meat, those aren't the only things I'm capable of doing ... and I hope that's clear. My goal, if I have one, is just to get you to think outside of the box. Be creative. Play with your food.

Keeping that in mind, we'll be making meatballs today!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

From New Orleans king cakes continue to push the edge

I got a mention on! How crazy is that?

From New Orleans king cakes continue to push the edge

Thanks to the "person on the street" mentioned in the article (a good friend of mine, Ashley, who owns/runs the Porcelain Porcupine shop on Etsy) and to Leslie at NOLA Eats! And, of course, to Brett Anderson at the Times-Picayune!

I'll be cooking something up tomorrow night. Make sure to come back Friday for more food!

Monday, February 28, 2011

NOLA Eats King Cake Tasting: Gâteau de Boeuf Royale is the winner!

The Gâteau de Boeuf Royale won the "Homemade" category at the NOLA Eats King Cake Tasting this past Saturday! It was a really great event and many thanks to Leslie over at NOLA Eats for organizing, and to Barbara Yochum for hosting the event at her gallery.

Some things I learned from my original recipe:
  • Making suet pastry dough is a giant pain in the rear. It's easier to use rendered fat than ground or shredded fat. And no matter what, it's probably not going to come out the way you think. I'd like to think I have a good method down for it now, but I have about 6 lbs. of dough in the fridge that attest to the trial and error process I had to go through.
  • A little bit of stock with a little bit of cornstarch works well to keep the filling from drying out. The pastry dough absorbs a good amount of liquid so having it thick helps keep it juicy.
  • The filling is much easier to work with after being chilled and the juices/fats have had a chance to congeal.
  • An egg wash makes all the difference.
  • Gastriques are amazing, wonderful things and I want to put them on everything.
For those of you who came out to the event, thank you! And for those of you who missed it there were a ton of great homemade entries and a great selection of retail cakes from around the city. (Sucré. Seriously. Awesome cake. And the glitter on my teeth was a nice finishing touch!) I'm sure NOLA Eats will have a write up on their site soon, so please visit over there and keep an eye out for a follow-up to the event!

I'll hopefully be getting another recipe up here in the next couple of days. I was focusing on the event all last week, so I apologize for falling behind.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gâteau de Boeuf Royale at NOLA Eats King Cake Tasting on Feb 26!

If you've visited this site (and the few entries that are here) then you've probably seen the post for the Gâteau de Boeuf Royale.

This upcoming Saturday, February 26th at Barbara Yochum's 906 Dream Gallery (at 906 Royal St.), you can sink your teeth into a piece of this meaty creation at the NOLA Eats 3rd Annual King Cake Tasting Party! There's going to be a variety of cakes from a number of bakeries, as well as some other homemade cakes. Although this is not a "cake", so to speak, it will be (as far as I can tell) the only savory entry present! It's only $5 to attend, and besides some delicious cakes there are a number of prizes! Head on over to NOLA Eats and to purchase tickets and to see some photos from previous year's tastings.

I've been working this past week on perfecting the dough and think I finally have a good flaky and tasty recipe figured out. Another possible change will be the use of a gastrique instead of the wine syrup that I originally used, but I still have some more testing to do.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stuffed Pretzel

Today's recipe adventure has inspiration from a number of different sources.

I love soft pretzels. I grew up right outside of Philadelphia and we used to get the most amazing soft pretzels from the Federal Street Pretzel Bakery (who apparently sells them online). These weren't the giant plastic tasting things you get in the movie theater; they're dense, chewy, and downright amazing. Every year my father buys a couple of cases to give out for Halloween. Bought that day, they're usually a nice, warm treat for a fall costumer.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rum-Spiked Baklava

(I should probably start this post off with a disclaimer that this recipe is most certainly not for someone on a diet, unless you've had a terrible day and want to binge on something other than a pint of Ben & Jerry's and sappy music.)

I'm not a big fan of desserts. We didn't grow up with a lot of sugary things in the house, so I never really acquired a taste for them. Occasionally I'll get a craving for something sweet, but it's not a common occurrence for me. I do, however, love pastries. There's something about thin layers of dough with butter in between, baking into a crispy little pillow of deliciousness that just fascinates me. Sweet or savory (I'm a definite fan of spanikopita), I love the texture and the buttery taste.

Unlike most things you'll probably find here at Mr. Onion's Neighborhood, this is neither stuffed with meat nor wrapped in meat. This is basically a straight-up, regular baklava recipe, but I spiked it with one of the best spiced rums I've ever tasted: Old New Orleans Rum's Cajun Spiced Rum. It's flavored with cinnamon, cayenne, cloves and nutmeg (and I'm sure some other things they aren't sharing) and has a truly unique flavor that no other rum out there replicates. (Additionally, if you're in New Orleans you should take a tour of the distillery. It's a wonderful behind the scenes look at how small batch rum is made.)

Keep in mind that this recipe, like all recipes, should be more of a guide than exact instruction. Doing a Google image search for baklava shows the many different ways that it can be presented. You can always do more layers, less layers, more or less syrup, and certainly cut it into whatever shapes you want.  So, without further ado ...

For the syrup:
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup of Old New Orleans Rum Cajun Spiced Rum
For the filling:
  • 2 1/2 cups pecans, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the pastry:
  • 1/2 lb phyllo dough
  • 2 sticks butter, melted

I prefer to use salted butter. I'm sure it doesn't help make this any healthier for you, but I think the saltiness pairs well with the amount of sugar in this recipe. Additionally, you can swap out the pecans for walnuts. Be careful using a nut with a low oil content, like an almond, as the filling might not be as "sticky". Feel free to experiment with spice mixtures in the filling. The phyllo dough I buy is sold in 1 lb. packages (with the dough in two separate 1/2 lb. packs), so you'll have extra leftover to use for another batch or for something else. If you can, try and get some local honey. Apiarists are everywhere, and you should definitely support your local food producers whenever you can. (Some say local honey is good to have around if you have seasonal allergy issues, too.)

Start with the filling. Combine the pecans, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl and mix well.  I used a small grinder for the nuts, but have in the past just put them in a plastic bag and used a meat tenderizer to break them into small chunks. A slap chop would have the same effect.

Preheat the oven for 350 degrees.

Now for the fun part.  First, don't give in to the hype over how difficult phyllo dough is to use. It's not. It might be hard to make from scratch (which is why I'm not even attempting it), but it's pretty easy as long as you work at a good pace.  While assembling, you can use a damn towel over the dough to keep it moist, but unless you take an hour to assemble the baklava there is absolutely no need.

Begin by assembling a workstation. I used a 9" x 9" baking dish, but because of the shape of the phyllo dough a 9" x 13" would definitely be easier. Either one will work with this process, but if you use the smaller baking dish you'll need to trim the phyllo dough. (Save the extras! See below.) I like to have the dish in front of me, with the butter right next to the dish and the dough on the opposite side. Keep the filling nearby.

Start by brushing the baking dish with some butter. Lay down two sheets of phyllo dough. Brush the top layer with butter. Lay down two more sheets of dough. Brush the top layer with butter. Repeat again with two more sheets of dough. These six sheets with butter separating every two layers will be used in between each layer of filling. If you are doing one filling layer, you should have many more layers here.

Make sure to use thin coatings of butter, otherwise you'll run out before you finish. If you're like me and only make desserts for the occasional splurge, then go ahead and melt some more.

Separate the filling into three equal amounts. Spread one-third of the filling evenly over the dough. Continue building layers of dough, topping with a layer of filling, and more dough. For the top I prefer to use whatever dough is leftover, even if it's more than six layers. Top off with butter.

Once finished, take a sharp knife and carefully cut into squares, diamonds, or whatever shape you wish. I went with a simple square shape for this, but a diagonal cutting would easily turn these into triangles. Some people like to bake halfway, then cut, then return to the oven. I found both ways to be challenging, but cutting first gave less opportunity for any damage to the top layers of the dough to occur.

Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the top is a golden brown. You may need more or less than 45 minutes, depending on your oven, so watch it carefully.

While this is baking, make the syrup. Combine the brown sugar, water, honey, and lemon juice in a small pan and bring to a boil. Be very careful as this can boil over easily. Reduce to a simmer and allow to reduce down until it thickens slightly, about 10-15 minutes. (The foam you will see is actually beeswax from the honey. There's no need to remove this, but if it bothers you feel free to skim it off.) Set aside and allow to cool. Once cooled, add in the rum.

By now the baking should be finished. Remove from the oven, but be careful not to tilt it too much as the melted butter is now molten and could spill out and cause some pretty painful damage.

Pour the syrup over the top of the baklava. I use a ladle and try to focus on getting the syrup in the cracks and along the edges. Go slowly; the baklava is hot enough that it will reheat the syrup, making it flow easier into those cracks. Use your eyes here: if you think it's reached "maximum capacity" and won't take anymore syrup, go ahead and stop. (You can use the leftover syrup for pancakes. It's quite delicious!) In my own batch I went a little overboard, but I like it to be extra gooey.

Now the hard part: resisting the urge to dive into this. I've found that it's best to stick it in the fridge and let it cool overnight. The syrup thickens quite a bit, and the pieces are much easier to remove. (For that first piece, use a couple of forks before trying to get it out with a spatula or spoon.) You can reheat it in a 200 degree oven if you want to serve it warm, but it's just as delicious cold.

I was going to share the nutritional information for this recipe, but it's quite scary. Let's just say it's not diet food and leave it at that.


So, you have some extra dough leftover? Some extra butter? A bit of lunch meat and cheese in the fridge? Let's put it all to use! I cut the remaining pieces I had into two inch strips. Using the same method as building the baklava (two layers of dough, brush with butter, repeat) and placed the dough in a cross pattern. In the middle went some layers of sliced meat and a small square of Muenster cheese.

This went into the oven for about 30 minutes. Absolutely delicious.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cabbage, Potato, and Sausage Casserole

It's cold outside around the country. Here in New Orleans it's in the high 40s, which is tantamount to blizzard temperatures in this area, and that always calls for something warm, savory, filling and delicious. Cabbage is a great winter vegetable, but not something that everyone likes. Oftentimes cabbage, cooked on its own, gives off an uncomfortable smell and, if done wrong, an unpleasant taste. If you have someone in your family who is wary of cabbage, this is the perfect dish to make them a convert.

I originally got this recipe from The Silver Spoon, an amazing cookbook for anyone interested in Italian cuisine. A lot of the recipes are basic and use only a handful of ingredients. (A personal favorite is the pork loin and grape juice recipe.) The recipe in the book was titled "Baked Savoy Cabbage". While this is a great recipe, I'm never content with following the rules so I spruced it up a bit.

The original Silver Spoon recipe for this called for cabbage, sausage, tomato paste, sausage, and cheese. I found it to be colorless (mostly red) and, sadly, watery. Like most leafy vegetables, cabbage retains a lot of water. When baked and allowed to cool some of this liquid is reabsorbed, but I found that adding potatoes gave it some substance and the red onions gave it a nice range of color.

  • 1 head of cabbage
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 lb. of fresh (raw) sausage
  • 1-2 cups of cream
  • 5-6 small potatoes, scrubbed clean
  • shredded mozzarella, or similar cheese
  • 1 6oz. can tomato paste
  • salt
  • pepper
These are not complicated ingredients. This recipe relies heavily on the sausage carrying a lot of the spices, so make sure you have a sausage that you like. I used some of my homemade chicken sausage, which had spinach, sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese, and garlic. Other than that, the only spices used are salt and pepper. If you find a good store brand sausage that you like you'll be set.

Start by boiling a pot of water. While this is going, cut and core the cabbage. I always remove the leaves from the outside of the cabbage, but if you're determined to use them then by all means go ahead and keep them. Separate each layer of cabbage, reserving the tightly bound inner leaves. Wash them well using a salad spinner or by hand in the sink.

Thinly slice the red onion and the potatoes. As you can see, I used different types of potatoes. As a rule of thumb, I use whatever I have handy. In this case I had some small russets and some even smaller red potatoes. The thinner you can slice them the better: feel free to use a food slicer, mandolin, or any other piece of equipment you have. I did these by hand, mostly because dragging out the food slicer meant yet another thing to clean.

By now your pot of water should be at a rolling boil. Toss in the cabbage and blanch for about 5 minutes. You don't want to cook them completely, only soften them so they are easy to deal with and help bring some of that bright green color out. Empty into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to drain.

Heat a pan with some oil. I have a wonderful little oil mister I picked up from Williams-Sonoma that allows me to mix some herbs with the oil to give it a little flavor. (This bottle has rosemary and crushed red pepper.) Give the pan a good spray, then remove the sausage from the casings and cook over a medium flame for a few minutes, making sure to crumble into small pieces. Add in the entire can of tomato paste, and then fill the same can with water and empty into the pan. Mix thoroughly until a thick sauce is formed. Give it a taste -- this is a good time to add some salt or pepper or any other seasonings that might be missing from the sausage. Set aside.

Take a large, deep baking dish and coat with oil. I used my same spray oil, but you are welcome to oil a paper towel and run it along the sides. In all honesty, I don't know if this makes a difference, given the amount of liquid released while cooking but I suppose it's good practice.

We'll be constructing the casserole like a lasagna. Start with a layer of cabbage. Top it with some salt and pepper. Next, spread a thin layer of onion.

Cover this with a layer of potatoes: if you're using different types, make sure to spread them out.

Top this with a layer of sausage, and top this with shredded cheese. Repeat this whole process.

When you get to your last layer of sausage, top with more cabbage, then spread the leftover cheese on top. There is no real science to the construction of this. I found that this order (cabbage -> onions -> potatoes -> sausage -> cheese -> repeat) was easy to arrange (especially the potatoes being a "base" to spread the sausage) but feel free to do as you please. I also took the sausage and divided it into three equal portions in order to make three layers, but no pressure! It's only food: do what you like!

After everything is arranged, pour a cup or two of heavy cream (or half and half, as I used) evenly over the top. I'd shy away from milk, especially lowfat milks. You may end up with a very liquidy end product, but that's your call.

Cover and place in the oven for about 45 minutes. Use a fork or a skewer to test if it is done. Your potatoes are your indicator: if you can't easily pierce a layer of potatoes, then it needs more time. Once it is done, remove the cover and return the oven until the cheese on top begins to brown.

Anyone will tell you that for any good piece of meat you should always let it rest after it cooks to allow the meat to reabsorb some of the liquid. In much the same way, this dish is best served after it has had a chance to cool slightly. The cabbage and sausage/sauce, combined with the cream, will release a lot of liquids in the cooking process and letting it cool so the cabbage and potatoes can reabsorb those liquids makes a huge difference. This is the sort of dish that needs no sides, and makes amazing leftovers. Even cold it tastes great!

As I said, this is a great dish for people who might not like cabbage. As it cools, the cabbage absorbs the flavor of the potatoes and the sausage and ceases to taste like feet, as it often does on its own. Make sure you get a good, flavorful sausage. You're welcome to use any ground meat, but make sure you add a good amount of herbs and spices, as this recipe is pretty basic in that department.

I want this, more than anything, to be a lesson in adventure. Find a good, basic recipe, like those in The Silver Spoon, and make it your own. While we might need instructions to construct Ikea furniture there is no reason why we can't add a favorite flavor or ingredient to a recipe. My music composition professor once told me, "You can't write anything new; it's already been done. All we can do is find a new way to present it." While I don't agree with that wholeheartedly, it gives some thought to things like cooking. If being adventuresome is intimidating, think of it as just finding a new way to present something that someone has already done.


So, you had some leftover cabbage? Leftover onion? I hate wasting good ingredients, so with a few extras I decided to try making a vinegar-based coleslaw. I added some sugar (couple of teaspoons), some distilled white vinegar (about a cup and a half), minced garlic (tablespoon), crushed red pepper (teaspoon), salt (couple of teaspoons), pepper, cayenne, and dried rosemary. I tossed it together, then put it in a bag in the fridge. Over the next few days I'll be shaking this up in the bag. I promise to report back on the flavor, but so far it tastes pretty good and tangy "raw".

EDIT: For those of you wondering just how this might affect your diet, there is an estimate of the nutritional information in this dish over at Calorie Count. Keep in mind that I used chicken sausage: pork sausage is likely to have a higher fat content. Also, I used less olive oil by using a mister. You could essentially eliminate the olive oil with a non-stick pan and not oiling the casserole dish. Enjoy!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gâteau de Boeuf Royale

I've been meaning to post here for a very long time. So many meals have been made and I feel I've been greedy by not sharing them. This is something that should change. My apologies to all of you.

Right now in New Orleans it's Carnival. You can read up on it on your own, but it ends in a little over a month with Mardi Gras. Starting on Twelfth Night, Epiphany, or just plain old January 6th, we can eat cake. Not just any cake: king cake.

The New Orleans king cake is based off of the Rosca de reyes, gâteau des Rois, or cake of kings. Honestly, I don't know much about the history of it so I won't bore you with regurgitated Wikipedia lore. You're likely reading this on the internet, which means you can open a new tab or window and read up on your own. The important thing to remember is that Mardi Gras day becomes the last day this cake can be eaten, making it a seasonal cake. You can buy a king cake anywhere in New Orleans. Not limited to bakeries, I've seen them in grocery stores and gas stations. They come in all shapes and sizes, and also with all kinds of fillings. This is where I had a flash of inspiration.

It's no secret I'm a fan of meat. I cure my own pancetta, make my own sausage, and generally love cooking meat. Pork. Beef. Chicken. All of it. Typically, whenever I look at something, I always wonder how it will taste if it is wrapped in or stuffed with meat. Sometimes it's a funny thought (seriously, who would want a bacon wrapped Snickers bar?) but sometimes it's doable enough that I can't stop thinking about. How can I stuff a cake with meat and not have it turn out gross?

I started researching meat cakes and came up with mostly English recipes for what was essentially a meat loaf wrapped in dough: not exactly what I was looking for. I considered the Italian stromboli, often filled with delicious meats and cheeses, but the hard bread crust didn't seem to fit. French bread, while delicious and a perfect carrier for food, often ends up soggy if moist contents are kept in it too long (although the same can be said for any bread, I suppose). I kept my search quiet because, seriously, not the most pleasant thoughts come to mind when the average person hears the words "meat-filled king cake". I gave up on certain things: no icing, no colored sprinkles, and probably not actually cake (which would likely have the same soggy issues as a regular bread would).

The answer ended up being an easy one that I feel stayed pretty true to New Orleans. One of my favorite foods is the Natchitoches meat pie. They're cheap, filling, hot, and - most importantly - full of meat. Could this be made bigger? Why not! Could it be made bigger and shaped like a ring? Sure! Can I make it look like a king cake? Hm ... a challenge.

New Orleans king cakes have a somewhat "standard" look: covered in a white icing with purple, green, and yellow colored sugar all over it. While I enjoy the sweet and savory combination, icing and meat did not sound appetizing at all. I considered mashed potatoes, as I saw done over at Black Widow Bakery's site. I instead opted for cheese, because if it's not wrapped in or stuffed with meat then it should be covered or filled with cheese. Next the colors: green onions and peppers seemed an easy choice, being part of the Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking. I considered red onion for the purple, but I was afraid that it might lose too much color in cooking (and raw onion would be a bit too harsh). A wine sauce came to mind. Actually, a wine syrup.

Behold, the Gâteau de Boeuf Royale, as my boss so aptly named it.

The dough is a simple suet pastry dough, made with flour, water, suet, salt, and egg. I have a ridiculous amount of ground lamb fat handy (feel free to ask why) and as it often adds a "meaty" flavor to whatever it's cooked with I thought it would work well.

The meat filling is just beef, onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic, flavored with some salt, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, and Crystal hot sauce. (I based it on this recipe from Nola Cuisine, but I was just looking for an ingredient list.)

While that cooled, I heated up some wine and mixed in an equal amount of sugar, and set it simmer as long as it could stand it. I'm not a wine buff at all, so I grabbed some Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon because it was cheap and I recognize the label.

With the wine syrup cooking, I rolled out the dough (although in hindsight, I should have rolled it thinner) and spooned the filling down the length of it. I pinched the edges, then had a glass of wine and contemplated how best to flip it over and form it into a ring. Into a 400 degree oven it went.

As the giant meat pie baked, I diced some yellow pepper and green onion. The yellow pepper was sauteed in the beef drippings (I obviously wasn't going for "healthy") and tossed with some of Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute, which is probably the most amazing spice mixture I've ever bought, right next to Tony Chachere's. The "cake" at this point seemed cooked enough, so I layered on slices of provolone cheese, baked it until the cheese melted, then added the toppings. In hindsight, the wine syrup should not have gone on at this point: the heat melted it immediately and it just ran off onto the parchment paper.

A little more time in the oven, a chance to cool, and a little more of the wine syrup ... and there it was. A meat-filled king cake.

And the best part?

It tasted amazing.

So, my wonderful neighbors, what can we take from this? Be creative and have no fear! Nothing I did here was "new". I took a bunch of recipes and smooshed them together. Luckily it turned out great!

Till next time. It's a beautiful day ...