Crankychef’s Blog

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Summer! June 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — crankychef @ 3:10 am

I know, my posting has fallen… severely. This was partially because my camera took crappy pictures of food. And what’s the point of a food blog without pictures? But, now I’ve got a new camera (with a “Food” setting, ooh la la!), and am back in the saddle.

My plan for summer 2010 involves three things: salads, tuna, and white wine. It never ceases to amaze me how much my tastes change as soon as it gets hot, my appetite goes down and I crave fresh, easy, simple meals. For some inspiration, peruse Mark Bittman’s list of 101 simple salads. Today, I steamed some yellow wax beans and threw ’em in with kalamatas, red leaf lettuce, and tuna filets in a vinaigrette of lemon juice, lemon-tarragon vinegar (home made by my crafty mother!), olive oil, garlic, and minced kalamatas. It looked like this:

And, in two days I am off to PERU for 10 days. Expect major street food porn!


duck duck goose March 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — crankychef @ 9:28 pm

Forgive me for not posting. But boy oh boy I think you’ll forgive me after this one.

I am very lucky to have a generous coworker who shares wild game with me that her boyfriend hunts. I’ve gotten elk roasts, deer sausage, snow goose, ducks, etc. I’m spoiled, I know. And I figure that it’s only fair that I share these riches. When a friend asked if she could partake in my goose when I got around to cooking it, I figured it was time to have another dinner party. The theme of the night was a A Fowl Affair and guests were encouraged to bring poultry inspired dishes. Here were my contributions:

Duck prosciutto

I loved making this because it seems so decadent and impressive and I’ve definitely been cashing in on bragging rights, but it’s also one of the easiest things I’ve ever made. Ever.

First: Procure some duck breasts, skin on. This is particularly fun because duck meat is the most beautiful deep blood red color and it definitely got me pumped for the dish. Since this is a wild duck, the breasts were considerably smaller than I was expecting, but there shouldn’t be any adjustments to the recipe other than perhaps I will plan on curing them for a few days less in the future.

Second: Bury them deep in kosher salt and place in the fridge overnight.

Third: Rinse the salt off the breast and pay dry. Cover generously in at least black pepper. In the future I will definitely add juniper berries and other forest-y flavors. Wrap in cheese cloth (tightly, ideally, oh well!), and hang in fridge in a well circulated area. Don’t crowd it.

Finally: Pull from fridge two weeks later. Slice it as thin as you can. This is definitely the hardest part of the whole ordeal. The flavor at the end is undeniably ducky and rich, with the fatty skin really shining. I invented an appetizer of crostini with goat cheese, fig jam, and prosciutto:

cat meets duck

Addendum: What to do with the rest of your duck carcass? Why, broth of course! I simply tossed the bones and rest of the meat in a medium sauce pan, topped with water, tossed in a couple garlic cloves and peppercorns. Simmered for about 45 minutes, regularly skimming the fat, and straining it through cheesecloth. This broth was put to very good uses: a simple risotto and a mug of broth with fresh squeezed orange juice and a touch of salt.

On to the main course: Roasted Wild Goose

The main thing to know about wild goose, like many types of game, is that you can’t cook it the same way you would for a farmed bird. This mostly boils down to the fact that you are dealing with a significantly smaller bird (4 pounds compared to 12 pounds) so the relative muscle size within the animal is different, as is the skin thickness. In a lot of ways this was pretty similar to roasting a 4 pound chicken.

First: Brine overnight in a couple gallons of water with a cup each of: brown sugar, salt, and ground pepper.

Second: Pat dry, and generous cover the outside of your bird with salt and fresh ground pepper. Then brown in bacon fat, or in a pinch (as here) salt pork:

goose tunnel!

Third: Re-season outside and inside of bird with salt and pepper, stuff in full of whatever stuffing you like (here we had an apple, onion, currant bread stuffing), truss, and bake at 350 degrees. Because goose can dry out very quickly, roast the bird on a rack over a roasting pan with 1/2-1 inch deep chicken stock (refill as necessary). With this technique, and the shorter cooking time of a wild bird, you can save yourself the constant basting that is normally required for a successful goose. Roast until the thigh registers 165 degrees. Be careful that you properly place the thermometer, as with such a small bird it’s easy to get a false measurement and pull it to early. I know that from, uhhh, personal experience.

Fourth: Let rest for about a half hour, and then have your friend Stephen carve it into this beautiful plate. As Stephen carved, he even found the buckshot! Oh the things that entertain urbanites:

The night was a smash:

The hosts and their bounty!

Roast goose, duck ragout with parpadelle, Cornish hen, butternut squash mash, roasted veggies, stuffing, and a chickpea carrot green salad.

The guests, and a host who maybe just maybe had already had enough wine.

Credit where credit is due: Duck prosciutto is a recipe clipping I’ve had around from Cooking Light for years. The goose recipe was modified from this informative Field and Stream article.


Give yourself a treat January 7, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — crankychef @ 10:28 pm

Celebrate the new year with a new and much deserved addition to your liquor cabinet: Leopold Bros. Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur. It is pretty much crafted with one purpose: to blow your mind.

I was on a desperate hunt for bitters for my New Years’ soiree, and when I finally got some at the third store I went to I found myself distracted by these beautiful liqueur bottles. I passed up the sour apple, blueberry, and cherry varieties for blackberry, figuring it was the obvious choice for making a sparkling wine cocktail. But the liquor manager urged me to try to the cherry.

I tried it straight over ice and was immediately impressed by it’s moderate sweetness. Then the most amazing and true flavor of baked cherries. This stuff tastes exactly like fresh cherry pie filling, complete with that amazing amaretto flavor that a tart cherry gets when cooked. It is out of sight. The liqueur is too thick for me to drink straight or on the rocks, but adding some sparkling water made for a wonderful afternoon drink. Later in the evening, the liqueur matched perfectly with sparkling wines, the baked cherry flavor pairing well but not overpowering the wine.  The bottle didn’t make it to the end of the night.

Retails for about $20 for a 375mL bottle. A great addition to a party, or selfishly squirreled away for oneself. Should be good on your shelf for about a month or two, and I promise you will drink it all before then.


The Best Mexican Lasagna… Ever? December 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — crankychef @ 4:04 am

If you ever want to spend a lot of time making a dish that will make you and your loved ones all happy, listen up. None of this is in any way technically challenging, but there are a lot of steps that will take longer than you anticipate and you will thank your lucky stars you have a nice boyfriend who does the dishes.

The original recipe is from Gourmet (R.I.P.) and is detailed quite simply and adequately there. I made the following adjustments: cilantro omitted, raisins omitted (for a fellow diner), spinach reduced, black beans doubled (to use a whole can, rather than 1/2). If you like spicy things, you might want to add some kick into one of the components. Although poblano (pasillas, in California) peppers can be spicy they generally aren’t too much. Every once in a while a bite gives a shocking kick, but I would not call this a spicy recipe overall.

Step 1: Roast peppers

  • Broil ~12 poblano or pasilla peppers, regularly turning, until blackened (about ten minutes). Toss in a paper bag and seal up, or throw in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Both methods will help steam off the skins. When cool enough to handle, rub the skins off with your hands and remove the core, seeds, and pith.
  • I recommend doing this step the evening before for two reasons: (1) it takes longer than you may expect, and (2) although the peppers are mildly spicy and your hands will not burn at the time, there is enough capsaicin in these peppers to make your hands burn from the heat and steam of subsequent steps. I peeled mine, washed my hands, watched a bunch of football, and when I finished the recipe a few hours later my fingers were absolutely burning. So, be warned!

broiling pasilla peppers

Step 2: Tomato Sauce

  • Puree 1 can whole tomatoes plus juice, 3 chopped cloves of garlic, 2T olive oil, 1/4t sugar, and 1/4t salt, and a small handful of cilantro if so inclined. Simmer in a small saucepan or skillet until reduced to about 1 cup sauce remains (about 10 minutes).

tomato sauce

Step 3: Goat Cheese Sauce

  • Whip this up while working on your tomato sauce!
  • Simmer 1 cup heavy cream and 2t dried epazote, covered and stirring periodically for about 10 minutes. Either strain out the epizote after 10 minutes, or make a cheese cloth package for the epazote and remove.
  • Whisk in 8 ounces goat cheese and salt to taste, keep over low heat. This will become perfect and creamy in no time. You will want to eat it like soup.

goat cheese sauce

Step 4: Spinach

  • I did everything (sans raisins) according to the main recipe. But, screw it: use frozen spinach. For a dish like this, with so many layers and flavors, I think it’s okay. I absolutely love spinach, but every time I cook it I find myself annoyed. So, instead:
  • Buy a couple packages of frozen spinach. Thaw ’em, squeeze ’em dry, and then briefly saute them and a handful of raisins in a couple tablespoons olive oil for a minute or two.

Step 5: Fry tortillas

  • Heat up a few tablespoons olive oil in a skillet, and fry up 6 corn tortillas, halved, in batches as you can fit them in the pan without crowding. Flip ’em in the oil a few times. They should be crispy and slighly browned in a minute or two.
  • This is my new favorite thing to do in the kitchen. If you are smart like me you will fry a few extras as a special chef’s treat.

my new hobby

Step 6: Black beans

  • Open and rinse 1 can black beans.

Step 7:  Assemble!

everything but the beans

From BOTTOM of a 2 quart (~8″x8″) casserole dish, layer as such:

  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce on bottom
  • 1/2 of tortillas
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 cup or 1/2 black beans
  • layer of chiles
  • 1/2 of spinach
  • 1/4 of goat cheese sauce
  • layer of chiles
  • remaining spinach
  • remaining black beans
  • 1/4 of goat cheese sauce
  • layer of chiles
  • remaining tomato sauce
  • remaining tortillas
  • remaining goat cheese sauce, smotheringly applied!

Bake at 350 degrees, covered in foil, for 30 minutes. Then place under the broiler for about 3 minute, or until nice and browned.



F(ootb)all Dinner November 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — crankychef @ 2:47 am

Although I haven’t been posting about it much, I have in fact been cooking at home a TON lately. Now that it’s dark and cold by the time I get home from work, getting warm in the kitchen seems like the only and best thing to do. I’ve been focusing on making simple recipes, and getting comfortable with the basics. I’d like to be able to pull together dishes without double and triple checking recipes as I go along, and I figure the best way to do this is just repeat the same thing a few times. The main obstacle for my winter cooking is a BEAUTIFUL antique oven that seems to have it’s own mind regarding temperature. At this point, I’ve used my skills as a scientist to deduce that it generally runs 50 degrees too hot, and once it hits 400 it DOES NOT STOP (while toasting baguettes recently, we got up to 600 degrees, the knob only on 400).

pepita chocolate chip cookies

Using the Joy of Cooking chocolate chip cookie recipe, I made chocolate pepita cookies with roasted, salted pumpkin seeds (I’ve been crazy for these lately: salads, snacking, cookies, you name it). I also added a dash of cinnamon to make the theme of the cookie overall a little more Mexican, but sadly didn’t add enough. But, the end product is still delicious and they baked perfectly in my temperamental oven.

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees, grease baking sheets.
  • Mix together 2 cups plus 2T flour with 1/2t baking soda in one bowl, set aside. You can try mixing in up to 1t cinnamon here as well. In a separate mixing bowl, mix 1 stick room temp butter (8T), 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup sugar and beat until smooth. Then beat in 1 egg, 1 1/2 T vanilla, and 1/4 t salt. Blend in the flour mixture. Add 1cup chocolate chips and 3/4 cups crushed, roasted, salted pepitas.
  • Drop one teaspoon balls of dough 2 inches apart from each other. Bake one sheet at a time, for about 8 minutes. I suggest rotating the sheet after a few minutes, and keep a close eye on them to pull them out at the right time.

Dinner tonight is also very simple and traditional: Roast chicken with gravy and braised carrots, side of brown rice. All recipes from Joy of Cooking, and are easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Chicken with Gravy and Braised Carrots

prepping the bird

  • Rinse your giblet free chicken (~4 pounds) with water under the faucet and tap dry with paper towels. Rub a generous tablespoon or so of salt all over the outside and inside of your bird.  Then brush with 2-3T melted butter. Bake at 400 degrees in an oiled roasting pan for about an hour, till the thigh registers about 180 degrees.  Let that bird sit for about 15 minutes before carving (great time to make carrots and gravy!)
  • I threw some peeled garlic into the pan as an experiment. At the end of the roasting, the garlic was too dry and burnt to do much with, so next time I’m going to experiment with tossing the garlic in with the peel and some more oil. I really want to mash some creamy garlic into the gravy in the future.
braised carrots
15 minute carrots
  • While the bird roasts, chop about a pound of carrots into similarly sized sticks, and toss in a large saucepan. Simmer, covered, over medium high heat with 1/2 cup chicken broth or water, 1 1/2 T butter, 1T sugar (brown preferred), and 1/4t salt for  about 15-20 minutes. Serve with s&p to taste, parmesan (or my latest obsession: ReNero pecorino!), and parsley.
deglasing chicken
deglazing with white wine

  • If you want some delicious gravy, it’s easy. I’m not much of a gravy fan myself, and had never made it before, but I definitely will again. Over medium high heat de-glaze the pan drippings with about 1/4 cup dry white wine, scraping up all the bits from the pan. Either in the pan, or moving liquid to a saucepan, whisk in 3/4 cups chicken broth, 1T butter, and 1T flour, until thickened. If using the chicken recipe above you absolutely will not have to add any salt, but pepper to taste and vinegar if you choose.
    salty chicken gravy, while the bird rests

  • chickendinner

West African Peanut Stew September 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — crankychef @ 4:41 am

Although it is still sweltering here, I’ve got a few soups lined up in my cooking queue.

To start, I needed some veggie stock. Although it’s pretty much the easiest most non-recipe requiring thing in the world, I took a note from Jacques Pepin and tossed together 10 cups of water with 4 chopped carrots, 3 celery stalks, 2 chopped onions, a few chopped cloves of garlic, a handful of parsely, 1T herbs de provence, and eventually some salt and pepper. This delicious stock boiled softly for about an hour and was ready to go.

Since we don’t have compost currently, my new plan is to keep all veggie scraps in a bag in the fridge and boil some stock once a week. Super easy to do, and as long as you’ve got the carrot/celery/onion combo you are good to go. And all three veggies have good shelf life so this is really cheap and easily done in any house.

I made this soup from the New York Times, with a few modifications (substituting some neglected heirloom tomatoes for plum tomatoes, spinach for kale). After eating the finished product (and it’s great), I think it would great with some shredded chicken. In fact, the chicken could easily be left out to make a great, hearty vegan soup.

  1. Cook 1 chopped onion, a few cloves garlic, 1T minced ginger in 2T corn oil until onions are clear.
  2. Add in 1/2 pound chopped chicken and cook for a few minutes.
  3. When chicken has cooked around edges (don’t need to cook all the way out, plenty of simmering time to go!), add in 1/2 cup chopped peanuts, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper.
  4. Bring 6 cups veggie stock (or water will do) and 1 pound sliced yams to a boil, then reduce heat to a soft boil.
  5. Throw in about 2 tomatoes, cored and chopped and a bunch of spinach (or shredded kale or collareds), simmer for about 10 minutes.
  6. Mix in 1/4 cup peanut butter, plus some, to taste.
  7. Eat with crusty bread. Feel very satisfied with yourself:



ajo blanco! September 15, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — crankychef @ 2:13 am
Tags: , , , ,

I haven’t posted since early summer, before I took a trip to Spain that was culinarily amazing.  Since then I haven’t been cooking too much because I moved into a new place (with a beautiful antique Wedgewood oven that is crankier to deal with than even myself) and have been working, frankly, too much to cook at the end of the day.

I made some gazpacho when I got back. It was the worst. I felt discouraged.

Today, I have made up for that loss. I made a nice ajo blanco, essentially a white gazpacho of bread, almonds, and garlic. Given my recent kitchen failures, I didn’t want to curse myself by taking photos of the process, so instead I have the finished soup (which looks, frankly, like milk).

This is so simple. I’ve never actually had this dish before so I have no clue whether it is authentic tasting or not, but I am happy with it:

Soak chunks of crustless baguette (~3 cups / 1 baguette) in cold water for 5-10 minutes. While soaking, make an almond powder (ideally, a flour) with 1 cup blanched almonds. You can blanch them yourself by quickly immersing in boiling water, then submerge in cool water and remove the hulls. But I used slivered, blanched almonds which cost just as much without the work. Combine almond flour with 2-3 cloves garlic and 1/2 t salt in a mortar and pestle. Don’t got one? Do your best with a glass and ceramic bowl. Ideally, you should create a paste. I absolutely did not, and this came out fine. By the time you are done mashing, your bread is all soaked and you should squeeze all the excess water out of it, and blend to a paste in a food processor. Then add the almond-garlic paste to the bread and blend. Then add about 1/3 cup olive oil, blending in slowly. Blend in about a cup of chilled water. At this point you should have a nice milky soup, add up to 1T sherry or white wine vinegar and up to 1/2 cup more chilled water to taste. Chill for at least an hour. Serve with homemade croutons (from the cut-off crusts!) and some grapes, melon, or other mild summer fruit.

The recipe above will yield about 4 cups of soup total. The soup is light and refreshing, but also quite rich. At first bite I thought the 3 cloves of garlic were in fact too much, but after a few bites the flavor mellowed significantly. A small bowl was perfect with our dinner, accompanied by an olive plate, green salad, lamb mint sausage, and labneh.