Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fried Plantain Chips - The answer to Caribbean French Fries

Here's an oldie but a goodie around here.

Plantains... They look like bananas... They cook like sweet potatoes.

Lots of BBQ's being planned these days, and more than one is going to have a tropical theme.  These come together fast (only one ingredient plus frying oil), have an unexpected unique taste, and best of all, with a little za za zing added will satisfy the pickiest of eaters...


The plantain is the one on the left.

But they also look like this...

Around these parts, the green ones are called.... Green Plantains.  The yellow ones are called...





Nope, wrong... The yellow ones are called ripe plantains.  Much as you might think I want to cook with ripe plantains, for this recipe, we are going to use green ones.  They are very stiff, hard.  They will feel like a potato (and cook like one).  If you should happen to grab a ripe plantain, they are terrific in a little butter with sugar (caramelized).

But let's say you have a green one...

Just peal (not as easy as it sounds).  Slice off the two ends, cut into the peal and cut a slit the length of the fruit.  And work around till all the peal is released.  MUCH stiffer than a banana, but it will come off.

Next, slice into chips (you can also slice into French fry shapes).  Slice them fairly thin, about 1/4 inch thick.

Heat up some Canola Oil over medium heat, and dump the chips in...

It takes about 5 minutes for them to get fully cooked.  You don not want to crowd them, so I fry up just just the chips that come from one plantain at a time.  You can see them just start to turn brown around the edges.

Remove with a slotted spoon, dry them with a paper towel.  They will have a crispness, like a thick cut potato chip.  But the center will be soft and chewy like a baked potato.  A terrific contrast.

I do a quick egg wash with a beaten egg so the salt mixture will stick...

The lime zest Salt mixture is the key to set your chips apart.  It has a tropical zing and adds a wonderful look to the final dish...

Easy mix... Equal parts sea salt and zest from a lime.

Easy Peasy... but will make your party tropical themed party memorable.  These go great with burgers!

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's Just a Fish Sandwich - What "2 for Tuesday" is All About

A pretty bold title, considering "2 4 Tues." is only 3 weeks old.  When Girlichef invited me to join a new blogger event called "Two for Tuesday" (Click HERE), the only instructions were to post about "real Food".

I actually made two sandwiches, two different ways to cook Mahi Mahi (the fish so nice they named it twice) in tribute to "2 4 Tues." (and I am doubly proud of using all these "Two" 's in my 2 4 Tues. post).  But I am ahead of myself.

OK, break down the parts of this whole, and you have nothing but... REAL FOOD!

First, the roll is just a long version of the Moomie Buns I have been bragging about.  The recipe is simple, the cook time is fast (start to eat, only 3 hours); well, short time for a yeast bread recipe.  

I made a few additions, with some garlic (wow, does the kitchen smell great while the garlic roasts as the rolls bake), some Parmesan cheese and some chipotle spices add to the top to add color and just a hint.  Most recently, I blogged the recipe when I posted... Fresh Baked Hamburger Buns - With Garlic, Parmesan Chipotle spice.

One of my fish is cooked "Blackened".

For those of you new to the blog, I am nearly religious in my devotion to this cooking method.  And, blackening fish is a cooking process, not a spice.  Needs to have the spices charred onto the fish, as the butter base melts the flavors into the moist tender meat.  When done right, only takes a few minutes, and the fish is moist, tender and delicious!.  Most recently, I blogged the recipe when I posted... Blackened Tilapia - Filled with Flavor and Flaky perfectly cooked Everytime.

The spice mixture that I use is a Cajun spice mix that I make up about every other month.  I am a firm believer in making up my own mixtures.  First, it is incredibly fresh once you find your "spice guy".  I found mine at the Kansas City Farmer's market about a year ago, and I am not sure if I could cook without him.  Even in paradise, I brought 50 1/2 cup baggies of spices with me, and had to replenish some of them when I was home a few weeks ago.  Every town has a spice guy.  May take you a while to find one, but it is worth the hunt.  Most recently, I blogged the recipe for the mixture when I posted... CAJUN SPICE RUB - Blackening Seasoning Mix.

The second fish I made was braised in coconut rum.  The fish never touches a hot frying pan, nor baked in an oven, instead it is "steamed" in a pan while resting on am onion slice.  I happen to live in the land of $5 bottles of top quality rum, and love the flavors that seep into the fish as it cooks.  But you can braise in most any liquid, including chicken stock, orange juice or even beer.  This method practically guarantees moist tender fish.  I am opposed to overcooked rubbery fish.  It is NO FAIL!  Most recently, I blogged the recipe when I posted... Caribbean Coconut Rum Braised Mahi Mahi.

The spice that I used when I braised the fish fish (sorry, Mahi Mahi) was my legendary (in my own mind) "Not Your Grandmother's Herbes de Provance".  A subtle mixture of Mediterranean herbs, with a little citrus and my beloved garlic tossed in!  Like the Cajun spice above, this is a mixture I make up every other month.  I sprinkle it on many dishes like salt.  Actually, that isn't true.  I use far more of this mixture than I do salt (old and cranky, trying to cut back on my salt intake... with this, I don;t miss salt at all).  Most recently, I blogged the recipe for the mixture when I posted... It's not your Grandmother's HERBES de PROVENCE.

So, that's it,  nothing special, I added a little tomato, a bit of lettuce.

Oh, wait... one more NEW thing (Every post should have something new to it)...

Topped with a fresh made GARLIC AIOLI!

Aioli... Just a fancy name for mayonnaise and garlic paste.  Served in fine restaurants around the world, and a wonderful excuse to add a few bucks to the price of a meal.  But it is so simple, anyone can do it...

Easy but really adds a kick... Something special to set your food apart.

Sadly, I have tried making mayo from scratch, but I am no Julia Child.  But at least I am using "real" Mayo (see the photo above).  Just run a couple cloves of garlic through the mini chopper to get them broken up.  Then take the flat of a large kitchen knife and crush into a paste.

Mix the paste with the 1/4 cup of mayo and the juice of 1/2 a lemon.  If you really want to get fancy and add an additional additional extra couple of bucks, zest the lemon and add a tsp of that.

And that's it... Just a simple fish sandwich (well two), made from "real Food" (well, mostly, just a quarter cup of processed Mayo.  It's good to have a goal)!


Monday, June 28, 2010

Pizza - 2 Ways - Focaccia Bread and Thin Crust - Gorgonzola Steak

Hey Guys... Have a nice weekend???  So did we.  The sun spent a week vacation somewhere else, and we had 6 straight days of clouds and record setting rain.  On Saturday morning, the tropical paradise finally returned with bright blue skies and sunny activities abounded.

Maybe it was the weather, but I reread a few of my recent posts, and I want to tell you about a couple of food BARGAINS!  Yeap, in the land of $8 loafs of bread, and frozen fish is the freshest (affordable) fish on the island, I have found at least two bargains not to be had stateside.

The first is cheese.  No good reason that I can figure out, but those bags of pre-shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese are over $6 for a cup.  Now, on the surface, that sounds expensive (in fact, under the surface, that is expensive).  But the silver lining is that a 4 oz package of a "better" cheese is that same $6.  Blue cheese - $6.  Goat cheese - $6.  And for this post... Gorgonzolla cheese - $6.  Yeap, all those "fancy type" cheeses same price as a lowly bag of pre-shredded mozzarella (and in fact, fresh wet balls of "real" mozzarella are ... you guessed it - $6... But I digress).  I never was a big fan of cheddar, and something about those bags of pre-shredded cheeses always bothered me (more oxygen hits the cheese, faster it loses it's flavor, so pre-shred and increase the surface area).  So, I have been using lots more blue, goat, Swiss, etc. cheeses.  Why not!

Next bargain is a restaurant.  Just a quick walk up the beach from us, maybe couple hundred yards is a little burger joint.  Right on the beach, great view, cool ocean breeze and lots of ice cold beer and rum.  We would be eating there often, even if all we could get on the menu were burgers.  But they also have a pizza oven.  And the chef doesn't just crumble hamburger on Ragu, he creates... Like their specialty...

Thin crust steak with a garlic oil and Gorgonzola 'za!

Man just typing it makes my mouth water!  But it gets just a tad better.  A real bargain, $25 gets you a large pizza (actually, they only make one size), and a bottle of wine.  This is our "goto", casual night out. And will always be a very fond memory.

So, armed with my two bargains... inspiration and a great price on the cheese, I started pondering how to recreate this all too soon to be Caribbean memory.

I do not have a photo of the original pizza, but here are the highlights that I wanted to replicate...

  • The garlic oil is very strong.  More than just a garlic infused oil.
  • The cheese is sharp (like a Gorgonzola should be), but it was not straight cheese.  It was white, creamy sauce; without the overpowering taste that the straight cheese would be.

Here's a close up of my first attempt.  Verdict, fair, but a big jump on the learning curve.

My error, I made a garlic paste with the flat of a knife (just mushed garlic), and added that to a couple TBS of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil).  Mixed, and then melted a couple oz of Gorgonzola in the oil.  I ended up with a brown sauce instead of the white.  you can see the globs next to the meat in the photo above.  Neither the cheese, nor the oil came through as in the beach restaurant pizza.  Pizza came out... well, OK, just not close to what I was trying to recreate.


Attempt number 2... Number two in number only, this one worked...

I still made the garlic paste, still mixed the garlic paste in the oil, but drizzled that on the dough first.  then added toppings.  Last step was the cheese sauce.  Instead of straight cheese, I melted 2 ounces (Gorgonzola is a strong flavored cheese, you need to cut it) in a 1/4 cup of heavy cream.  It reduced and thickened up naturally.  Then, I topped the pizza with a drizzle of the sauce.

Whoop Whoop, it worked great!

I made thin crust pizza first...

I always have a pizza dough ready.  I make the dough in advance, freeze it and it is thawed in just a few hours.  I use the recipe I made in this post... Pizza Napoletana - Bread Baker's Apprentice #11.  No tomato sauce, but I slice some very thin tomatoes.  I topped with leftover steak from my recent Philly Steak and Cheese - Well, not really a traditional Cheesesteak, but a Pretty Darn Good Sandwich.  Menu planning includes saving leftover items for another meal, instead of just making a leftover sandwich.

If you read yesterday's post for Focaccia Bread - Bread Baker's Apprentice #13, you know I saved half for a special purpose.  And special it was indeed...

A Focaccia Bread Pizza!

There is one "trick" I can pass on.  Again, check yesterday's post for Focaccia Bread - Bread Baker's Apprentice #13, you will see in the instructions that there is a final 5 minute bake of the bread.  DO NOT ADD ANY TOPPING INGREDIENTS UNTIL YOU REACH THAT FINAL 5 MINUTE BAKE.  Add your toppings and increase the final cooking time from 5 minutes to 10 minutes and you have a perfect focaccia bread pizza.

Filled with flavor... A Gorgonzola cheese sauce, a garlic paste infusion, the sweet creaminess of the thick bread, the crunch of the outer crust, the herb flavoring from my "not your Grandmother's HERBES de PROVENCE"... Everything came together!

On that sad day when we get back to Kansas, we will miss the view that comes with this pizza, but being able to take back this restaurant recreation will be among our best souvenirs!

So, where did you eat your favorite slice of pizza... Did you ever try to recreate it?


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Focaccia Bread - Bread Baker's Apprentice #13

Another week spent in the Caribbean, it must be my day to post my bread baking adventures for the week. I promised myself on New Year's Eve that I would be trying to learn more as a bread baker, and if possible to cook through the"The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread" book. I brought three cookbooks with me to my island adventure. The "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" book was one. 

And my my my am I glad I brought this book.  Challenging and fun, cost saving and talk about good eats!!!

But I am ahead of myself...

Isn't that beautiful.  And the inside is soft and creamy, while the crust is crunchy and filled with extra flavors from the oil topping, combined with a little sprinkling of fresh grated Parmesan and my convenient mixture of "not your Grandmother's HERBES de PROVENCE". 

But I am ahead of myself...

But, this is such an incredible bread... The recipe does make quite a bit (a good thing).  So I made a batch for dipping (in the first photo, see that bowl of EVOO and Balsamic... FABULOUS bread for dipping!  But I can also use half for... Nah, come back tomorrow to see what I did with the second half.

But, I am really ahead of myself.  Let's get to the bread...

In the commentary for the bread, Chef Reinhart bemoans the state of American commercial Focaccia bread.  Seen on many appetizer menus, often served as the "freebie" bread, and sold in full service grocery stores; the "modern" take on the bread leaves out the soft and creamy center, while over crusting the crust.  This recipe gets the best of all worlds.  A nice crunch, but the soft center dough is incredible.  He is right.  If all you know is the supermarket Focaccia, you don't know Focaccia...

5 cups unbleached Flour
2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Instant Yeast
6 TBS Olive Oil
2 cups room temperature Water
1/4 to 1/5 cup Herb Oil

Instructions are very easy...

  • Mix the dry ingredients
  • Add the wet ingredients and mix (I like to do this stage in a plastic gallon ziplock bag, saves mess).  Kitchenaid mixer works great (sigh).
  • This is a dough that needs a longer kneading time.  If you are lucky enough to have a dough hook on a kitchenaid, mix for 7 minutes.  If kneading by hand, double the time.  The oil in the dough will make it just a bit sticky, clearing the sides of the bowl easily, while sticking to the bottom.
  • Now it's time to start forming the loaf.  Make a flour bed about 6 inches square.  Drop the dough onto the square and dust liberally with additional flour.  Let this rest for 5 minutes.
  • After the dough rests, stretch the dough.  Envelope style.  Meaning stretch teh dough out one side, double the 6 inches.  Stretch the other end out an additional 6 inches.  Fold the first stretch over the middle and the second over that.
  • Mist the the dough with spray oil, dust with flour again and cover while it takes another 30 minute rest.
  • Repeat the envelope fold one more time, allow the dough to ferment on the counter for one hour.  the dough will rise, but not necessarily double.
  • Line a baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper and make the final form.  You can make separate circles, a large rectangle, or two smaller rectangles (what I did).  Dough should only be @1/2 inch thick.
  • And these bad boys get an overnight rise.  Up to a three day visit in the fridge (or freeze if you are making ahead).
And now a word about Herb Oil...

I have a recipe for an herb mixture I call... NOT YOUR GRANDMOTHER'S HERBES de PROVANCE.  It is not the traditional recipe, contains a little citrus flavor, as well as garlic and does not include lavender nor fennel.  I just like this mixture better...

Here's the recipe...

5 TBS dried Tarragon
5 TBS dried Oregano
5 TBS dried Dill
5 TBS dried Thyme
5 TBS dried Rosemary
5 TBS dried Garlic Flakes
2 TBS Sea Salt
2 TBS Fresh ground Pepper
1 TBS dried Lemon Zest

Store in a sealed plastic ziplock bag, airtight in a dark drawer, and stays fresh for 6 months or more.

I use this mixture a lot.  It is terrific to add to fish, and amazing on a tomato with a little oil.  I make a batch up about every other month.  A very handy mixture to have on hand.

Like for times when you need an herb oil...

1 TBS "not your Grandmother's HERBES de PROVENCE"
1/4 cup EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)... I used 1/4 cup of the mixture for each half of the bread.  2 TBS of the herbe mixture added to 1/2 cup of EVOO divided.

Mix and let sit overnight (or longer).

OK, back to the bread...

  • Remove the pan of dough from the fridge at least three hours before baking.
  • Use your fingers to "dimple the bread" and spread across the length of the pan.  Do not stretch the dough, it will be creamier and softer if you use your fingertips to spread the dough, instead of pulling the dough and breaking the gluttons.
  • Top with the herb oil (1/4 cup if you are making 1/2 recipe, 1/2 cup if using full recipe).  Do this as the dough warms to room temp, and all the oil will be absorbed into the bread.  No matter how it looks like just a bunch of small pools.

  • Preheat the oven to 500 degrees (yep, HOT)
  • When ready to bake, put the pan in the oven, drop the temp to 450 and bake for 10 minutes
  • rotate the pan for even cooking after 10 minutes, and at this time, add any additional toppings.  I like a bit of grated Parmesan.
  • Return to the oven and bake for 5 additional minutes...
  • Allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving!
And just imagine a still warm bread stick, dipped in the EVOO/Balsamic mix... melts in your mouth good!

Came out PERFECT!

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Take the challenge.  Become a bread baker!

And just wait till tomorrow when i tell you about what I did with the other half of the recipe! 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Philly Steak and Cheese - Well, not really a traditional Cheesesteak, but a Pretty Darn Good Sandwich

It's not a traditional cheesesteak by any sense, but it is a pretty darn good sandwich!

The Philadelphia Steak and Cheese Sandwich (affectionately called a Philly Cheesesteak) is a fantastic sandwich.  Start messing around with the smallest of traditional ingredients and you are likely to cause a mini-riot.

So, I guess I have nothing to say for myself except...


the Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich is traditionally served on a hoagie roll.  I haven't made a hoagie roll yet, and I do not buy processed bread.  But I have made long rolls from the infamous MOOMIE BUNS recipe (with my twist)... Most recently, you saw the recipe in this post Fresh Baked Hamburger Buns - With Garlic, Parmesan Chipotle spice.  I learned a trick that works well to make these into roll shape.  The recipe makes 8 hamburger buns.  I used the dough for two buns to make one roll.  Then, at the shaping step, I flattened that into a disc, about 6 inches across.  I just rolled the disk and it formed a perfect roll...

And from there, just continue as described in the recipe...

Egg wash, so the toppings stick.  I like to top with garlic (love the smell of toasting garlic mixed with the smell of baking bread while these are cooking).  A little fresh grated Parmesan Cheese and some Chipotle spice.

Not a traditional hoagie roll, but the bread makes a pretty darn good sandwich!

The sandwich is traditionally served with grilled onions.  I prefer grilled onions and peppers, so I added a chopped red bell pepper to the mix.  Just coarsely chop a large white onion, chop the pepper the same size.  Sauté in a bit of Canola oil until everything is soft.

Set aside while you cook the meat.

Not a traditional onions only topping, but the peppers and onions makes a pretty darn good sandwich!  

And now the meat...

Recently, I made a stateside grocery run when Jackie wanted to celebrate her mother's birthday (and I wanted to grill... it all worked out).  One of the things I brought back to the island from home was a bottle of the Fischer and Wieserhandcrafted one jar at a time,THE ORIGINAL ROASTED RASPBERRY CHIPOTLE SAUCE(that's what the bottle looks like, next to the autographed picture of me with Bernadette Peters... I only brought the sauce, not the signed photo). I have made no secret of my love for the sauce. Even when I used up the freebies they had sent, I found a store in KC where I could buy it. For the cynics among you (Buffalo Dick), Isn't the fact that I bought a bottle and hauled it 1,500 miles to be a part of my island cook a testament to what I feel about the taste... If you see some... BUY SOME! (and then mail me a bottle, I am sure it is not here, and I will be out again soon).

But I digress... 

Traditionally, the meat is cooked with no sauce or marinade.  Just cooked on a griddle with a little oil, and shredded as it cooks.  Also, it is traditionally made from a rib-eye or a top round.  Instead, I used a skirt steak, sliced against the grain (for tenderness), and cut into thin strips, about 2 inches long.

Traditionally, while the meat is not marinaded, and simple salt and pepper are the only spices, I marinated the skirt steak strips in the Raspberry Chipotle sauce for 6 hours prior to cooking.

The meat cooks fast (remember how thin).  I sautéed for just about 3 minutes, drained the juices and added the onions and peppers for a final couple of minutes to heat evenly.

 Not a traditional meat filling for a Philly Cheesesteak, but the marinated skirt steak makes a pretty darn good sandwich!

The final ingredient for the sandwich is the cheese.  Traditionally, and originally, the Philly Steak and Cheese sandwich was made with Provolone Cheese.  In recent years, Cheez Whiz (really) has replaced the more flavorful cheese.  Honest, I love Provolone, and had every intentions of making the sandwich with the proper cheese.  But, the whims of the grocery shelf gods here in paradise wanted me to complete the non-traditionality (hey look, new word) of my sandwich. 

Out of Stock.

But, in my fridge, I had less than 1/2 a cup of heavy cream, and about 2 ounces of a really good Blue Cheese.  Heat until the cheese is melted, and the sauce starts to thicken up just a tad...

Not a traditional cheese (or Whiz) for a Philly Cheesesteak, but the Blue Cheese Sauce makes a pretty darn good sandwich!

And from here, just assemble the sandwich...

Split the moomie roll, and add the meat and onions and pepper...

Drizzle on some of the cheese sauce...

Nope, not a traditional
Philly Cheesesteak, 

but ... 

a pretty darn good sandwich!