Friday, November 30, 2012

(Slightly Burnt) Fried Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha-Honey Sauce

Fried Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha-Honey Sauce
This is another Thanksgiving 2012 side dish for us, but it's not like we're talking about pumpkin pie... nothing about this dish screams Thanksgiving. Indeed, I think the Puritans would probably give you a week in the stocks if you brought Sriracha to the the apocryphal first Thanksgiving. As you'll note by their very dark color, they are overdone (though not as burnt as you might expect) in a somewhat worrying recent trend of me overcooking things.

The recipe comes from Food52 via Serious Eats. We used the recipe on Serious Eats, but in looking at them now I kind of wished I had consulted the one at Food52 before making them. For one thing, Food52 tells you what to do with the heart of the sprouts after peeling off leaves (just add them in with the leaves) while Serious Eats is strangely mum (thus we ended up reserving them for another use). Further, Food52 gives you a time guideline for the frying (30 seconds to a minute) while Serious Eats gives none... though neither gives a temperature for the oil for us Thermapen obsessives (I used 350).

My #1 piece of advice for this dish: USE A BIG POT WITH TALL SIDES AND A SPLATTER SCREEN. We just used a straight sided skillet (and a splatter screen) and it created a huge mess to clean up. Those Brussels sprout leaves have a lot of water in them, and will flare up right quick. This is actually the first thing I've fried that actually made me miss my defunct deep fryer... though not enough to think I really need to own one... though if you do own one these fried sprouts would really be a snap.

As it is they're not really that hard, but it is important to note there will be some residual cooking after you pull them out... so if you want to avoid leaves as black as mine I think you want to take them out as the leaves are browning on the edges. If you wait until the leaves are fully brown you'll end with some blackness. Now, they're still really delicious even when slightly burnt, but ideally I think you should see more green in the picture above... so I would err on the side of taking them out early.

We will definitely be making them again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mini Pommes Anna

Mini Potatoes Anna
I doubt I will do a full on retrospective of every dish we prepared this past Thanksgiving holiday, but I do want to comment on a couple over the next week or two. Here is a picture of the (almost) full spread we prepared with links to recipes. I will update the descriptions of the photos in the Flickr album with my thoughts on how they turned out and what I might do differently next time etc... especially for the ones that don't get turned into blog posts.

What you see above are the Mini Herbed Pommes Anna from Bon Appétit. I thought these came out quite well, and were... as expected... cute as a button in their individual little piles. The downside is pretty steep, however, as they are a huge pain in the butt to make... especially when you consider how simple traditional Pommes Anna are: layer potato slices slathered in butter and essentially bake for an hour.

Mini Potatoes Anna Muffin Pan Prep

These babies required a weeeee bit more effort and individual attention however. First you've got to cut out little parchment paper circles for the buttered muffin pans, and then decorate with sprigs of thyme.

Buttered Slices

Then you've got to layer the 1.75 lbs of potatoes you've sliced to a 1/16 of an inch (or less!) and coated in herb butter. Note that you'll be flipping these stacks of potatoes three times between now and the finish line, so any stability you can impart with clever stacking would be welcome at this point! Perhaps consider recruiting any OCD engineer type family members that are hanging around the kitchen for the stacking. In addition, the recipe called for "golf ball" size potatoes, but maybe what you want is actually muffin size potatoes? Then you wouldn't need to have uneven layers of potatoes that are prone to falling over?

Out of the Muffin Pan

They go into the oven... pans covered in foil... for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees. The idea being to get them cooked through before you brown them, which is a standard step in any Pommes Anna recipe. The annoying part comes in when you have to flip them out of the muffin pans (see above), and then have to flip them back over (so the thyme sprigs are at the bottom again) before returning them to the oven to brown.

To answer your questions, no, they do not stay together in little piles when you flip them back over and, yes, you will probably have to rearrange nearly every single one. The good news is that if you enjoyed that, you get to flip them back over in 25-30 minutes!

Nicely Browned

That 25-30 minutes takes place in a 425 degree oven after you've arranged all those little piles of potatoes with thyme sprigs face down on a cookie sheet. Once they've gotten nicely browned on top you take them out of the oven and flip them back over... the results of which you can see above. A nice browned crust has formed on the tops that were touching the cookie sheet, as you'd expect.

And they were good, I'll grant you... but were they any better then just making them in a baking dish? Not a chance. Way too much effort and frustration for too little payoff. I would not make this dish unless you were really trying to impress someone.

The natural question... to me at least... is what happens if you eschew the parchment paper and leave the potatoes in the muffin pans until the very end. Will they brown enough? Will you be able to get them out of the muffin pans at the end? I don't know the answers to those questions, but I presume the answer is "no" to at least one of them and that's why the recipe writers at Bon Appétit chose to do it this way... but the only hope for this recipe is to figure out some way to streamline it, because it's totally not worth it otherwise. Not a recommended recipe.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Inspired By... (or A Meditation On the Myriad Uses of Duck Fat)

If you even take two minutes to glance through this blog it is quickly apparent that I'm a very recipe oriented cook at this stage of my culinary education. I don't just "whip things up" on a whim and I'm not really the type of cook who goes to restaurants and thinks "I've got to figure out how to make this at home." Well my approach seems to be (gradually) changing as I get more confident in the kitchen, as today's post has examples of two types of inspiration and experimentation... a specific type of crispy potato that captured my cooking imagination, and a situation where I got excited about the basic concept of a "duck confit taco" by simply having it out. Both are from a restaurant in Rehoboth called JAM Bistro that we've made a point of stopping at for lunch the last few summers at the beach. While it doesn't have especially extensive vegetarian offerings for Anna she does enjoy their salads and we both love their crispy smashed fingerlings. Like the perfect roast potato, they are crispy on the outside and creamy smooth on the inside, but by smashing them up first you get even more surface to crisp. I've been meaning to make them at home since I first had them, but never really got around to thinking about the methodology of how they are made beyond the obvious of par cook, smash, and then fry or roast 'em. They were on "the list" of things I wanted to make, but it was becoming clear that they were going to stay on that list unless I got a little outside push. Fortuitous timing had Kenji post a recipe for smashed potatoes fried in duck fat at the exact time I was gathering together tubs of duck fat for my Thanksgiving plans (more on that in a second).

Fried Smashed Fingerlings

He calls for small red or Yukon potatoes, but I naturally went with fingerlings since what I'm looking for is to recreate the dish that reminds me of summer afternoons at the beach. I did indeed fry them in glorious, glorious duck fat, but next time... in the interest of marital harmony (surprisingly vegetarians are not huge fans of vegetables prepared in animal fat)... I will likely switch to vegetable oil, and probably roast them instead of fry them simply so I don't have to do them in batches. Ultimately in further iterations I will dress these crispy smashed potatoes in a buffalo vinaigrette and a crumble of blue cheese, but make no mistake: these potatoes are really great completely plain. In my opinion it's a really good technique that is worth trying and, as sacrilegious as this sounds, this is true even if you don't have any duck fat. Though you should really get some duck fat.

Duck Confit Tacos

Speaking of duck fat, as I mentioned above I need said fat for my Thanksgiving plan of doing turkey leg confit... but all of my duck fat was currently occupied in covering four pieces of duck confit that were patiently waiting to get made into cassoulet. It's obviously the perfect time for a big pot of the stuff, but it's not always easy to find time for a four day cooking project, and it was really getting too late in the game to make some in time. Thus enters my second inspiration from JAM Bistro: duck confit tacos. I've been on a serious taco kick... well, basically my entire adult life, but especially since I got back from San Diego... and the idea of combining the greatness of the taco with the awesomeness of duck confit was pretty exciting. Yet once again it was something that was languishing on my "to cook" list until the right circumstances emerged. In this case, however, there really wasn't a go-to recipe to consult. We've got a Food & Wine recipe from José Andrés here, and a blog post here which I combined to make the tacos you see above. I warmed the duck legs enough to be able to pull of the skin to make cracklings, shredded the meat into pot with a little stock, soy sauce, and five spice powder, and made a cilantro-jalapeño sauce to top it off. Really good stuff and really easy (assuming you have the duck confit already, which is admittedly probably not a reasonable assumption).

I finally feel like I'm starting to get to the point where I'm ready to start making recipes my own... where I know enough to make changes to suit my own preferences. It's a long journey, but it's nice to notice the progress.


This will likely be my last post before we head up to Maine Wednesday morning, so all of my fellow Americans out there have a nice Thanksgiving holiday! I'll be back next week with a recap of the dishes that we made, but for anybody looking for last minute Thanksgiving inspiration, our menu includes: mini herb potatoes annafried brussel sprouts with siracha honeyharicot verts with sauce ravigote, and roasted cauliflower with tahini and preserved lemon dressing. The main course for the vegetarians will be pumpkin seed crusted cutlets with cabernet cranberry sauce while I will be making turkey leg confit

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pressure Cooker Pho

Election Night Pho

Beef broth is something I've never ever made from scratch... tracking down marrow bones, beef shanks, and/or oxtails has always seemed intimidating and kind of a hassle. Something I don't think experienced cooks truly appreciate is how confusing the meat counter can be to a novice... you don't necessarily know that two different names refer to the exact same thing, or what other random cut might substitute for something you can't find. It can be really frustrating! There were countless times early on where I came back from the store empty handed simply because I didn't know the lingo. This is why it's nice to go to an actual butcher instead of a grocery store that is just rows of meat wrapped in cellophane with nobody in sight to ask questions. You won't save any money shopping at Whole Foods or a local fancy butcher, but you'll have a much better experience and hopefully pick up some ethically sourced meat in the process... and asking a butcher is probably what you are going to have to do to make this recipe. The primary ingredient in pho and/or beef stock is beef shanks (or shins - same thing) which are not something I see sitting out at the average grocery store... indeed, my local butcher didn't even carry them (though he could get them with a couple of days notice)... but I lucked out seeing them at Whole Foods.

Beef Shank (with bones), Brisket, and Chuck

Unfortunately, that means if you are paying Whole Foods prices then this recipe is not particularly cheap... $6 to $7 a pound was what I paid for my beef shanks (if I remember correctly)... which, if you live near a good Vietnamese restaurant, may make you question whether all this effort and money is really necessary when you can just get a big bowl of pho for a price only a little north of one of those pounds of beef shin? Well, if that's the way you think then what are you doing reading a cooking blog? Shouldn't it all be about the joy of cooking? Jeez!

In fact, I do think it's a pretty legit criticism and in the future I'd like to sub in (much cheaper) marrow bones for some of the shanks. The economics of this dish are still pretty favorable though, as even if I round up the prices of the 5 lbs of beef shank, 1 lb of chuck, and 1 lb of brisket involved here it's still going to be about $40 for 4 quarts of stock which is going to provide somewhere on the order of 6-8 bowls of pho. Given that I ended up thinking that those 7 lbs of meat and bones gave me waaaaay more meat than I needed (I saved some of it for sandwiches even), I did not even bother with any additional flank steak (traditionally it is sliced very very thinly and added raw to the hot broth when served so it is rare by the time you eat it). The broth is amazingly good, which I imagine is in large part due to the quantity of beef involved, but I'm thinking I could cut it back and still do well... which is what suggests to me subbing in a couple of pounds of marrow bones. I'll try that next time and hopefully be able to update this recipe.

Note that as mentioned above you can freely sub in oxtails for some portion of the beef shanks, but they are even pricier than the shin and sometimes even harder to find... a very popular cut of meat these days it seems... lot's of "Oh yeah we carry them, but we're all out right now." Your local situation may be completely different, however, so if oxtails are easy to get then by all means get them. This is why I say it's nice to be able to talk to a butcher and ask questions.

Broiler Charred Onions and Ginger

The key for me in this recipe was getting the traditional flavors of pho, but to avoid six hours of simmering. So I adapted Kenji's recipe at Serious Eats and this one from DadCooksDinner to get what I wanted. They are fairly similar recipes with the key differences being that 1) Kenji has you char your onions and ginger which is more traditional, and 2) the guy at DadCooksDinner uses a pressure cooker to get his broth done in about an hour or two instead of 6. Kenji also introduces a quick boil of the meat/bones with a subsequent water dump to get rid of the gunk and improve the clarity of the stock... which sounded like a really good idea. Pressure cookers are supposed to make clearer stock than normal, but how could it hurt to be extra careful?

Quick Boil to get rid of Scum

It adds another 20-25 minutes of work to the beginning of the recipe, but you have to char the onions and ginger anyway, so it's not too significant of a burden.

Another important consideration is what to do if you don't have a gigantic 12 quart pressure cooker (mine is 8 quarts), as it's going to be pretty tight in there with all that meat. You definitely want to err on the side of caution (I was almost certainly pushing it) and not go past 2/3 full or whatever your instruction manual says... your stock will just be more concentrated and can easily diluted to the target of 4 quarts afterwards.

Pressure Cooker Pho


Pho Broth

  • 2 large onions, split in half
  • 6" piece of ginger, split in half lengthwise
  • 5 pounds beef shin/shank, with meat attached
  • 1 pound boneless beef chuck
  • 1 pound beef brisket
  • 3 whole star anise pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Kosher salt


  • pho noodles and/or vermicelli (aka rice stick) -  both are sold in packages with multiple servings
  • basil
  • bean sprouts
  • sliced scallions
  • sliced chiles (Thai or serrano)
  • limes, cut into wedges
  • raw flank steak, thinly sliced (optional)


  1. Preheat broiler and place onion halves and split ginger on a foil lined broiler pan. Broil 3-4" from heating element, turning occasionally, until nicely charred - about 25 minutes. 
  2. While the onions and ginger are broiling, cover the shanks, brisket, and chuck with water in your pressure cooker and bring to a boil. Dump the water in the sink and rinse the parts with cold water.  
  3. Cover the meat with water again (but don't fill your pressure cooker past 2/3rds full!) and add the onions, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cloves, coriander seeds, fish sauce, sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt.
  4. Put on the pressure cooker lid, bring it up to high pressure, and then lower the heat to maintain the pressure. Cook at high pressure for 50 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the pressure to release naturally (20 minutes or more).
  5. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer. Pick meat from beef shins then discard bones and aromatics. The target is 4 quarts broth, so dilute with water or reduce as necessary to reach 4 quarts.
  6. Slice or chop up the mean, skim fat from broth, and season with salt, sugar, and fish sauce.
  7. To serve, place rehydrated noodles (follow package directions) in a bowl and ladle soup over bowls. Allow guests to add their own selection of cooked meat and condiments.

After 45 Minutes in the Pressure Cooker
The broth came out with both great flavor and clarity, so I was quite pleased. Kudos to both Kenji and DadCooksDinner for writing such great recipes.

Instead of skimming fat I cooled the broth in the fridge and then spooned off the congealed fat on top the next day. I made bowls of pho throughout the week by heating up the broth and some of the meat together in a small saucepan. If you are thinking more long term you could also freeze the broth in individual servings (2-3 cups based on how big your bowls are).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Squash and Fennel Soup with Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Squash Soup
This wonderful fall soup was made by my lovely wife Anna on Sunday night. As you can see, she does take some pride in her plating: those are candied pumpkin seeds along with a drizzle of Greek yogurt and some minced fennel fronds. The recipe is originally from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, but it can also be found at Serious Eats. I thought it was a really delicious soup, with a nice note of heat (but not overwhelmingly hot) and a good balance of creaminess without being too heavy. Worth making (or if you can finagle it, having your significant other make it).


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