Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spatchcocked Pimentón Roast Chicken with Potatoes (A Work in Progress)

Spatchcocked Pimentón Chicken with Potatoes

This is an adaptation of David Tanis's Pimentón Roast Chickens with Crispy Potatoes (I saw it originally on Lottie + Doof). The problem I had with the original is that it's two chickens, and when do I need to feed 8 people? Pretty much never, and though I love me some leftover chicken and crispy potatoes, I can't house two 4 lb chickens in a week unless that's all I'm eating (a vegetarian wife means she's not helping). I also cheated and instead of getting fancy Spanish pimentón picante just used regular smoked paprika and some cayenne pepper. Worked for me.

I also decided to try an old favorite technique: butterflying or spatchcocking. In short this flattens the chicken allowing you to cook the breast and thighs to their appropriate temperatures (160 ish and 170 ish respectively), but it also allows more fat and juices to get into the potatoes... which is the whole point, no? I didn't brine or salt the bird or even really marinate it for very long. Instead, as the chicken is supposed to come to room temperature before cooking I brushed it with the paprika/garlic marinade (after the spatchcocking obviously) and let it sit on the counter for two hours.

Ready for Oven

Then instead of a roasting pan I used a skillet... having the chicken just lay on top of the quartered Yukon golds. This kind of resembles brick chicken but you know... without the brick. Then I just put it into at 500 degrees for 20 minutes before turning and going for another 20 minutes.

The chicken came out pretty well... but the clumps of marinade you see above mostly burned... which is fine I guess since you can just brush it off, but it suggests I probably need to turn the oven down a bit (and indeed Tanis has you go from 500 to 425 after the first half) and use less marinade. In addition the potatoes were super delicious but not at all crispy... I sort of expected that since that was my (minor) complaint with brick chicken... but I think I'd like to try this again with a the potatoes under a rack of some kind so air can circulate and crisp them.

So like the title says... still a work in progress as I try to get to a point where I'm not just doing recipes by rote.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Kirkland Tap and Trotter: New Tony Maws Restaurant Coming to Somerville in Late Summer 2013

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This may be somewhat old information for fellow Boston area peeps who regularly peruse Chowhound threads, but it's news to me... and since the old Kirkland Cafe is 5 minutes from where I work and 15 minutes from where I live, I am very interested a new Tony Maws restaurant:
"Of course, there’s going to be ways you will look at it and know it is a Tony Maws restaurant. How could it not be? I will be deeply involved. But it will not be an extension of Craigie. It’s not Baby Craigie, it’s not Craigie Two,” Maws says. “The dots and the swooshes [on the plate] will stay at Craigie.”

Maws will be working with the same farms and purveyors that he does at his flagship, but says the food will be more rustic, neighborhood-friendly appetizers and entrees. “There will be big cuts [of meat], simply prepared but perfectly prepared, beautifully executed and seasoned,” he says. “It’s the stuff that you crave and want to eat more than once a week. It’s the food I like to cook for my friends, and Mondays at home.”

The biggest difference between Craigie and its new sibling, technique-wise, will be the large wood-fired grill that will anchor the kitchen, which means more large-format preparations and lots of live-fire cooking. This leads us to what you were all thinking: WHAT ABOUT THE BURGER?!?!?!? “The Craigie burger is going to stay at Craigie on Main,” Maws says. “But there will be a burger. And it might be a rotating burger. Maybe it will be a burger of the week. We will have some fun with it.” He’s also planning to give hot dogs the same star treatment that he’s given the burger at Craigie. Whether this means a suet, miso, and mace-laced frank remains to be seen: “We are about to start working on that as we speak,” Maws says.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Asian Tofu: Spicy-Sweet Fried Tofu Buns

Spicy-Sweet Fried Tofu Buns

These lovely little Chinese style steamed buns are from Andrea Nguyen's cookbook Asian Tofu... which I received for Christmas but have yet to use to make tofu... though I did buy soybeans! Still need to make/improvise/buy a tofu mold and press so I can document the process... but of course, you don't actually need to have any desire at all to make tofu at home to get a lot out of this book. Store bought tofu works for all the recipes, and what's interesting about Asian Tofu is that since it's written from an Asian perspective (obviously) it's not particularly vegetarian. Certainly most of the recipes are, but since in Asian cultures tofu is a completely mainstream ingredient, you'll see it mixed with meat or fish in ways you wouldn't in American restaurants where it is still mainly considered a protein substitute for vegetarians. People with any experience with tofu know better than this... it's a crazy versatile ingredient that can do all sorts of neat things based on how you prepare it... and that shares almost nothing in common with meat... but I admit I still do feel a little guilty about mapo tofu, even if it's really awesome... or perhaps especially because it's really awesome (vegetarians take heart, there are vegan versions).

That said, this recipe is completely vegan and based on a recipe from Eddie Huang's BaoHaus. Serious Eats has the recipe, so I won't bother to repeat it here. The easiest way to do it is to make the Thai sweet chili sauce on a separate evening, because otherwise assembling the buns isn't super difficult. You have time to prep everything else while the tofu is soaked and drained, and the buns should stay warm for a while even after you take them off the heat, so I didn't find time management to be difficult (generally my Achilles heel). The recipe calls for two "special" ingredients 1) Chinese folded buns and 2) potato starch. The first is the entire point of the dish and thus pretty critical, but you can safely sub in corn starch for the potato starch. Allegedly potato starch crisps up a little better when fried but I've not personally compared. The Chinese folded buns are most likely to be found in an Asian market, probably frozen... which here in Boston/Cambridge means Super 88... though I've been told you can actually get them fresh down in China Town. Being that steamed buns are a pretty versatile dinner option I'm beginning to think I'll want to keep the frozen variety stocked from now on.

Another note is that those Asian style double layer steamers are necessary if you want to do all twelve buns at once... a fold up steamer basket will probably only hold five or six.

Beyond those notes on specialty ingredients/instructions, I thought the tofu is actually treated in an interesting way here... soaked in near boiling salted water for 15 minutes before being drained for another 15 minutes. That's not something I've heard of people doing before, and it seemed to result in a softer texture for the finished product, but more research seems necessary.

Anyway, I really liked this recipe... found it to be a good collection of flavors: fried tofu with sweet chili sauce topped with cilantro and crushed peanuts. Recommended.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tree-to-Bar Chocolate in Costa Rica

During our visit to Costa Rica, one of our guides showed us a cacao farm run by one of his friends. The farm was producing chocolate, but was only a handful of years old and still in the early stages. Nonetheless he was able to show us the complete cycle of turning the fruit of a cacao tree into chocolate.

Cacao Tree and Pod

Here is the tree and a relatively ripe fruit. As we walked through the grove the farmer would snip off occasional stray branches and rotten or misshapen pods so that more of the plant's energy was directed to healthy pods. It was clear immediately how labor intensive of a process it was, because the pods were all at different stages of ripeness.

Open Cacao Pod

Within the pods are the seeds, but they don't look very much like cocoa beans at this point. The milky white coating... the pulp... is actually quite sweet (we tried them), and apparently locals will suck on the seeds as a treat (the bean itself is bitter and inedible). At this stage they harvest the seeds and pulp... cutting open the pod with a machete and scooping them out by hand... for fermentation in large covered boxes, which takes somewhere on the order of a week.

Dried Cacao Beans

Once fermented the beans are dried, and finally resemble what most of us think of as cacao/cocoa beans. At this point they're ready for sale to chocolate factories and the like, and this is where those ever popular "bean-to-bar" chocolate operations get involved... by buying their beans directly from small farmers like this.

Ground Cacao

But if you had your own cacao tree farm, wouldn't you make your own chocolate? I mean, you need to make sure your beans are good right? We'll just call it quality control.

Homemade Chocolates

Just cacao beans and sugar... and made from trees just a hundred feet from where we were standing. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Buffalo Fried Cauliflower

Buffalo Fried Cauliflower
This is a pretty unusual recipe from Kenji's Vegan Experience (here is the the Pinterest page if that's how you roll) that he's now done for a month in two consecutive years. He's got some good tips on how to stock your pantry and stuff if you are thinking of making the switch, but as someone with a vegetarian wife and two vegan in-laws, it's also just a nice collection of reasonably surefire recipes.

While the recipe was labeled "crispy" my effort seemed to produce inconsistent results in that regard... some were and some weren't. Was it a problem with the batter, or did I simply not fry them long enough?

I can't really blame the recipe though, as I have to admit I don't think I executed this one quite to perfection... when I first went to make it I found out we didn't have enough cornstarch but had already measured out some of the other dry components of the batter, so I put them aside under some plastic wrap until we could get some more... but the issue was I just had to guesstimate how much cornstarch I had already put in. I knew it was about a 1/4 of a cup, and I'm sure I didn't make the batter too thick... but was it perhaps too thin? It's also possible that Kenji just likes his batter coatings thinner than I do, but without another go at the recipe it's impossible to know. I am somewhat intrigued by the concept of double frying them for a thicker coating, but my troubles here might be more indicative of the fact that I don't do a whole lot of deep frying.

Even though they didn't come out perfectly, I still think it's a cool recipe... and a good thing to have in your repertoire along the lines of other vegetarian junk food. Just because you don't eat meat doesn't mean you don't get hankerings for fried food, and this could easily become a go-to recipe with a little tinkering.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Gallo Pinto

Gallo Pinto

In my post about traditional Costa Rican food, I prominently mentioned gallo pinto as the highlight of their breakfast. Well here is what it looks like in all it's glory. Like the majority of Costa Rican food it's not terribly exciting, just rice and beans with peppers, onions, garlic and dash of cilantro... but it's still very tasty and filling. A typical Tico would use leftover rice and beans from last night's casado to make this for breakfast, but there is no harm here in making fresh rice and using canned beans. This dish is so strongly flavored that I don't think making beans from scratch is really called for, but if you have them by all means use them.

Salsa Lizano

The secret ingredient is Costa Rica's favorite condiment: Salsa Lizano. A little bottle of this, along with Tabasco or some other chile based sauce, is on nearly every restaurant table in the country... as common (more?) as salt and pepper shakers. I have a bit of a condiment obsession so I grabbed it as soon as I saw it, especially when Anna... who lived in Mexico for a while... didn't have any idea what it was. It's not spicy at all... well, maybe a hint of heat... but it's strongest notes are sweet and savory (umami). It's 100% vegetarian/vegan as far as I know and is somewhat similar to Worcestershire sauce which typically is not vegetarian (one of the hotels we stayed at labeled it "English Sauce"). However it definitely tastes significantly different from Worcestershire sauce, so if you sub that in know that you are not getting the full Costa Rican experience. Given that you can even order Salsa Lizano on Amazon at this point, I think it's worth spending the $4 on a bottle if you are going to bother making this dish. Salsa Lizano is basically great on anything, so it's a pretty fun thing to have sitting around.

Above I just have the gallo pinot in a bowl by itself, and it is filling enough to serve as a meal on it's own, but the absolute best way to serve it is with a fried egg sitting on top. That's a breakfast (or dinner!) of champions right there.

Recipe is adapted from Serious Eats, where all I've really changed is to up the rice and beans to match the quantity in one can for ease of use.

Gallo Pinto


  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1.5 cups cooked rice
  • 1 can of black beans (14.5 oz) or 1.5 cups of cooked beans, with liquid
  • 4 tablespoons Salsa Lizano (or Worcestershire sauce)
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Handful of cilantro, chopped


  1. Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion and the red pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. The onion should be translucent and the red pepper soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Dump in the beans and the Salsa Lizano (or Worcestershire sauce). Stir, and let it cook for about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the rice, and stir until well coated. Season mixture with salt (you probably won't need much given the sodium in Salsa Lizano) and pepper. Top with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.