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A variation on dry fried green beans April 7, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Pork, Vegetables.
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I am currently obsessed with Szechuan dry fried green beans. Every time I go to a Szechuan restaurant, I must order them. They are so flavoursome – and seem almost healthy compared to some of the other menu options. Naturally after ordering them multiple times when dining out, I decided I needed to learn how to make them myself.

After reading a few recipes online, I decided to create my own variation. Instead of using straight pork mince, I used some fresh chorizo sausage I had in the freezer. And instead of chinese longbeans, I used standard green beans.

I started by cooking the chorizo in some oil, breaking it up into small pieces.

(If you’re wondering why the chorizo is so pink – yes, there is a little bit of pink salt in the meat)

After the chorizo was cooked, I removed it from the wok and replaced it with Szechuan peppercorns, which I toasted until they were fragrant. Then I added garlic, ginger, chopped chilis, and finally, chopped green onions. Again I cooked these until everything was soft and then removed them from the wok.

Next, I added the beans. I found the best way to cook these was to let them sit for a few minutes, so the ones on the bottom became blistered and charred in some places, then move them around so there were new beans on the bottom.

It took longer than I was expecting to cook all the beans properly – but it was definitely worth the wait as they became properly blistered.

After the beans were cooked, I added everything back into the wok and tossed it all together, before serving it.

While different from the original, these were very tasty and satisfied my cravings for these green beans. There were just enough Szechuan peppercorns to get that numbing feeling without the spiciness of the peppercorns overwhelming everything else. I really like cooking beans in this manner – they remain flavoursome and a little crispy, despite their blistered exteriors. While not at all traditional, I think the chorizo worked in its role of salty meaty addition, and altogether the dish was definitely a success. This one will definitely be repeated on a regular basis – think of all the money I’ll save in restaurant costs!

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Relapse: Cucumber March 10, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Vegetables.
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Relapse: An occasional series where I discuss several ways of preparing an ingredient.

This summer I have been enjoying cucumbers in a number of ways. Of course, it’s easy to chuck one in a salad or even eat one plain, but for some reason I’ve never done much else with cucumbers. This has changed recently and I’m going through a ton of cucumbers and using them in a variety of ways. Here’s some of my favourite ways to prepare cucumbers.

Pickle them

This is a no-brainer, really. If I ever see gherkins or other pickling cucumbers for sale, I usually buy them all. And then spend the weekend making pickles! I usually make dill pickles because these are my absolute favourite – I much prefer them to the sweet variety.

You need a brine of vinegar, salt and water, plus whatever flavourings you want. For dill pickles, I use plenty of dill and garlic, plus peppercorns and general pickling spice.

It takes about 5-6 days for the cucumbers to pickle to the degree that I like them (I like them when they’re still a bit crunchy). I don’t bother canning them because I eat them so quickly it’s not worth the effort! The brine is also great to add to cocktails and other things.

Drink them

Cucumbers are pretty watery and lend themselves well to blending and pulverising. This makes them great for a variety of drinks – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. To get a perfectly smooth juice, blend pieces of cucumber with a couple of splashes of water (and other flavourings, such as lemon juice, if you like), then strain, pushing all the pulp through so you get all the juice out.

This juice can be used as a base to create a variety of drinks, including this pseudo-tiki cocktail I made (and then drank out of Cthulhu’s head, which of course made it more delicious). This cocktail contained light and dark rum, bitters, the cucumber juice and some pineapple juice. The cucumber juice also makes a great substitute in a bloody mary-type cocktail – and of course you can add some of the brine from the pickles, above.

Eat them (in a soup)

A variation on the juice above, this method ensures you use both the pulp and juice from the cucumbers. This time you probably want to take the time to peel the cucumbers, and again dice them and add them to your blender. Then add whatever flavourings you want: I added mint, coriander, spring onions, lemons, salt – and most importantly, soft avocados.

You could use cream as well as avocados but the avocados definitely provide enough creaminess on their own. You also need some cold water to help blend everything together. It’s best if you can leave the soup to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours so the flavours can mingle. I served mine with fried onions on the top – but of course you could also use more cucumbers.

I have become a big fan of this soup and have been making it frequently during the hot weather we’ve been having. It’s super simple to make and is delicious and refreshing.

All of these methods of preparing cucumbers have definitely made me eat more of them, and I am enjoying their refreshing qualities as well as the great flavours that these vegetables provide.

Fritz’s Watercress salad January 28, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Vegetables, Wolfe recipe.
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A confession: the watercress used in this salad would have probably been considered below par by Fritz and Nero Wolfe (“Poison a la Carte, part of the Three at Wolfe’s Door trilogy). It was generally fine, but had parts which were starting to turn yellow, a clear sign that it had been picked a few days before I used it. I know that Fritz would have been aghast at the quality (it must be perfect for Wolfe, of course), and Wolfe would have been appalled.

Nevertheless I decided that I’d continue making an imperfect watercress salad, with the thought that I’d at least get the general sense of the salad. This was actually a very easy salad to put together, with only a handful of ingredients. I started by chopping up avocados and walnuts, and mixing them together in a bowl with some salt and lemon juice.

Then it was simply a matter of arranging the watercress and adding the walnut and avocado mixture. I also added a tomato, to add some more colour.

While it was very simple, it was a very nice salad. The watercress was slightly spicy, and the avocado / walnut mix was very tasty and a great combination. We had this as a side salad with some pumpkin and cauliflower soup, and it was a very nice accompaniment.

Perhaps I missed out on the subtle nuances of perfect (as defined by Nero Wolfe) watercress, but I think I still managed to get along quite nicely.

Christmas 2012: What we ate January 6, 2013

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Game, Vegetables.
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A slightly belated post about what we ate for Christmas in what is now considered last year! I had ordered a goose with the thought of doing a roast goose (very traditional, in an A Christmas Carol sort of way), but then an article by Mrs Wheelbarrow started me thinking about doing bits of goose instead.

I admit I didn’t follow the recipes suggested in the article, but instead decided to do a similar ‘beak to tail’ serving of goose for Christmas dinner. The day before, I made both apple and red currant jellies, and left them overnight to firm up in the fridge. Then the day of Christmas, once the important business of opening presents had been finished and a breakfast of smoked salmon and ham had been consumed, I got down to the job of breaking down the goose.

While I have broken down poultry before, I did follow Hank Shaw’s guide for breaking down game birds – I wanted the pieces to look nice for Christmas! I was quite happy with the job I did, which took about 20 minutes. I was left with the legs and breasts and a bunch of other meat, including the wings – and a pile of offcuts to render down for their fat.

I began by melting some existing duck fat and submerged the legs to confit them. I also put all the offcuts of meat and wings in a pot of water to simmer and cook the meat. I salted the breasts and vacuum packed them with pepper, sage and thyme in preparation for sous-videing them. I put the large pile of skin and fat pieces in a pot with some water to begin the fat rendering process. Then it was just a matter of waiting. Incidentally I felt like this was the calmest Christmas I’d had in the kitchen for quite a while – no mad running around or piling up of dishes!

When the meat offcuts were cooked, I shredded them finely and pounded them in my mortar and pestle while adding duck fat. Ta-daa! Goose rillettes. I added some parsley and sage and packed the rillettes into a serving dish. Now, I know it’s better to cover the rillettes with fat and leave them in the fridge at least overnight, but they were still very good to eat on the day. I served the rillettes as a starter along with some homemade Christmas ham, and the apple and red currant jellies.

Goose rillettes with Christmas ham, apple jelly and red currant jelly

I melted yet more duck fat (actually, the end of my supplies, but luckily I was replenishing them rapidly with the goose fat rendering on the stove) and, after parboiling some potatoes, added the potatoes, carrots, parsnips and onion to the duck fat, and left them in the oven to roast. At this time I also made a bitter salad of radicchio, shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes, capers and lots of lemon juice and vinegar. I figured we needed something to cut through the richness of the goose!

Next I set the goose breasts to cook sous-vide for about 40 minutes at 60ÂșC, and took the legs out of the confit. I finished both the legs and the breasts by searing them in a frying pan – in the case of the legs, this made them go super crispy on the outside.

Christmas 2012: Sous vide goose breast, confit goose leg, vegetables roasted in duck fat, radicchio salad

So to summarise, from one goose I got:

  • Rillettes
  • Sous vide goose breasts
  • Confit goose legs
  • A giant jar of goose fat
  • Delicious and rich goose stock, which I made from the offcuts of vegetables and the goose bones once the dinner was over

I really do like the taste of goose, and it was great to experience so many variations on that flavour in the same meal. While it’s probably not as impressive as presenting a roast goose to the table, it was much more interesting and I was very happy to be able to use the whole goose up so well.

Fried okra September 2, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Vegetables.
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It is well known that Nero Wolfe is a vocal proponent of food developed in the United States – those specific culinary masterpieces which are America’s contribution to the world’s culinary heritage. While some of these are very well known, others are more unique to specific regions in the US. One specialty I’d never heard of was fried okra although apparently this is an important side dish in the South. My investigations showed there were a number of different ways to prepare the okra, including multiple frying methods. I decided to make smashed okra, as recently discussed on The Bitten Word, as this method seemed to highlight the actual okra flavour, rather than the coating.

I started by smashing the okra. Well, tapping the okra, really. I used my meat tenderising mallet, but tapped each one lightly – enough to pop it open slightly, but not enough to break the whole thing. I then set up a production line and dipped each okra into egg, then a flour/cornmeal mix. I put each one on a baking sheet to dry off slightly, until they were all ready to fry.

I used grapeseed oil to fry the okra – this is definitely my preferred option now. Because of its high burn point, it has the added bonus of not making the whole house smell fried after the process is over. I heated the oil, and then dropped the okra in one by one. I did it in batches so it didn’t get too overcrowded.

I drained them on some paper towel and tossed them in salt. We ate them outside as a delicious snack.

These were great! Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, with the delicious flavour of okra very apparent. I also added a little pile of smoked paprika to the side of the plate, which we found a very nice addition to dip the okra into.

I have a feeling that this is definitely a recipe Nero Wolfe would like. I can see him serving these to guests in his office – along with a drink, of course. While serving them, he would discuss the culinary contributions of the South, and invite his guests to give their opinions of the okra. Hopefully they would all find the okra as delicious as I did.