Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Smoked Tomato Soup


























As many of you know, my smoker is one of my favorite cooking appliances, and I put it to good use throughout the year with briskets, ribs, turkey, pork butts and so on.  But smoking isn't just about meats--you can smoke up other foods as well.  Foods like...soup.

Yeah, sounds weird, but I've been enjoying some great smoked soups over the years, such as my smoked corn and sausage soup that I posted here a few years back.  I've had a pretty good tomato soup recipe for a while, so I thought I'd introduce the flavor of smoke to it as well.  And no, we won't be trying to balance a bowl of soup in our smoker--we'll just smoke the veggies first, natch.



Ingredients

4 Large Beefsteak Tomatoes
1 Red Bell Pepper
4 Small Sweet Peppers
1 Medium Onion
4 Cloves Garlic
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
5 Leaves Fresh Basil
1/2 Cup White Wine
28 Oz Whole Peeled Tomatoes
28 Oz Crushed Tomatoes
2 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Tablespoon smoked paprika
1 Can consomme
1 cup heavy cream (optional)

I like to use both fresh and canned tomatoes in this soup.  Reasoning:  Each has unique flavors that the other doesn't.  The canned develop flavors in the canning process that are desirable, but the fresh have subtle, delicate flavors that disappear when canned, so they are my base tomatoes for the soup, and that's what gets smoked.  I use four good-sized beefsteak tomatoes for this, maybe mixing in a large heirloom if they are in season.



Half the Beefsteak Tomatoes, Bell Peppers and Small Sweet Peppers and smoke them in as cool a smoker as you can get with mild fruit wood for 1 hour.  I usually use a mild fruit wood like cherry or peach for this recipe.  Stronger woods like hickory are a bit much for this delicate dish, and of course mesquite would be way too much (I pretty much never use mesquite for anything, despite its ready availability here in Texas)



After an hour the tomatoes will look about like this. 



Go ahead and pull them and bring 'em inside.



Use tongs or a spatula or maybe a combo of both as the tomatoes will be slippery and soft.  Try to keep the skins on--they have picked up a lot of the smoke flavor so we want them in the soup initially.  (we'll strain them out later)

Dice the onion.  Heat olivc oil in large pot and saute the onion in it.



 Add minced sweet peppers. Dice Bell Pepper and add.



 Coarsely mince the fresh basil leaves.



Add the minced basil to the pan.



Add minced garlic when onion is starting to brown.

After a few minutes add white wine and deglaze the pot.  .

Add whole peeled tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and the smoked tomatoes from your smoker.



Add chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.



Add Smoked Paprika.  Simmer for 45 minutes.

After this time, use a spatula to loosely break up whatever tomatoes are still intact, then use a stick blender to puree the entire pot of soup.  (you can puree in batches in a regular blender if you don't have the stick)



Strain soup through food mill or chinois.  I'm using a fine-mesh chinois like this:





I ladle the soup into the chinois...



Then use the pestle to gently strain the soup though the mesh.



When you've got as much strained out as you can, discard the solids left behind and repeat until you've strained all the soup.  What's left behind will be almost velvety smooth and tangy, with a nice slight hint of smoke flavor.  Add the Consomm√© and heat a few minutes longer.

For a slightly creamier soup,add a half coup of heavy cream and heat through.

We served ours without the cream, but with a nice grilled cheese sandwich on the side--truly the perfect accompaniment to tomato soup.



Until next time,

Chris




Friday, April 27, 2018

Parmesan Green Beans Blistered in Mesquite Olive Oil




















I've always liked green beans, and it's a good thing, because they were a staple in our house while I was growing up.  Of course, back then, we usually got our green beans from a Del Monte can and simply heated them on the stove top.  But these days, being a foodie and all, I find I can do better, first by using fresh ingredients and then by ramping up the flavor.

This dish has both of those requirements, yet it remains super simple to prepare and easy on the pocketbook.  It also makes a lovely presentation, so it's a good side to make when you're fancying things up with your main courses and you need something that won't put you out.



Fresh green beans are full of nutrients and taste much better than the mushy versions in the can.


Ingredients

1 Pound Fresh Green Beans
1/3 Cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese
2 Tablespoons Pure Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Mesquite Olive Oil
Lemon Juice for garnish

Directions

Wash the green beans and then trim ends off of them.



Admire your cut green beans.



Heat the pure olive oil in a large skillet until very hot, say 450F. (leave the mesquite oil out for now)
Add green beans to skillet.



They should begin sizzling immediately.  Let cook a couple minutes then toss.



After the first toss, the beans that were on the bottom should have started to blister a bit and sear.  Continue to toss and cook until most of the beans are blistered and slightly blackened.



Add Mesquite olive oil.  Use it sparingly, it is potent.



If you don't have the Mesquite-smoked olive oil, feel free to experiment with other flavored oils.  Garlic oil would be nice.  Toss to coat.  Cook one more minute.

Place beans in mixing bowl.  Add Parmesan.  Toss to coat.



Drizzle with lemon juice and serve.



Until Next Time,


Chris

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

New Orleans Style Red Beans and Rice




















When I was a kid, we lived in East Texas--not too far from the Louisiana border, so there was always a hint of Cajun and Creole cuisine at hand.  The pinnacle of this had to be the local 'fancy restaurant' in our world, a seafood place known as Johnny Cace's.

Johnny Cace's was a legendary local eatery that that had been around for decades even back then, and it was always a special night when we got all gussied up and made the drive to dine there.



My dad was a seafood fanatic, and JC's didn't disappoint--he would start with a platter of raw oysters, then settle in for some sort of whole fish offering, washed down with plenty of beer.  But of course, it was the other dishes that really excited us, the 'New Orleans cuisine.'  They served things like gumbo, shrimp creole, crawfish etouffee and so on.

This place alone sort of imbued in me a fascination for New Orleans that continued into adulthood, when I actually began to visit the Big Easy.  There I discovered even more local cuisine that Johnny Cace's didn't serve.  Things like beignets and cafe au lait, hurricane cocktails and of course, that most ubiquitous of NOLA side dishes, Red Beans and Rice.



RB&R became a staple for me every time I visited, and when I'd come home I'd always be disappointed that I'd have to wait until my next trip to get red beans this good.  (There were just none available in my area)  Eventually, I decided I had to do something about it.  I would have to make my own.

I sought out Red Beans and Rice recipes far and wide, and for a time I didn't find one that truly matched the excellence of the New Orleans version.  So I began to mix and match ingredients and techniques from the various recipes, and eventually I came up with what I considered to be a fair example of what I got in NOLA.

A couple of codicils before we begin--make sure you get actual small red beans, rather than pinto or kidney beans--this will make a difference in flavor, texture and color.



Also, the secret to making your red beans sing is using a smoked ham hock (or similar--more on that below).  This was the key ingredient that I was missing in my first attempts at the dish, and once I started using it, the beans really came together.

Ingredients

32 Oz Small Red Beans, Dried
2 Tablespoons Cooking Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion
4 Stalks Celery
8 Cloves of Garlic
3/4 Cup White Wine
1 Tablespoon Dried Thyme
2 Teaspoons Hot Sauce
1 Teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 Ham Hock (or similar, see below)
1 Quart Chicken Stock
1 Pound Smoked Sausage
2 Bay Leaves
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
3 Cup White Rice

Directions

Soak beans in water for four hours or so.



Drain the beans and discard the water.  Heat oil in large pot

Dice the Onion and Celery.



Saute Onion and Celery until soft.



Mince Garlic and add it to the pot.



Add wine and stir to scrape up browned bits



Add Thyme, Hot Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce



Next, let's talk about the proteins.  Traditionally, New Orleans style red beans and rice are made with andouille sausage, a spicy pork sausage that originated in France and was brought to Louisiana by French immigrants.  If you can track some of this down, by all means use it, but use any spicy, smoked sausage other than Italian in a pinch.  Here I'm using a smoked beef and pork sausage with a garlic addition.



Note that other piece of meat above the sausage.  That is a smoked ham shank, which I found at my local grocery store.



Traditionally, a smoked ham hock is used, but I've had some bad luck with hocks I've gotten at the grocery store--they are sometimes rancid and will ruin whatever dish they are used in.  I decided to try my luck with this shank, which is of course very similar to a hock, and I was feeling confident since it was vacuum-sealed and from a reputable company.



It turned to to work great, so I've bought a few more and frozen them for future use.  If you can get one of these, give it a shot, otherwise, you'll have to try your luck with a hock.  The beans are just not the same without this pork product.

Slice the Sausage into thin half-disks.



and place it in pot.



Place the Ham Hock or Shank in the pot, nestled over the sausage.

Add the beans.  I'm using two pounds here, so they just about cover the ham shank.



Add the Chicken Stock and top up with water until the beans are just covered.  Add the Tomato Paste, Paprika and Bay Leaves.



Bring to soft boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook three hours, stirring beans every thirty minutes.  Keep an eye on the liquid level, it should be fine but if too much boils away, add a little water.  Towards the end of the three hours, a sort of thick gravy will have formed.  This is what you want, so don't add any liquid at this point.

After the three hours, discard the bay leaves.  Things should look like this:



Discard the ham hock or shank.  Some people pull the meat and stir it into the beans.  I find this meat a bit tough, and since there's all that sausage in there, I don't worry about it.  Taste beans and adjust with salt and pepper to your liking if necessary.  (I don't add any salt prior to this point as the sausage and hock/shank have a good bit of salt in them)  Beans are ready to serve now.

Cook rice according to your chosen method.  I use a plain basmati rice that I cook in a rice cooker.  Not only does this make perfect rice every time, but it will keep the rice warm indefinitely so it can be served later.  I don't do anything fancy to the rice, it is there mainly for texture, the beans are the star of this show.

Serve the beans over the rice with additional hot sauce on the side.  Some people mix them together before they serve them, but I like to just heap the beans on top and let my guests mix them as they will.  The beans are also great on their own, as a side.



Until next time,


Chris



Thursday, February 22, 2018

Lobster Steak






















You've had surf and turf, how about surf and...surf!  That's right, it's not Lobster and Steak this time, but a Lobster Steak, i.e. a steak made out of lobster meat.  Sounds strange, but bear with me.  I stumbled across this unique recipe a while back while mindlessly surfing cooking sites, as I am wont to do.  When I came upon this one, a creation of famed chef David Burke, I knew I had to try it.  I decided I'd surprise the wife with it on Valentine's Day, but just to be sure I was up to the task, I made it a couple of times on the sly first to make sure I had the process down.  It's relatively simple on the ingredient side of things, but is a bit of a chore in the making--this one is all technique.  What I ended up with was, my friends, perhaps the best lobster dish I've ever eaten, and that's coming from a guy who frequents the coast of Maine.  Yes, it was that good.



But, the recipe itself on the site where I found it, while having some nice pics, didn't really do a great job fleshing out everything you need to do to make this dish.  So, I decided I'd share my experiences making it here on the blog for the benefit of all mankind.












Ingredients

1 Whole Lobster, blanched then quickly chilled.
1 lb Shrimp. peeled and deveined.
1 Stick Butter (4 oz) plus more for searing
1 Tablespoon Fresh Chives, minced
1 Teaspoon Meyer Lemon Zest
Salt and White Pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Aluminum Foil
Cooking Twine
Two Ring Molds 3 inch diameter

Pretty simple on the ingredients list, eh?  So basically we are going to form a 'steak' of of our lobster's meat, using the shrimp and butter to make a paste to glue it all together.  Then we're going to treat this assembly like a piece of beefsteak and sear it, then finish it in the oven.  Sounds wonky, and I know you're thinking, will that mess stay together, or just dissolve into a pool of fruit de mer?  Well, that's what I thought, so much so that the first time I made these, I did one as the recipe specified, then another with a binder of egg and cornstarch.  Turns out the recipe worked fine as designed.  No need for the binders.  The secret is chilling the 'steaks' in the fridge for an hour or so to get 'em firm before you sear them.  Anyhoo, let's get started.  Allow yourself a few hours to make these before your planned dinnertime.

Directions

Fire up your lobster pot with enough water (and a bit of salt) and bring to a boil.



Make an ice bath in a large enough casserole dish or similar and place next to stove.

Blanch the lobster in the boiling water for two minutes, and no more.  We want to just set the meat and then stop.  Chill the lobster immediately in the ice bath to stop cooking process.



Let lobster sit in the ice until cool.  After that you can refrigerate him until you need him.

Peel and de-vein the shrimp.  Place them in your food processor.



Pulse until shrimp are coarsely chopped.



Zest the Meyer Lemon over the shrimp.  (You can use a regular lemon if necessary, but I prefer the flavor of the Meyer)







Mince your chives



Then add them to the food processor with the one stick of butter.



Season with salt and white pepper in the amount of your liking, then pulse until a creamy paste forms.  Don't completely puree the shrimp meat; you want some visible granules of meat to still be there.



Next, break down your lobster.  Remove the tail meet from shell.



Then do the same with the claw and knuckle meat.  Coarsely chop the lobster meat.



Mix the lobster meat thoroughly with shrimp/butter paste.



Now we're ready for our ring molds.  You will need two, as this recipe should produce enough filling to make two steaks.  We have this nice ring mold set that comes with a plunger and base that make it easier to pack the molds full, move them, and then remove contents when ready.




Spray the inside of the ring molds with Pam or similar cooking spray.  This will help the steaks release later on.  Loosely fill each mold with the lobster/shrimp mixture until it is heaped over the top of the mold.



.


Use the plunger, if you have one, to press the mixture down into the mold tight.  Otherwise a spatula works fine.



Place ring molds on parchment paper lined tray.



Place tray with ring molds in fridge and refrigerate for one hour or a little longer.

Now chill out.  Have a glass of wine.  That's probably what I'm doing right now.

Okay, our hour's up.  Preheat oven to 375F.

Now, we need some tools.  Specifically something to help us remove the steaks from the molds, and some foil and cooking twine.



The recipe on the blog where I found it said to use a knife and run it around the inside of the molds to help them release, but even a small knife can really mess up your handiwork, so instead I used a thin metal skewer to do the trick.  I sprayed it with Pam first and then ran it around the inner edge of the mold.



Carefully remove ring molds after you've done this.  I found the plunger came in handy for this process, pressing down gently with it while I lifted the mold, leaving the steaks behind.



Next we need to make sure the steaks don't come apart while we're cooking them.  Tear off about four inches of foil and fold it into a strip just a little less wide than your steak is tall.  Wrap a strip of the foil around each steak and tie it on snug but not too tight with the cooking twine.



























Heat a couple pats of butter and the olive oil in a large skillet until just starting to smoke.  The original recipe called for just butter, but I found it burnt too quickly, so I added the olive oil to increase the smoke point of the mix and get a better sear.

Carefully transfer the steaks to the hot skillet



and sear for 2-3 minutes.  When you flip them they should look like this:



Sear the second side for two minutes as well.  Transfer the steaks back to the tray with a fresh sheet of parchment paper.



Place in your oven and cook until steaks reach 140F internal temperature.  Should take about 8-10 minutes, but use a thermometer if at all possible.  You don't want to undercook these as a center of raw shrimp is not good, but also don't overcook as these get a little chewy and lose some flavor if you take them to the well-done range.

Nope, 140F is perfect.  You can even take them out at 135F and let them sit a few minutes and they will come up in temp a few degrees.

Serve them with some fabulous sides and maybe a wedge of lemon, but they don't need much to dress them up--they are already quite decadent.  (remember all that butter--it's mostly still there)

Here's a few pics of the finished product:


Here we served the steak with a whole lobster as well.  Who needs surf and turf--we'll have surf and surf!



Another surf and surf night--this time with some snow crab legs.


Until next time,


Chris