the simplest hot sauce known to man

Let me start by saying I’m not hot sauce expert but I’m familiar. In fact I’ve only been hooked on hot chiles and hot sauces fairly recently. I have only tried a few store brands and there are some good ones out there but I find an issue with most: A pretty high sodium content. That’s cool, I love salt too but mayo for example has a salt concentration  of about 3% and tastes perfect, so is a high sodium content really necessary for making an awesome hot sauce? Check the following sodium concentration from a random hot sauce selection: 

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Christmas Bolognese Pasta

If you know or you know of somebody that holds the true original recipe for bolognese sauce please report back in the comment section if you can. I’m really curious. A simple google search returned over 200,000 result and after checking the first 2 pages of results it was obvious everybody has their own idea of what an authentic bolognese ragu should be. There are obviously the usual suspects in the ingredients list which I tried to keep in mind but seriously, cooking by most common denominator ingredients is plain boring, at least to me. 

The absolutely required ingredients in bolognese ragu.

hmm…. meat? I think that’s mainly it. Which kind? well… in today’s world beef because it’s easier to find although historically veal is probably more proper. Pancetta can also be found in pretty much all the recipes I looked at. Then we have the aromatics like onion, celery and carrots. Carrots being fairly popular and onions being in pretty much all the recipes. Wine? hit or miss really. Milk? yep… another one that is popular but not standard. Garlic for sure. Nutmeg… yep. I think nutmeg is probably the only spice being added to this sauce in modern times. No bay leaves apparently. Pork? yep, it does appear but not consistently. Stock? yep… here and there although I should say.. if I can avoid it I will refrain from using stock unless absolutely necessary in a recipe.  

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Braised Lamb Shank : Chimayó Chile Spice Blend : Cauliflower Puree : Thank you, Shanna!

This finally happened last week. First I got an email form the hotel I was staying that I had received some mail… yeah, really nice. I ran to the hotel which is a block away from my current address and picked up a letter with addresses and names written by hand…, like in the old days. The sender, some Dr Greg Ward. I don’t know any Doctors by that name.. there was a second name right under it but I didn’t bother reading on, I was leaving for work and I was already late. At first I thought spam but how many spam/junk mails are written by hand. I got to work. I remembered that about 2 months ago, my blogger friend Shanna  (have you seen her blog? click here!)  and Greg, her husband, had emailed me about sending me samples from their Co-Op which features a wonderful array of locally grown ingredients. Amongst those. Chile. But not any chile, oh no.

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Chimayó chiles, of which I knew nothing about. Check out this link if you are interested in the history of this chile, it’s quite amazing actually. I had no clue that what was in that envelope was a bag of dried ground Chimayó chile, all the way from the originating geographic location. Thank you Shannah for the lovely gift. Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend. Anyone who’s lived in Canada probably knows how meticulous their border customs office can be. They probably held the package for about a month… it either sat there totally unnoticed or they ran some serious lab tests on it to figure out why it smelled so freaking awesome. The baggie was slightly opened, so must have been the latter. When I opened the envelope, there was chile powder everywhere, but do not worry, Shanna, I was able to save all of it! 

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Now on to the recipe. Lamb. Nothing to do with the fact that is easter weekend for those who celebrate this holiday. But I’ve been craving it. Lamb from New Zealand, the land of the lambs. If you haven’t been. There are lots of lambs there, lots. And they are cute. And delicious too. Terrific combination. Here in Vancouver, they can be found easily at groceries stores. Given the size of the one I cooked, must have been the hind shank, lot’s of connective tissue, collagen, some marbling and a lovely bone. All points to a long and slow braise.

I tested the chile for heat. Which meant placing about a tsp of it my mouth. It was mildly spicy, perfect actually. I decided I would do a 24 hour dry rub (meanly featuring Shanna’s gift) on the shank and then braise it over vegetables and serve it with a side of cauliflower puree. Some mint leaves for garnishing. And here’s how it went:

Ingredients:

Shank dry rub:

1 lamb shank
1 Tbsp chile blend
1/2 Tbsp garlic powder
1/2 Tbsp onion powder
1/2 Tbsp ground coriander seeds
1/4 Tbsp cinnamon powder
2/3 Tbsp kosher salt
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 Tbsp sweet paprika

Braising Bed:

mirepoix, 1 onion, 2 celery stalks, 2 carrots, coarse dice
6-8 prunes
2 tsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp olive oil
12-16 capers
a drizzle honey

Cauliflower Puree:

1 cauliflower
2/3 C whole milk
salt to taste

Garnish:

Toasted sesame seeds
Fresh mint leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

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For the lamb shank dry rub. Prepare the dry rub. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl big enough to fit the shank. Don’t use any olive oil. These ingredients are soluble in water for the most part. If you add oil, the ingredients will get coated with it and will not permeate the shank as efficiently. I actually added a little bit of water, so it wasn’t exactly a dry rub… maybe a slightly wet rub. Get in there with your hands and rub the mix all over the shank, including the bone. It might seem like a lot of salt, but kosher salt isn’t as salty and some of it will evenly salt the shank (like a brine). Some of it will be left behind in the bowl and the rest will drip away when the shank is braising, salting the vegetables. It will be ok. Place uncovered in the fridge for 24 hours.

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For the cauliflower puree. Cut off the florets and discard the tough end portion of the stem. In a shallow saucepan, place the florets and add about 1/2 inch of water, bring to a boil and shallow steam with the lid on until cauliflower is soft but not mushy. Season with a little salt. When done, reduce the water until there’s only a little left. Allow to cool. Place the contents of the saucepan in a blender. Add a little milk. Cover the blender and place a dry kitchen towel over it, pressing down firmly. Blend, stop. Press the cauliflower chunks with a spatula deeper into the blender jar. Cover, kitchen towel, more milk, blend…, adjust seasoning, repeat. I do it this way because I don’t want to ue too much milk and end up with a runny cream. You can always reduce it in a saucepan if this ever happens and get it back to the right consistency, but I rather avoid that step and prefer to get it right straight inside the blender. And immersion blender is a nicer alternative to this, but mine still bubble wrapped from moving to Canada.

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Braising the Lamb Shank.  Preheat your oven to 500F for about an hour. Add a drizzle of olive oil to an oven safe pot, like an all stainless steel pot or cast iron dutch oven which is my favorite. Place the shank and brown the widest end (the knee end I guess) on medium high heat for a few minutes.  The first stage is browning the meat, to develop flavor. You can do it all in the same pot either over the stove or in the oven. I prefer the oven, is less work and browns more evenly. I give the shank a bit of a head start by browning the side in which it will stand (sit on) for the rest of the cooking process. Place the pot in the oven and let it brown for about 10-12 minutes.  (or the stock of your liking, chicken, beef, lamb, vegetable, probably not fish but who knows!) carefully remove the pot from the oven. Add the vegetable,  prunes, and tomato paste with about 1/2 C of water. Reduce the oven temperature to 200F -250F and cook for as long as 4 hours. Remove from the oven, place shank over serving plate. On the stove over medium heat, place the that same pot with the vegetables, add the honey. Don’t let it burn,  but let it become a bit darker. Stir.  Deglaze with a splash of water, stir until water is reduced completely and remove form the heat.

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Plating. Spoon the braised vegetables around the lamb shank. Add as much cauliflower puree as you want. I would have drowned the plate, that puree is so good! but I plated for the photo so I kept it a bit classier. Garnish with some toasted sesame seeds and Fresh mint leaves. Pepper to taste.

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Cuban Black Beans and Saffron Rice : How to cook black beans : Tips

Have you ever tried making black beans? It took me a forever to get it right. Some legumes are easier than other. Lentils, super easy, black beans, not so much if you don’t keep in mind a couple of things. The first few times I made black beans… the soup actually didn’t taste great, and it didn’t sit well in my stomach either. It had some really weird after taste… But I knew I had had black beans many times at restaurants and they were pretty delicious and my stomach was cool with them. What was I doing wrong?? well, turns out I was doing a couple of things wrong…. big… surprise. Here’s what I’ve found after reading about it and doing some research. I turned to cuban recipes, cubans in my opinion cook the most delicious back beans I’ve ever had, followed by venezuelan black beans recipes. Creamy, a bit tangy and sweet, extremely flavorful…. yeah, you get the picture, right!? Here’s 3 tips that will make cooking these guys a yummy success:

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Spice Blend Recipes : Garam Masala : Talk about amazing aromas

I have been cooking without too many spices for a long time. I tend to rely more on herbs and seasoning, salt, pepper, I could venture out and use some paprika, love saffron, but have never been big on turmeric or curry for example. The other day I was preparing a dish of south asian origin, a dish that featured pilaf and lamb (I will be posting this soon) and I came across this spice blend, garam masala, which you can get at the store or you can mix it yourself at home, which I really recommend to get the whole experience of toasting seeds, and smelling the amazing aromas. The flavor was wonderful as well. I’m more open to spices these days but still try to be careful not to use them in a way that they could cloud or overwhelm my dish or the person it. 

Gear:

Mortar or Spice blender (I use a tiny food processor that works miracles)

Ingredients:

3 Tb. coriander seeds
3 Tb. cumin seeds
4 tsp. peppercorns
2 pieces dried ginger
1 Tb. green cardamom pods
3 whole star anise
2 tsp. cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 whole (small) nutmeg

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Method:

01: place all the spices on a skillet and roast until fragrant 2 mins
02: pulverize spices in a spice blender
03: reserve

Makes plenty, store in a cool dark place or in the fridge, enjoy!!!!