Posted tagged ‘Low Carb’

Fini, Le Foie Gras

January 6, 2014

DSC_8014Sadly, amazingly, we’ve just about come to the finale of our year-end foie gras and duck orgy. After making my terrine de foie gras, I found myself with a small bowl of vividly yellow foie gras fat that had spilled over the terrine pan, which I stuck in the fridge for “later.” Well, later finally came, and boy did I ever put it to good use.

Above you see a little poêlée de légumes, a simple pan sauté of vegetables that was made transcendent by the addition of foie gras fat. I sliced a couple of small turnips and browned them in the fat, sprinkled with some porcini salt. Blanched and shocked some green beans, tossed in some slivered red cabbage, and let it all dance together in the skillet for a few minutes. It was a fridge-cleaning dish, to be sure, but the foie gras fat made it unearthly delicious.

And then I made a foie gras sauce for the roasted chicken I served with it. Using a variation on the recipe I posted here. I sauteed a finely diced shallot in foie gras fat until it was translucent. I added a big glug, let’s say about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of dry sherry, and simmered it until it was reduced to a few tablespoons. Then I added an equal-sized glug of heavy cream and simmered that until it was reduced and thickened. And finally, I crumbled the last few ounces of my foie gras terrine into the sauce and let it melt. The roast chicken, on a bed of the vegetables, blanketed in the silky foie gras sauce, rendered us speechless. The moral to this tale: the next time you have some fresh foie gras, be sure to save any rendered fat – it proves the maxim that having a high class of leftovers makes for the best thrown-together meals you could ever hope to taste.

I’m still dreaming of that duck paté, though, and looking for the slightest excuse to make it again. Perhaps you’re coming to dinner sometime soon?

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Turkey Trot

November 26, 2013

DSC_7734Cruising at a trot all day today, heading into a gallop tomorrow. What I can suggest: if you’re making Jean-George Vongerichten’s Squash on Toast, be careful about what kind of squash you get. I chose the banana squash for its outer beauty, but it turns out that an oranger, drier squash would have been better. Try a kabocha, for example. This makes a sweet and sour squash and onion mixture whose flavor is alluring, but mine looks pretty terrible. I’ll be using the mint garnish heavily.

DSC_7739However, after all the peeling and seeding, my compost bin does look terrific.

DSC_7743We’ve had Thanksgiving in France for so many years recently that I can’t do it without the sweet and delicate flavor of olive oil from Moulin Paradis, imported in my suitcase for this very cook-fest. I used it, among other things, to make the wildly popular Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad, which has the advantage, reportedly, of tasting better after a day or two in the fridge. It tastes pretty darn delicious right now, so if it continues to get better it will be dynamite.

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I used this fabulous Cougar Gold aged cheddar in my Low Carb Cauliflower Stuffing, which is basically this recipe, although I omit the sausage to make it vegetarian, use fresh herbs and amp them up, and add a couple of teaspoons of poultry seasoning.

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And I made Rosemary Roasted Nuts, which is basically this recipe, although I use half again as much butter, and a couple of spoonfuls of piment d’Espelette instead of the cayenne. This recipe is a real low carb doozy, because it’s one of the few herb-roasted nut recipes that doesn’t contain any sort of sweeteners. It’s addictive.

And there you have it, another day in the kitchen. Hurray for one more tomorrow.

Up In Flames

February 24, 2013

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It all started innocently, with a can of beautiful foie gras that a friend brought us from France. That, and an invitation to a French-style potluck-type dinner with a group of old friends that we hadn’t seen in a while. For a true first-world problem, I’m trying to clean out the pantry before we move, and I wanted to use up the foie gras. But because it’s not every day that I have foie gras that needs using, I wanted to make something truly special with it. And because I hadn’t seen these friends in a while I wanted to dress up a bit. As any moron knows, dressing up and cooking are non-compatible activities, but still, I forged ahead.

I conjured up a dreamy dish, chicken roulades with a mushroom and Madeira duxelles stuffing and a foie gras and Madeira sauce. And yes, it was as delicious as it sounds, and yes, of course, I’m going to give you the recipe. But this is a cautionary tale, and so I must tell it from its optimistic beginning to its ignominious end.

I decided to use chicken thighs, since I don’t really enjoy the breasts, but I wanted them with the bone out and the skin still intact. Sure, I have a boning knife and I know how to use it, but it occurred to me that boning 14 thighs would be a chore and that the butcher might be persuaded to remove the bones for me, and happily this was the case, since I thereby avoided the opportunity to stab myself in the hand and miss the evening altogether.

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I found a nifty trick for the duxelles in my online research, one I’ve now added to my permanent repertoire. After chopping the mushrooms up fine in the food processor, you drop them into a tea towel and squeeze with all your might and main, thus expelling an astonishing amount of liquid, and ending up with dry mushroom crumbles that look a lot like kasha or kibble.

I then proceeded to make the stuffing, stopping only for tastes and a little ecstatic yumming, trimmed off extra chicken fat for rendering, and stuffed the now-boneless thighs before tying them up with twine. It occurred to me that removing the twine after cooking the chicken at the party might be a splattery sort of affair, and that perhaps my dress-up scheme was ill-adapted, but no worries: I assigned the de-twining operation to Shel. Next I made the sauce, which was about the most enticing thing I’ve ever tasted, got dressed up, packed the food into the car, and hopped on the ferry. There were actual whitecaps on the normally placid crossing to Seattle, and perhaps I should have taken that as an omen of rough times to come, but no.

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Once happily installed at the party with a heady cocktail in hand and a happily chattering group around me, I noticed that the before-dinner gougères, prepared by a very accomplished cook, had fallen flat as pancakes, perhaps under the prodigious weight of the three cheeses they contained. Nonetheless, they were pronounced delicious and vanished with a rapidity that belied any fault.

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And then, as the before-dinner oysters were being shucked, this one appeared: no oyster inside at all, but instead, a tiny mussel nestled into the oyster shell. This too, might have been a portent, but the rest of the oysters and their absinthe dipping sauce and the freely-flowing cocktails perhaps clouded the face of my worry meter, and I popped my chicken in the oven, twine and all. Later, after the leek soup and its paired wine, and the pear and gorgonzola salad and its wine, and the mussels with Pineau des Charentes and their wine, I blithely, perhaps a bit too blithely, went into the tiny kitchen to finish and serve my chicken dish.

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The host had made spaetzle to accompany my chicken, and so he and I jockeyed for space around the stove, he frying spaetzle, I stirring my foie gras sauce, over the electric burners. He took the pan off the stove, I removed the chicken from the oven, and Shel started snipping the twine, to save my lovely flowing top from getting grease on it.

I turned back to the stove, reached across the burner-formerly-used-for-spaetzle, to get my foie gras sauce, and my clothes went up in flames. Did I mention a flowing top? Did I even think about the fact that it was rayon? Did I even know the flash point of rayon or that a burner that’s not even red could set rayon on fire?

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Fortunately, I somehow put out the fire before any more damage occurred other that filling the kitchen with the acrid smell of burned cloth instead of the lovely smell of the chicken. Oh, and the fact that I can never wear that now-holey top again. But the chicken was fabulous, and I’ll certainly make it again the next time I get my hands on some foie gras. I hope you’ll make it too, but always remember and never forget, this recipe comes with a dress code.

Chicken Roulades with Duxelles Stuffing and Foie Gras Sauce

 8 servings

8 chicken thighs, bone removed, skin left on
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms
2 T duck fat, or use butter
2 large shallots, finely diced, divided use
1 tsp thyme, divided use
3/4 cup Madeira, divided use
1 cup dry white wine
2 T butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 oz foie gras, mi-cuit
salt and pepper

First make the stuffing. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and whiz the mushroom caps in the food processor until you have fine crumbs. Place an old tea towel over a small bowl, dump the mushrooms into the towel, and twist tightly, squeezing, until no more juice drips out.

Melt the duck fat in a nonstick pan and sauté 1 shallot until translucent. Add the mushrooms and 1/2 tsp thyme, salt and pepper, and sauté, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown. Add 1/4 cup of Madeira and sauté for a couple of minutes until it is all absorbed by the mushrooms. Taste for salt and pepper. Set stuffing aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 450°. When stuffing is cool, open each thigh and put a spoonful of stuffing inside each piece and roll it closed, tying with twine into neat roulades. Place the chicken in an oiled roasting pan. Sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, and the remaining thyme. Pour the white wine into the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes.

While the chicken is baking prepare the foie gras sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the remaining shallot. Sweat the shallot gently over low heat until translucent. Add the remaining Madeira and simmer to reduce by 1/3. Add the cream and continue to simmer, reducing again by about 1/2, until you have a lightly thickened sauce. Remove the pan from the heat and crumble the foie gras into the sauce. Let it sit for a few minutes to melt the foie gras, then whizz it all with an immersion blender until you have a silky smooth sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve over the chicken (after removing the twine).

You may want bread to mop up the sauce, or then again, you can just lick the plate. And be sure to save the juices in the roasting pan, which will make the base for a killer soup the next day.

Not Chamorritos

February 13, 2013

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I’ve become enamoured of pork shanks, thanks to our local Mexican restaurant.  Their chamorritos are delectable, tidy little ankle bones of small pigs, lined up neatly on the plate, swimming in a warm, slightly sweet sauce.

The pork shanks I brought home with me bore no resemblance to their elegant Mexican cousins.  These were brutish, relatively huge, pork that had been finished on hazelnuts in Oregon and had evidently thrived on them.

Nonetheless, I made a delicious dish with them, using a lot of a very dry Amontillado that I didn’t enjoy drinking, and lots of sweet, smoky pimenton.

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It looked like hell on wheels, there’s no denying it. You can’t serve this in a restaurant. You can’t serve this to company unless they’re good friends who love food and are not put off by homely dishes. But you can make it anytime you need a slightly exotic but very comforting dish. You low-carbers can eat the delicious fat that rings the shank, and believe me when I say that pork fat that was raised on hazelnuts is exceptionally delicious.

Pork Shanks with Amontillado and Pimenton 

3 lbs pork shanks, cut for osso buco
3 T olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp pimenton dulce
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups Amontillado sherry
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 325°. Rub the pork shanks with salt. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot. Brown the shanks well on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Add diced vegetables to the pan, and sauté for a few minutes, until the vegetables just begin to get golden.

Add the pimenton, bay leaves, and black pepper and sauté for a minute or two until the spices are fragrant.  Add sherry and chicken broth. Return the pork shanks to pan, all in one layer. The liquid should be at least halfway up the sides of the shanks, if not add a little more sherry or broth.

Cover the pot tightly and place in oven.  Let cook for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, turning the meat once during that period. Remove pot from oven and carefully pull the meat and skin off the bones, shredding it coarsely into the sauce. Taste for salt and pepper.

This is very nice served with a sauté of green beans, red peppers, and shallots.

Tagine Temptation

January 26, 2013

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My beautiful tagine, much neglected since I’ve been a low carb eater, has been calling out to me of late. A heap of lovely lamb in my fridge and a stretch of gloomy and damp weather made me long for a slow-simmered Moroccan tagine. But alas, lamb tagine is often made with honey, raisins, prunes, and other sorts of sweet delights that I no longer eat. Surely there must be a low carb version of this splendid dish, I thought.

The advice of an online Moroccan cooking group and an online recipe search led me to this idea: a homey, soothing concoction of lamb, cauliflower, preserved lemon, saffron, and La Kama spices, a favorite spice mixture taught to many of us by the esteemed Paula Wolfert, mistress of all things tagine.

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It’s hard to say just how authentically Moroccan this is, since I more or less threw it together, but it’s certainly Moroccan-inflected. Its spices are gentle and comforting, the meltingly tender lamb and the almost-falling-apart cauliflower make for a rustic dish just right for eating from a bowl with a spoon on a rainy night. In fact, it might be kind of a gateway Moroccan food, since it’s not at all threatening or unfamiliar, more like a gentle hand leading you toward the delights of North African cuisine. Give it a try, and if you don’t have a tagine, you can definitely make this in a heavy pot like a Le Creuset. The texture might not be as unctuous, but it’ll still be delicious. La Kama spice should contain cubebs, but I don’t have any, and you probably don’t either. I used Urfa pepper, hoping it would add a slightly bitter warmth, and if you don’t have either one, well, just do your best.

Abra’s Low Carb Lamb and Cauliflower Tagine

2 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder, cubed
1 heaping tsp ground ginger
1 heaping tsp turmeric
1 heaping tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Urfa pepper
2/3 tsp cinnamon
1/3 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp saffron threads, soaked in 3 T hot water
3 T olive oil
1 small onion, grated
1 cup water
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tsp salt, divided use
1 preserved lemon, skin only, cut into slivers

Mix the ginger, turmeric, pepper, Urfa pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Place the cubed lamb in the bottom of the tagine and sprinkle the spice mixture over it. Toss the lamb with your hands until all of the meat is coated with the spices. Add the saffron and its soaking water and the olive oil and mix again. This time you probably want to use a spoon, or the saffron will stain your hands a lively yellow. Stir in the grated onion, the water, and one teaspoon of salt and mix to combine.

Place the tagine bottom on a cold stove and cover it with the lid. You need to bring the tagine up to cooking temperature very slowly, so this is what I do. I have a glass cooktop, you might need to adjust these instructions for your own stove. I turn the burner to the very lowest setting, which is barely warm. I set a timer for 5 minutes and walk away, otherwise I’m tempted to raise the heat too fast. After 5 minutes I raise the heat one click, set the timer for another 5 minutes, and repeat this twice more, so that after 20 minutes the tagine is good and warm, and on a medium-low setting. Let it come up to a simmer and cook for an hour and a half without removing the lid. You’ll want to peek, but don’t. It won’t be burning or sticking, you don’t need to stir.

After the hour and a half add the cauliflower florets and another teaspoon of salt, give it all a good stir, cover it again, and let it cook for another 30-40 minutes, depending on how soft you want your cauliflower. Remove the lid and add the preserved lemon. Serve with harissa, if you want to spice it up a bit.

The Jade Emperor Smiled

December 29, 2012

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After a steady diet of holiday food we were both craving something sprightly, taste-awakening, rejuvenating. As I listlessly glanced over my cookbooks my eye fell on a tiny tome that I hadn’t thought about in years: Dining With Headhunters, by Richard Sterling. A pang of guilt and sorrow struck me. How had I managed to forget all about a book that I’d once loved so well?

My copy is signed by Sterling himself, who wrote: “Dear Abra, May the Jade Emperor always smile on your kitchen,” referring to a Vietnamese story  in which the kitchen deities make an annual report to the Jade Emperor about whether a kitchen is a place of love or strife. And indeed, my various kitchens around the world in the time since I first discovered this quirky and delightful book have been singularly blessed.

Dining With Headhunters is full of stories of Sterling’s time in Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, and the Philippines. The best part is that the excellent stories are punctuated with recipes that are easy and accessible. Although they seemed almost hopelessly exotic to me the first time I tried them, back in 1996, I realize now that the list of Asian ingredients available to most of us has increased exponentially since then, and there’s been a proliferation of authentic Asian cookbooks. However, the beauty of this little book is in the context; the recipes sprang from far-away times and places, and each is embedded in a story of Sterling’s adventures.

So I was very curious to discover whether, with an additional 15 years of serious, and for a while even professional, cooking under my belt (not to mention around my hips) the recipes would have stood the test of time. I chose an old favorite, Burmese Red-Gold Pork, as well as a Burmese green bean salad, and a Cambodian country-style smoky eggplant. A couple of hours in the kitchen and the results were as you see them above. A lively green bean salad with sauteed shallots, chiles and sesame, a hauntingly delicious eggplant with fried pork, shrimp, and Thai basil, and the ever-entrancing Red-Gold pork, spicy-warm, beautifully burnished and fragrant with sesame oil.

Unlike much Asian food, this stuff is rich, soothing comfort food. If you’re looking for light and clean, look elsewhere. But if what you want is a bit of soul-warming exoticism on a winter’s night, you could scarcely do better than this.

Burmese Red-Gold Pork
adapted from Dining with Headhunters by Richard Sterling

2 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
1 1/2 T dark soy sauce
1 tsp black pepper, coarsely ground
1/2 cup toasted light sesame oil, or use dark sesame oil with half Chinese peanut oil
1 1/2 T minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water, divided use
1 1/2 T regular soy sauce
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 large onion, sliced
salt to taste

Rub the pork with the dark soy sauce and pepper and let marinate for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet with a tight-fitting lid (I like the Le Creuset for this) and stir in the ginger until fragrant. Add the pork and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and 1/2 cup water, stir, and cover. Simmer until the water has evaporated, about 30-40 minutes. Add the soy sauce, cayenne, and remaining 1/2 cup water, stir, cover, and simmer again until the water evaporates, another 30 minutes or so. Add the onions, cover again, and continue to simmer until the pork is richly browned and the onions are almost reduced to a sauce. Plan about 2 hours start to finish for this dish, but most of it is unattended and you’ll be able to prepare other dishes while the pork is simmering away, making your kitchen smell unbearably delicious, and no doubt making the Jade Emperor smile widely and delightedly.

Here’s The Beef

October 24, 2012

‘Tis the season to be cooking, and thinking about cooking, and planning festive meals, and all the holiday pleasures. But somehow, amidst the turkey fantasies, I developed a mad craving for beef. I never used to enjoy beef much, but over the last few years I’ve discovered two cuts that I really love: hangar steaks, and côte de boeuf.

The beautiful côte you see here is from Painted Hills, in Oregon. Grass fed, then finished on barley and corn, it’s the most delicious thing imaginable. I’m always looking for more flavor and more fat in beef, and the combination of grass pasturing for flavor and health, then the grain finish, produces just about a perfect proportion of both. Plus, this one got some dry aging, and that dark edge from the aging is utterly delicious eating.

This côte weighed about two pounds and was several inches thick, calling for slow cooking in a butter bath. This is my version of a technique I picked up long ago on eGullet, and although you probably will think it sounds nuts, I can promise you that it works to perfection.

Remove the côte from the fridge an hour before cooking and allow it to come up to room temperature. Melt some butter with a little olive oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium low and place the meat in the pan. Set the timer for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes flip the meat and reset the timer for another 5 minutes. Now add more butter, and set the timer for 20 minutes. Flip the meat every 5 minutes or so, basting it with the browned butter and juices. Add additional butter as needed, you want to have plenty available for basting. The côte should be getting a more and more caramelized and appetizing crust each time you flip and baste. I like it to be medium-rare all the way through, and 30 minutes is usually just right. If I decide to use the thermometer, I pull it out of the pan at just about 120°. This will produce meat that is red but not bloody, all the way through, and beautifully browned and crispy on the outside.

Let the beef rest for at least 5 minutes. During that time you can either toss some thinly sliced onions, or even mushrooms, into the pan juices and fry them up. Or you can do as I often do and add a good glug of Madeira or Port to the hot pan and simmer for a couple of minutes as it reduces, then drizzle this sauce over the sliced meat as you serve it, along with a shower of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bon appétit!