Friday, June 26, 2009

Hot (diggity) dog

Many thanks to our friends who have been feeding us almost nonstop since we got to California - it's wonderful to be back among the artichokes and avocados. But lest my East Coast readers think that it's all natural and healthful stuff that Californians eat, I should point out that not once, but twice, we've been treated to hot dogs.

Of course, even the simple dog gets a pedigree in CA - one came from our neighborhood market, Taylor's, which features amazing meats (and has just opened a restaurant next door to the market that I want to check out while I'm here), and the other was a Prather Ranch dog. According to the Prather Ranch website:
One of the most unique aspects of the ranch is its “Closed Herd” status as part of their standard operating procedures for their beef and pharmaceutical/bio-medical device bovine raw material side of the business. The beef is hand-cut in our state-of-the-art USDA federally inspected abattoir located on the ranch. Prather Ranch is committed to the most natural way to raise wholesome beef for customers; the ranch does not administer growth-stimulating hormones or feed antibiotics. No animal sourced proteins are fed to the cattle at the Prather Ranch to ensure a safe and pure product for our customers. Computer based detailed records are kept on each individual animal and they are individually tracked through their entire life span.
And the result? An incredible hot dog, made even better with a thick slather of Monterey Mustard. (I'll see if I can find a recipe for the mustard - a really good hot and sweet treat - and post it tomorrow.)
In the meantime, for those of you who aren't Food Network junkies and haven't seen it, here's a video of Guy Fieri visiting a West Virginia hot dog emporium.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A slow solution to sauce

A former Sacramento Bee co-worker, Stuart Leavenworth, left, is doing an apprenticeship at Oliveto in Oakland and is chronicling his learning experience in newspaper stories and on a KQED blog as well, Bay Area Bites.

His most recent posting was on how they do the pasta sauce, the ragu, at the restaurant, and it sounds stupendous. I offer the recipe below for those who aren't regular readers of his blog, but I'd suggest you check it out from time to time, as well. Stuart is a talented writer as well as a great home cook - not a lot of chefs can make that claim.

Stu’s Ragu

Makes: 8-10 servings of sauce

Ingredients

2 pounds ground meat (Beef, pork or equal amounts of both. For beef, try ground chuck or get adventurous with ground hanger steak, beef cheeks, etc. For the pig, try ground pork shoulder.)

4 medium yellow onions

5 stalks celery

5 carrots

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano

6 cups dark chicken or veal stock

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup high-quality tomato paste

1 cup cream (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

1. Dice the onions, celery and carrots into a mirepoix -- cubes smaller than 1/4 inch in size. As you are dicing the vegetables and mincing the fresh herbs, start cooking your meat. Use a heavy bottomed Dutch oven or stew pot. This is essential. The bottom of the pan has to be thick and heavy enough to brown the meat, without scorching it.

2. Use high heat to start your browning process. But keep an eye on it, and adjust the flame accordingly. It's okay for the meat to stick and brown, but you don't want it to blacken or burn.

3. After you have built an even layer of fond on the bottom, toss your vegetables on top of the meat. Leave them there for at least 15 minutes, allowing them to release their juices to the bottom of the pan.

4. Give your meat and vegetable a rigorous stir with a wooden spoon, and scrape up the fond layer that has now been deglazed by the vegetables.

5. Turn up heat slightly, and allow this to cook down and brown again, then add a shot of wine -- no more than a cup. Stir and scrape.

6. Allow this to cook down again. When browned, add a cup of stock. Repeat the process and add your tomato paste, diluted with a half cup of stock.

7. Watch your ragu carefully at this point. The addition of tomato paste could lead to scorching. Keep the heat up, but stir it regularly as the fond starts to reform. When it is nice and brown, but not scorched, add two or three cups of stock -- enough to make it slightly more soupy than you'd want for a sauce.

8. At this point, your ragu should have a lovely, brownish-red color. Bring it to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Allow it to simmer for two to four hours, stirring occasionally and adding more stock, if necessary.

9. Before serving, you have the option of adding cream -- as much or as little as you want. Too much cream will dilute the intensity of the sauce, so be judicious at first.

10. You can take this basic sauce in many different directions. Add minced porcini mushrooms early in the cooking for an earthier flavor, or cinnamon or nutmeg to give it a spicy edge. Use different combinations of fresh herbs.

11. The final step, of course, is marrying the ragu with the pasta. Don't just ladle it on top. Cook your pasta just short of al dente, then mix it thoroughly in a skillet with an appropriate amount of sauce and then serve it immediately. Sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My cher-ry a-more

I love cherries, and my life has been just bowls of them, that's for sure. But with the abundance, especially now, of fresh ones, it's easy to forget just how good the ones that come in a can are.

That point was driven home at a friend's home the other night, when a talented young man we know whipped up a cherry reduction sauce that made an otherwise excellent New York strip steak into a meat to remember. I've had such sauces atop duck breasts, adding a sweet note to the slight gaminess of the bird. The cherry sauce had almost the effect of a fine red wine as an accompaniment.

Cherry reduction sauce

Ingredients
1 can pitted tart cherries, drained
1/2 cup reserved cherry juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons port
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Instructions
Pour the juice into the saucepan, setting aside the cherries. Whisk the sugar, port and cornstarch into the juice until smooth, then bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking constantly and boil until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, stir in cherries and cool.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The problem with cake

Let them eat cake - and at a wedding, nearly everyone does, especially when the bride and groom thoughtfully provide an array for guests, rather than the one, big, spectacular tower. Yet even with the variety we had last night, including an Almond Joy cake (coconut, chocolate and almonds), lemon (with lemon curd filling) and others with decadent buttercream and fondant, I must confess: I don't really like cake. Most cake, to my taste, is dry and it becomes just the vehicle to hold the filling and frosting, which has about as much nutritional value as a Hershey's kiss. The one exception is carrot cake, which not only is moist, but has a vegetable in it. But even that cake is loaded with fat and sugar, and probably tilts into the unhealthy category.

Still, with all the dancing that rings in the new bride and groom, maybe cake is just the fuel to keep the company going through the night. It certainly reminds us that we all need a little sweetness in our lives.