Monday, December 29, 2008

Chicken Faux Gras - Worth A Try

For Christmas I decided to make something unhealthy for an appetizer. I decided not to really celebrate this year, but just spend the afternoon with friends eating tasty food and drinking lovely wine. I love dishes you can make ahead of time, they make life so much easier on the "big" day and who can resist a recipe titled: Chicken Faux Gras. This recipe is from Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie from the Contraband Cuisine episode.

The recipe for the mousse is pretty simple and just requires: onion, butter, garlic, heavy cream, chicken livers, sea salt, black pepper. It also has a parsley gelee for the top of the mousse and requires: a cucumber, gelatin, lemon juice, suger, Tabasco sauce, flat-leaf parsley (which I omitted due to my hosts dislike of parsley, thus making it really a cucumber gelee). The whole recipe can be found on the Gourmet site here.

While we were devouring the mousse / pate (it really is delicious), I noted that I could do without the gelee on top and my host noted that it really provided a nice balance to the mousse - which I can agree with.

Incidentally, we enjoyed the Faux Gras with a bottle of Francois Cazin 2004 Cour-Cheverny Cuvee Renaissance which is an off-dry, but lovely balanced, Romorantin from the Loire Valley. It matched perfectly with the mousse. It is available for about $18 to $20.

Old Pulteney 12 Year

In lieu of my usual house scotch, the Black Bottle (see earlier post), I had to recently purchase another scotch and tried the Old Pulteney 12 Year. This is a completely different animal to the Black Bottle - the Black Bottle is an Islay blend and the Old Pulteney 12 Year is a Highland single malt. Where the Black Bottle is smoky, peaty, with a touch of iodine on the nose, the Old Pulteney is fresher, floral, richer, salty. It is matured in air-dried old bourbon casks. Old Pulteney is supposedly the most northern distillary in Scotland based in the town of Wick.

I am a Islay fan, so I am not going to change my house scotch, especially since the Black Bottle is so inexpensive at about $24.99, but the Old Pulteney 12 Year is definitely worth a try for something a little different. And at about $40.99, it is still not in the pricey range of some single malts.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Northern Lights Cocktail | Adapted from the Oxo Tower

When visiting the Oxo Bar in London back in October I tried the Northern Light cocktail which is made from Ketel One vodka with a rinse of smokey Laphroaig 10 year malt, doused with Noilly Ambre and orange bitters. As noted in my original post, this is definitely a martini for smokey scotch lovers - there is enough Laphroig to bring out the smokiness and peatiness, but it is nicely "diluted" by the vodka and rounded out by the Noilly.

Now that winter is fully upon us, I thought I would try making a version of this at home. Noilly Ambre (which I don't have) is an aperatif somewhere between dry and sweet vermouth, so I used equal parts of Carpano Antica Formula and Vya Extra Dry Vermouth. I also substituted Stolichnaya Gold for Ketel One since that is what I drink at home.

Chill a martini glass (a small one, not one of the huge ones) and in a pint glass combine 10 parts vodka, 1 part vermouth combination and a couple of dashes of orange bitters - stir with a cocktail spoon. Rinse the 10 year Laphroaig in the cocktail glass and drain. Strain the cocktail into the martini glass and flame with an orange twist (okay since I didn't have an orange, I flamed at lemon twist).

This is a great winter cocktail - the smokiness, the orange, the woodsiness, but it is light too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Leg of Lamb Leftovers 2 - Shepherd's Pie

Another favorite for leftover leg of lamb: Shepherd's Pie. This will serve 4 to 6 people or last you a few days and meals. I also freeze portions for when I am feeling lazy and don't want to cook.

Finely chop a medium onion and a couple of carrots and sweat for about 5 minutes in a large pan in some olive oil (I also used some of the left of lamb fat from the original roast). Add a table spoon of flour and stir in. After a few minutes add about two cups of chopped leftover lamb and stir into. Add two thirds of a can of baked beans and about a cup of stock (I used homemade lamb stock made from the lamb leg, but you can use beef stock or just water). The mixture will thicken.

Make a batch of mashed potatoes using about 4 medium sized Idaho potatoes, butter, and milk.

In a casserole dish, create the bottle layer with the meat mixture, then spoon over a layer of mashed potatoes. With a fork, spread the potatoes, and using the tines make grooves in the top (this will create a nice crust on the top). In a pre-heated 400 degree F oven, place the casserole dish on a pan (to catch any spills) in the middle of the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes until the shepherds pie is bubbling and the top has browned over. Serve with a large batch of peas and red wine (or a nice dark beer).

Leg of Lamb Leftovers 1 - Lamb and Porcini Risotto

First day of leftovers from the leg of lamb - this is one of the great things about cooking leg of lamb and being the only one eating it, you have lots of lamb leftover. I am not going to have a separate post about this, but I made a lamb sandwich for lunch with English Mustard, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato - absolutely delicious.

This is a simple risotto dish. In two cups of hot water rehydrate some dried porcini mushrooms. Saute half a small yellow onion in a medium saucepan along with thinly sliced garlic in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. After the onion has softened add a half cup of arborio rice cooking for a few minutes. Add a third of a cup of red wine and stir until the wine has been incorporated into the rice. Remove the mushrooms from the water, cut them up, and add them to the rice. Use the left over water, adding to the risotto half cup by half cup as it becomes incorporated. Continue to add beef stock to the risotto until the rice is nearly done (it will have just a little bite left). Half way through add a cup of pieces of lamb cut from the left over leg. When the rice it about done, check for seasoning, add a tablespoon of butter and a third of a cup of grated parmesan. Take the risotto of the heat and stir and serve immediately with a dry medium to full bodied red wine.

Roasted Leg of Lamb and Potatoes

Sunday afternoon and I purchased a 4lb leg of lamb - it was time to re-live a tradition from my childhood - a Sunday roast with potatoes and veggies. I am also in the midst of financial frugality so this also enabled me to partake in several options for leftovers.

While in England recently, I came upon a TV chef who I really enjoyed watching: James Martin. I found the basis for this recipe on the BBC Food website. I love roasted leg of lamb for its simplicity, the lovely aromas, and basically because it is delicious.

Along with the leg of lamb you need a few garlic cloves (cut up into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces), some fresh rosemary (I actually omitted this), olive oil, and a few potatoes (depending on the number of people you are serving).

Remove the lamb from the refrigerator to sit for 30 to 60 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Insert a paring knife into the lamb every few inches and insert the pieces of garlic and a few rosemary leaves (if desired). Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and then drizzle with olive oil.

After placing a roasting pan on the bottom rack of the oven, place the leg of lamb directly onto the middle rack. The roasting pan will catch the fat dripping from the lamb and will be used to roast the potatoes. Par-boil the potatoes for about 5 minutes. Drain them, return them to the pan, and shake the pan to make the outside of the potatoes look fluffy.

After the lamb has cooked for about 20 minutes, add the potatoes to the roasting pan, coating them with the lamb fat. Turn the potatoes a few times and they will be chunks of golden brown crispy loveliness when they are done. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper just when they are removed from the pan.

The lamb will take about 1 to 2 hours depending on the cut, the size, and how you like the lamb cooked.

I served this with carrots, peas, and mint sauce. I paired the meal with a lovely organic Bordeaux - Chateau Peybonhomme Les Tours 2005 Premieres Cotes de Blaye.

Note: you can save strain and save the fat from the roasting pan - keep it in a dish in the refrigerator and use it - lamb fat is delicious.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dong-Po Pork (Braised Pork Belly)

I had purchased some pork belly a while back that had been stored in a friend's freezer and it had been hinted to me that it was time to figure out what to do with it. I found a recipe for braised pork belly - Dong-Po Pork on an Australian website (The Old Voodoo Kitchen) and made some changes / substitutions, but the result was fantastic.

~2 pounds of pork belly (I had two good sized pieces that probably totaled maybe a pound)
2 Tbs Peanut Oil
6 Spring Onions chopped
Thumb sized piece of Ginger cut into slices
100 grams Rock Sugar (
Chinese sugar = Chinese rock sugar = rock sugar. This includes yellow rock sugar = yellow lump sugar (pictured) or clear rock sugar. Substitutes: granulated sugar (sweeter; substitute 1 tablespoon for each Chinese sugar crystal)
50ml Dark Soy Sauce
50ml Light Soy Sauce
100ml Shaixing Rice Wine (I substituted Sake)

Scrape the pork belly it to make sure it’s free of bristles - a disposable razor can be used for this. Blanch the pork in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain well and dry thoroughly with paper towels.

Heat the peanut oil in a pan or a wok until it is very hot and then fry the pork belly in one piece until it has a good color and the skin is crisp and brown. Warning - this will cover you and your kitchen in hot oil - use a splatter guard if you have one. The skin has to be crisp or it will go chewy after braising it.

In a saucepan add the spring onions, ginger, rock sugar, soy sauces, and rice wine. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Add the pork, cover and simmer for between 2 and 4 hours until the pork is very tender. I simmered the pork for 4 hours and it was delicious.

Remove the pork, drain, and slice into about 3/4 inch slices - the pork will be falling apart. Strain the cooking juices, skim off the oil on top, and serve with the cooking juices on the side. The sauce makes a lovely dipping sauce for bread as well.

We enjoyed the dish with an off-dry chenin blanc from the Loire Valley - the Belliviere 2005 Coteaux du Loir Vieilles Vignes Eparses. From 50 to 70 year old vines this wine has apple, honey, minerals, and a little bit of residual sugar
. It was a lovely match and would have been even better if the pork had been spicier.... next time perhaps I'll add some spicy peppers to the braising liquid.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Black Bottle Blended Islay Whisky

For the price - a lovely dram of blended scotch from Islay - fruity with a slight sweetness, it has some classic Islay smokiness with just a hint of peat. What more could you ask from a bottle that costs about $26?

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Vesper - new Bond movie - my new cocktail

I have been a traditional, straight up gin and vodka martini fan for a long time, but while on my travels to London, I had drinks with a friend at the bar of the Oxo Tower and discovered another classic that has recently turned my fancy. The Vesper. One note of interest on the location - the bar and restaurant have lovely views of the Thames and St. Paul's - honestly though I was focused on catching up and enjoying my cocktails. For the uninitiated who are not Bond fans, the Vesper is a drink that was created by Ian Fleming in Casino Royale. It is basically gin, vodka, Lillet Blanc with a twist of lemon.

Upon my return stateside, I found the original quote from the 1953 Ian Fleming novel describing the drink:

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."
"Oui, monsieur!"
"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"
"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.
Bond laughed. "When I'," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."

-Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

My research also discovered that one challenge in making classic cocktails from a by-gone age is that alcohol has changed over the years. Kina Lillet is no longer available, but Lillet Blanc is the best substitute. Apparently though, there was a bitter component of Kina that no longer exists in Lillet Blanc, which is where Quinine Powder or bitters come into play. I have seen recipes for Angostura bitters, but in my latest version, I tried Orange bitters with much success. Another change is the level of alcohol in todays spirits. The gin and vodka have much lower alcohol today, so for a truer taste try 100-proof vodka and Tanqueray gin. I also substituted a classic martini shaped glass for the goblet - but I also have smaller, classic sized cocktail glasses as I cannot stand the large pint sized glasses that are generally found in most bars. In typical Bond fashion, he also asks for the cocktail to be shaken. I am a proponent of stirring this cocktail as it results in a more crystal clear, clean looking drink.

Esquire published an article in November, 2006 by David Wondrich
that provided some nice background information for me (see here).

The Oxo Bar makes their Vesper with the following ingredients:
Stolichnaya vodka shaken with Beefeater London gin & Lillet blonde vermouth, orange twist. It was a very pleasurable first cocktail of the evening - refreshing, exciting, and adequately alcholic.

My home version has been made with variations of gins (Hendricks, Plymouth, Tanqueray) and bitters (Angostura, Regan's Orange). My favorite concotion so far is Tanqueray gin (3 parts), Stoli Gold Vodka (1 part), Lillet Blanc (1/2 part), dash of Regan's Orange Bitters.

Incidentally, for my second cocktail at the Oxo Bar, I tried the Northern Light which consists of Ketel One vodka with a rinse of smokey Laphroaig 10 year malt, doused with Noilly Ambre and orange bitters. This is definitely a martini for smokey scotch lovers - there is enough Laphroig to bring out the smokiness and peatiness, but it is nicely "diluted" by the vodka and rounded out by the Noilly.

London - Saatchi Gallery: New Art from China

I just got back from London and while I was there visited the Saatchi Gallery which was showing "The Revolution Continues: New Art from China". There was definitely some art that I would categorize as just plain weird, but there was also some really fascinating works on display. Here are the pieces that intrigued me.

Liu Wei
Love It! Bite It!
Made from edible dog chews

This is a donkey humping the Jin Mao tower in Shanghai.

Zhang Huan
Donkey 2005

The next two pieces of work fascinated me - he has created a new biography for Mao - inserting him into famous world events and situations, interacting in the western world. At first blush, it all looks so normal. "How differently things might have turned out if only a little thing like ideology didn't get in the way."

Shi Xinning
Yalta No. 2

Shi Xinning
A Holiday in Venice - At the Balcony of Ms. Guggenheim 2006

This just made me laugh - a satirical view of old age pensioners who look like decrepit old leaders - these wheel chairs move around the room and bump into each other - the old world leaders are still fighting an unconscious battle against each other.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu
Old Persons Home 2007