Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shrimp Creole

A dish from the Deep South
So my latest endeavor was Shrimp Creole, a dish originating from the Deep South, with an eclectic taste reflecting French, Spanish and African Cuisine. The benefit of Creole cooking, from what I've learnt is that it’s a recipe that you can add to for personal taste.
The core elements consist of cooked shrimp, diced tomatoes, onion, celery, bell peppers, heated with Tabasco sauce and other warming spices like cayenne. This dish is cooked to achieve a nice thickness, served over rice. I wanted to find a very traditional and timely recipe, one that required hours of stewing and a whole lot of herbs.
I decided not to take any short cuts. Paula Deen had a really watered down version that didn't really use any spices or herbs and looked bland. I’ve never been the South, I want to go mostly for the food. Researching and understanding how a full body of flavors interact for any given recipe is important, especially when you’ve never cooked anything similar before; it will help you create and understand the meal and its origins. So don’t skip on anything!
 It seems to be a very popular dish, but lots of people point towards the diminished quality available in the States. This is mostly I guess because Creole cooking remains so that you can really add whatever spices and vegetables you have in your kitchen. I had a certified Southern food expert to dinner and the approval was given!

If you don’t like spicy dishes, half the quantities of Tabasco, cayenne and pepper! My mouth went up in flames, but it was all well worth it.

Serves 4 – 6 people

1.5 pounds of large unpeeled Shrimp
3 Celery Sticks (diced finely)
5 Vine Ripened Tomatoes (diced finely)
1 Large Onion (diced finely)
1 Green Bell Pepper (diced finely)
2 Cloves of Garlic
3 tbsp Butter
3 tbsp Tomato Paste
1 tsp Brown Sugar
½ cup Port Wine
1 tbsp Tabasco Sauce
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
3 tbsp Parsley finely Chopped
2 Bay Leaves
1 bunch of Fresh Thyme
2 cups Jasmine Rice

Creole Seasoning

½ tbsp Onion Powder
½ tbsp Garlic Powder
½ tbsp Dried Oregano
½ tbsp Dried Basil
½ tbsp Dried Thyme
½ tsp White Pepper
½ tsp Black Pepper
½ tbsp Cayenne Pepper
1 ½ tbsp Paprika
1 tsp Salt

Shrimp Stock

Shrimp Skins and Tail
½ Lemon
¼ cup White Wine
1 tbsp Butter
½ Stick Celery
1 Small Onion
1 tbsp Sea Salt
¼ Teaspoon of Creole Seasoning

We’re going to recycle the skins from the prawns earlier and make our own stock. The soup stock should be warm and not too over powering, so we’re going to balance the intensity out with some lemon and thyme.

NOTE: Cook the stock in advance for a much bolder taste and to save yourself becoming manic. Combine ingredients and cook on medium heat for 1 hour. Also cook the rice as per usual, but with salt, 2 bay leaves and some butter for rich warm rice.

As any good meal starts, melt the butter in a pan, add the onions, garlic and brown sugar and let them caramelize until they are golden brown. Then add the celery and bell pepper and combine with half the Creole seasoning. We are gradually adding vegetables in stages to allow each to cook appropriately. Once everything starts to wilt, we are going to add the tomatoes.  At this stage feel free to add kosher salt to let everything break down and cook better. Add tomato paste and cook until it has browned, and then follow by adding the port and cooking until the alcohol has evaporated.  We now have our base!!

Continue by adding pre-,made stock and stir well. Now adjust the stock to the base of the dish to meld the flavous better. At this point, also add remaining Creole seasoning, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Tie the bay leaves and thyme in twine and place in the middle of  dish.

Let the dish cook on a low-medium heat until it thickens, adding the shrimp to cook for the last 10 minutes. Enough of the taste from the shrimp is captured in the stock, so we are essentially just trying to cook the shrimp until they are tender and soft.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Brooklyn Brussels and Salad

A sweet and savory adaptation of brussels. 

Despite my disliking of the American green grocer and it's questionable (and unknown) quality, one vegetable that I have taken such a huge liking to is brussels. I never really grew up eating them and I never really remember seeing them much in grocers, but they always had the stigma of being unsavory - 'eat your brussels', force feeding children. Here they are plentiful, cheap and delicious. Every second restaurant will serve them seasonally. Seasonal foods are all the rage. They are cooked many delicious ways, so when I spent time unemployed I learnt to cook well with them. A complete matter of trial and error. Undoubtedly, brussels must be cooked in good butter. Try it and die. But from this platform you can really start to play with sweet and also savory to build an amazing brussels dish. 

I have named my brussels Brooklyn Brussels because I've spent a great deal of time cooking them out here, and also enjoying them at so many restaurants. I died when summer came round and they had been ripped from all of the menus around the city. But now as winter comes round, they are again everywhere and even more delectable. 

I've cooked brussels as I always do and then added them to a salad that you can have warm or cold, served with mixed nuts and fruits, rice and egg.

Serves 4 – 6 people

1 Pound of Brussels
3 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp Pickapeppa Sauce ( a Jamaican Worcestershire)
2 tbsp Light Brown Sugar 
2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce 
3 tbsp BBQ Sauce (smokey)
1 tbsp Burnt Sugar
Cumin (sprinkle)
Salt and Pepper (to taste)

In a hot cast iron pan, melt butter and start to cook the brussels. Using a cast iron pan will help brown and cook the brussels immediately. You want them to brown well before adding the sauces

Once they start to brown, add the wet ingredients, mixing well and follow with the dry ingredients. Turn down the heat from high to low and cook until the sauces really meld and cook through with the brussels. The smoky BBQ sauce will add a wonderful taste paired with bitter brussels and salt, the combination of all of the sweeter ingredients works wonders. These can be enjoyed as is, or as a side dish. 

Brussels and Salad
This is to make more of a hefty meal, or a larger side serving. It's great for dinner parties, cheap and most of all, it's all senses engaging dish. Looks, smells and tastes good. The texture of the dish is curious too. 

1/2 cup Mixed Fruit and Nuts
Balsamic Marinated Chicken
2 Eggs 
1 cup White Rice

While cooking the brussels, add the mixed nuts and let them heat and soften. Once done, combine with cooked white rice and toss. For some color and texture add 2 diced hard boiled eggs, keep the yoke soft if you'd like. It's runny and will mix beautifully through the salad. Serve either hot or cold. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Braised Beef in Red Wine and Juniper Berries

Having had an overheated summer and a half working oven, I've really put cooking with the oven on the back burner. I decided to give the old cooker a go and success, she works! Kind of.. So I decided to cook a dish that always gives me comfort when it's cold.

Proper braised beef, not the quick cooked, readily available, over saturated market option at every second restaurant in New York, is a well kept diamond. 

Two VITAL non negotiables for braising beef are anchovies and juniper berries. The anchovies soften, dissolve and enhance a strong flavor in all meats, especially beef. Juniper berries on the other hand almost create a nostalgia without even knowing it. The berries when cooked with the beef give a woody, bitter sweet taste that takes you to a time of wholesome, hardy eating. It makes you feel like you're eating around a fire in middle of the woods, on a cold winter night. Over the top? No.

So here's what you need to get started, 

1 Pound of Topside Beef
1 TBSP of Juniper Berries
1 Brown Onion
3 Carrots
4 Anchovies
5 Garlic Cloves
3 Bay Leaves
½ TSP Cayenne Pepper
½ TSP Chilli Flakes
3 Parts Red Wine
1 Part Beef Stock
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 TBSP Butter

The quantities above will vary depending on how many people you’re cooking for and or taste preference. I personally like my wine darker, garlic and anchovies more plentiful and the robust heat from the cayenne.
Two notes before cooking;

     Dry beef with a paper towel before browning – the beef won’t brown as nicely
2.            It is important to smash the juniper berries and garlic cloves to release flavors

Start by browning the beef in a pan, making sure all sides are sealed and well browned. After, keep the pan hot and pour one cup of red wine over it. The wine hits the heated pan and collects all of the wonderful flavors. Pour the stock immediately into a baking pot and the follow with the rest of the above ingredients. Dice the carrots and onions as you like.

I’d like to say three hours is fine for braising, I baked at 350F and achieved a wonderfully soft meat. If you've got time, continue to bake until the meat melts. It’s also important to make sure that if you’re cutting the beef into cubes that each piece is of equal size, to help braise at an equal rate.

Back in Sydney I used to buy whole topside, cut through the middle and stuff it with watercress, mustard seeds and garlic, it was a dream in a tagine.  Cooking meat in a tagine makes for amazing braising. One of the best culinary investments ever made!

After an hour and a half, bake your accompanying vegetables. I chose baby beets, potatoes (skin on), carrots and garlic. Covering all the vegetables in hot mustard seed oil and salt, bake for an hour and a half, the potatoes respond really to baking when the skin is intact with a little olive oil and the beats and carrots keep their sweetness in the center and are wonderfully soft on the outside.