Sunday, 18 August 2013

Southern Barbecue Shrimps

I think one of my favorite things about home-cooking is the part where you get to sit down and share it with awesome people. Never has that been more true than Friday night, when I had dropped by my (now infamous) friend Paul's house to gossip (it happens), and his boyfriend Richard spontaneously invited me and my man for dinner. We quickly grabbed a few ingredients from the grocery store and Richard lit up the barbecue. Before you know it, we were all cooking, eating, drinking beer and having a great time! It was truly a moment of awesome urban-family time.

The recipe we made is quite simple, and a little tweaking of the spices could give it a whole other tone, but Paul has a thing for Southern cooking. Also, who am I to say no to shrimps marinated in garlic and butter? If you keep the marinating to a minimum, this meal takes less than an hour to make, and the results are wonderful! We kept it moderately spicy, but you can play with the quantity of cayenne depending on how sensitive your tongue is to heat.

about 60 medium shrimps, heads removed and deveined
1/4 cup unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon tumeric
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Once the butter is melted, add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.

Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice, paprika, cayenne, tumeric, a touch of sea salt and ground pepper and mix well.

Place the shrimps in a large freezer bag or bowl and pour in the marinade. If needed, add a drizzle of olive oil and a little more lemon juice to make sure the marinade has an oozy consistence and covers the shrimps well. Shake the bag around (or mix everything well in the bowl) so that the marinade covers the shrimps well and let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes up to overnight.

When ready to cook, remove the shrimps from the bag or bowl, and pour the marinade in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat and reserve. Put the shrimps on wooden skewers (5 shrimps per skewer makes for 4 brochettes per helping).

Preheat a grilling pan (or barbecue, of course) over medium-high heat and spray with a touch of non-stick cooking spray. Cook the brochettes about 2 minutes on both sides, until the shrimps are pink and firm, basting them with the marinade.

We also grilled sliced ciabatta bread on the barbecue, brushed a bit of the deliciously zesty marinade on the crunchy croutons, and served the whole thing with a spicy rice pilaf.

What an incredibly tasty meal that was! Simple, and bursting with garlic and lemon flavors. The firm chewiness of the spicy shrimps on those croutons: my god!

You could be more reasonable than we were and grill yourself some bell peppers or corn on the cob, if you must have more veggies in there. Just don't forget to generously brush your veggies with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt as it grills!

It was Friday (in Verdun, no less), so we washed all that deliciousness down with some Sleeman beers, but if you feel fancy, a fruity white wine would rock those shrimps.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin

If you've read my recipes for a while, you probably know how much I love maple syrup. You might also remember how happy I was when I discovered how delicious it is with pork chops. That recipe made me curious to see how else I could use the two ingredients together to make some tasty meals.

A recipe is mostly about a good balance of flavor (hence why sharp flavors like balsamic vinegar go so well with maple syrup), so I tested various amounts of garlic and Dijon mustard (another very good friend to pork) until I found the lip-smacking proportions that made the dish shine. I added a bit of heat with some chili flakes and it was perfect!

This recipe is now one of my weeknight life-savers: it's very easy, comes together in about 30 minutes and it is utterly delicious, in that wonderful, sticky-sweet and salty way. Add some mash potatoes (or fries, if you are feeling especially naughty) and some steamed, crispy veggies, and you have a gorgeous retro dinner to enjoy!

All-purpose flour, for dredging
1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chili flakes, or more, to taste (I will use up to a tablespoon)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup maple syrup

With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350 °F. Sometimes, cutting the tenderloin in half makes it easier to manipulate as you cook it (those loins can be BIG pieces of meat). Dust the tenderloins with flour.

In an ovenproof skillet (I used my cast iron pan), brown the meat in the butter and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the skillet. Set aside.

Add a little butter in the skillet, if necessary, and soften the onion along with the garlic, chili flakes and thyme. Add the mustard and maple syrup and simmer for about 1 minute, until it thickens.

Return the pork to the skillet and coat with the sauce.

Transfer the skillet to the oven, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how done you like it. Remove from the oven and cover with aluminum foil. Let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Spoon some of the caramelized onions on top and serve garnished with fresh thyme.

The end result is so pretty, in a simple, understated elegant way. Be careful not to overcook the meat: tenderloin does have the word "tender" in it, and you definitely want that melt-in-your-mouth feeling when you tuck in. Everyone I have ever served this dish to (and a bunch of my friends who spied the picture on my Instagram) raved and begged for the recipe. Well, here it is, gluttons!!! Enjoy!

P.S. My friend Patrick tweaked the recipe a bit, and added about a shotglass worth of Disaronno to the sauce. The result made him make the following NC-17 statement: "If it this food had been sex, I would have been coming a few times each bite". This is by far the coolest recipe review, ever. I love you, Pat!!! xxxxx

Friday, 2 August 2013

Fresh Pasta Dough: A Novel

I can't believe it took me 28 years to get around to making pasta dough from scratch. I mean, I can't really go longer than 4 days without eating pasta before turning into a zombie-like creature who riffles through the pantry for a bag of spaghetti, eyes blood-shot and twitching. I should know how to make some of the stuff from the basic ingredients I always have at home... just in case...

But fresh pasta dough is a slightly intimidating recipe (at least, it was for me) and while my mother is very proud of her Italian heritage, she was also a single mom with 3 kids, leaving her little time for the delicate operation that is making your own fresh pasta, so it was one of those things I didn't get a chance to learn when I lived at home.

But I left home a long while ago: it was more than time for me to get on the task of pasta dough, but I was quite nervous to try it without some basic guidance. That was when my awesome friend Alex (king of pancakes) came to my rescue! He had the necessary know-how (an Italian chef's recipe) and hardware (the pasta-machine attachment for his Kitchen-Aid stand mixer). I hopped and skipped over to his place with my apron, and we made pasta!

What I learned is that just like pie crust dough and other so-called scary recipes, making pasta dough is a lot more simple than I anticipated! If you have a pasta machine (either the manual type or the attachment for the stand-mixer), it is time-consuming, granted, but also very straight-forward and simple. It's also a remarkably sensual process, because the only way to know if the dough is good and ready is by relying on how it feels as you are working and touching it.

Which means: no making pasta dough in a food processor!! Not ever. Get that idea out of your head right now, wash you hands, use them, and put your back into it when kneading! Alex's trick was to make me take a bit of a judo pose next to the counter (slightly on the side, right foot forward) and to make me support my weight against the counter with my right hand (I am right-handed). That is the kind of resistance you are supposed to feel when kneading pasta dough, and a food processor will never do the "stretch and fold" motion the way your hands will.

Also, when making pasta dough, clear a large working surface and keep it very clean, because this dough is sticky and will pick up anything that's laying around on the surface it's being worked on.

This recipe makes about a pound of pasta dough, which can then be cut into whatever shape your pretty little heart desires!

1 pound all-purpose flour (454 grams)
4 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons very cold water (keep a bowl of water with a couple of ice cubes in it)
Sprinkle of sea salt

Put the flour on a clean work surface and form a deep well in the middle of the flour. Make sure the well is deep enough that it will not break when you pour the liquids in.

Put all the other ingredients in the well.

With a fork, mix the ingredients from the well and out towards the rest of the flour. Be careful not to break the well or things will get very messy.

Using a pastry scraper, scrape the sides of the well to get the flour in and continue mixing until the ingredients are forming a blob that holds itself.

Mix in any crumbs that fall out as soon as possible. Continue mixing until the dough is a ball.

Knead the ball of dough for about 10 minutes, by stretching, turning and folding it until it feels silky.

The dough is kneaded enough when it is pliable and stringy when it tears (this means gluten has developed).

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature (if using right away) or in the fridge (if using later). When ready to use, cut the ball of dough in manageable pieces and set the pasta machine on the largest setting.

Take a portion on the dough and flatten it by hand until it can be rolled. Roll the dough in the machine, fold the dough over itself, then adjust the machine to the second largest setting and roll it again. Fold the dough, adjust the machine to the third largest setting and roll it again. At first, the dough will be "veiny", a little bit like a leaf. The picture below shows dough that is not ready to use yet because you can still "see" the texture (it's not easy to capture on camera, but once you do it yourself, you can totally tell).

Repeat the three levels of rolling until the dough is uniform and very soft. This picture shows the super-smooth look of dough that is ready to be cut (again, tough to illustrate with a picture). It's really important to trust your senses here: the texture of rough-pasta dough versus ready-pasta dough is quite noticeable. It becomes incredibly light, smooth, silky and pleasant to touch.

Once the dough is ready, adjust the machine and roll it progressively (and I mean progressively! If you try to roll it too thin too fast, it will get caught in the machine and tear, and you will have to start all over again. Take. Your. Bloody. Time.) to desired thickness, then cut into the desired shape. Remember that pasta thickens as it cooks, so roll thinner than you expect to need it. It should have a nice elasticity, so don't be afraid to get it really thin, until it's a little translucent.

Most pasta machines come with cutter-rolls, that will allow you to just roll your sheet of pasta through and end up with a nice pile of fresh spaghetti or fettuccine. They also usually include what is know as a pasta bike, a little manual rolling cutter that you can use to make the little squares necessary to assemble stuffed pasta, like ravioli or tortellini.

When you cut your pieces of pasta, lay them carefully on a piece of parchemin paper until you are ready to use them. If you are making a lot of pasta and want to save space, simply cut a rectangle of parchemin paper, lay your cut dough on top, add another layer of parchemin, and so on until you are done.

If you have any dough you are not using, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and either refrigerate it for a couple of days (bring it to room temperature before you start rolling it), or freeze it. It should keep in the fridge for about a month, like most egg doughs.

You can also dry your cut pasta to cook them later: sprinkle a bit of flour on top of your cut dough and let it air-dry for a few hours, then keep them in a sealed plastic container in the fridge until ready to cook.

Obviously, I wanted to cook with that pasta dough ASAP! The most forgiving recipes when you are still new at making fresh pasta dough is lasagnes, for a relatively obvious reason: no fancy shapes to cut! For a traditional Italian lasagne, you also need a lot of layers, so it's hard to waste fresh pasta dough on that. Alex is a mad genius who came up with an interesting and highly unusual lasagne idea that we had a lot of fun experimenting with and devouring... Stay tuned, because I will post that magnificent creation very soon!

Until then, here are a few more tips: fresh pasta cooks in hardly a couple of minutes in boiling water, so if you make linguini or agnolotti, your pasta will be ready before you've had time to blink. However, if you are baking them in a lasagne, it will take a bit longer to cook, and you really want them to fully cook: about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven should do the trick. Undercooked fresh pasta has a very flour-y taste and texture that's not very appetizing.  On the other hand, if it is cooked well, it will all but melt your mouth.

I really want to give a huge thanks to Alex for opening his kitchen to my manic note and picture taking, and for patiently and generously sharing his knowledge with me. I had so much fun learning how to make pasta dough with him, and I learned tons of new things watching him cook. I am very impressed and humbled by the experience. I am also terribly jealous of his apron...

Thank you so much, Alex! And thanks for the pasta machine! Next time, it will be my turn to cook for you!!