Caramelized Onions

by Josh on November 16, 2011

If you want to learn about the rewards of patience, try caramelizing onions. When you cook them quickly, the outsides take on a beautiful golden brown hue. They taste alright, in that “you can’t screw up an onion” kind of way. But cook them slowly, and you’ll get a deep brown, jammy mess that tastes of pure heaven. After reading about them here a couple days ago, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied until I made a batch myself.

A little science explains the magic behind these beauties. Onions contain lots of sugars, and also a decent dose of glutamic acid that’s responsible for umami (savoriness). As onions cook, their sugars caramelize, but slower cooking lets you evaporate a lot of water before this happens, which concentrates the flavor immensely. The onions only begin to brown in the final stages of cooking. When they finally do, the complex sweetness of the caramelized sugar combined with the savoriness of glutamic acid is eye-rollingly delicious.

Just how long do these take to cook? It will depend heavily on your stovetop, but it took me 8 hours on the lowest heat on the smallest burner. So plan on this being an all day project (albeit one that doesn’t take much concentration), and be happy if it goes faster. Over that time, 5 pounds of onions reduce to about 1/16th of their original volume–from 2 gallons of tear-inducing harshness to 2 cups of exquisite joy.

Caramelized Onions

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

2 tablespoons oil
5 pounds yellow onions, peeled and cut into thin strips
Large pinch salt

Special Equipment

Large pot (8 quart capacity or greater)

Instructions

  1. Wipe away the tears caused by chopping 5 pounds of onions.
  2. Put oil, onions, and salt in a pot over the lowest possible heat. Cover and cook, stirring every 20 minutes for the first hour. The onions will soften significantly.
  3. Uncover the pot and continue to cook, stirring every 20 minutes or so until the onions just begin to brown, probably somewhere between 2 and 6 hours.
  4. At this point, continue to cook uncovered, stirring every 10 minutes until they reach a deep brown. If you notice anything really dark on the bottom of the pan, be sure to scrape it up with your spoon before it burns. Once the onions taste deliciously sweet and savory, they’re done! They’ll look ugly, but once you give them a taste I promise you won’t care.
  5. Spread over steak, use as a pizza topping, serve on crostini with goat cheese, mix into a dip, or just eat them straight while nobody’s looking.

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Scallion Pancakes

by Josh on August 9, 2011

They definitely qualify as a Chinese restaurant addiction, but scallion pancakes are also a breeze to make at home (and yes, that probably makes them dangerous). Cheap and insanely delicious, they’re best fresh out of the pan when the outside is crisp and the inside is layered, steaming hot, and perfectly tender. In a word, irresistible. Or perhaps, omgYUM.

The rolling method for scallion pancakes is the secret behind all those delicious layers that separate beautifully during frying. It looks sorta complicated, but it only takes a couple minutes, and you’ll never look back once you get the hang of it.

Scallion Pancakes

Recipe adapted from Ming Tsai

Makes 4 7-inch pancakes

Ingredients

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup scallions, sliced into thin rings
Canola, vegetable, or peanut oil for frying

Special Equipment

Rolling pin

Instructions

  1. In a bowl, combine flour and boiling water. Stir to combine. If the mixture does not form a ball, dump it all onto a counter and knead until the dough comes together. If you do this, remember the dough will be HOT, so watch your fingers.
  2. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes in a lightly oiled bowl. Divide dough into 4 even pieces.
  3. Using a rolling pin, roll one piece out into a 7-inch circle (it doesn’t have to be perfect). Brush the top with sesame oil, then sprinkle on 1/4 of the scallions. Roll the circle up to resemble a cigar. Then coil the cigar around itself until it looks like a snail. Roll this out into a 7-inch circle again (it will be between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick). If scallions start popping out, don’t worry.
  4. Repeat step 3 for the remaining 3 pieces. Store the rolled out pancakes on a baking sheet in a single layer, or stack with a piece of parchment between each layer. Note: You can freeze the pancakes at this point and fry them directly from frozen.
  5. Fill the bottom of a 10″ skillet with a 1/4 inch deep layer of oil. Heat oil until a small slice of scallion thrown in bubbles vigorously.
  6. Fry each pancake individually. They will take about 1-2 minutes per side to get golden brown (use tongs to flip them). Drain on paper towels, then cut into wedges and serve with ginger-soy dipping sauce (below).

Ginger-Soy Dipping Sauce

Makes about 1/3 cup

Ingredients

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons ginger, grated or chopped very finely
2 teaspoons scallions, sliced into thin rings

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to dissolve sugar.

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Lemon Garlic Pasta

by Josh on July 12, 2011

I picked up this recipe years ago from The Gourmet Cookbook and it’s been a summer staple ever since. Pasta makes a spectacularly cheap and delicious meal, but it’s tough to handle heavy sauces in oppressive heat, and marinara can be a bit predictable. Instead, this pasta dish is barely sauced, with a refreshing and utterly gorgeous lemon tang that lights up your mouth. Simplicity at its finest.

The pasta is really the star of the dish. The sauce is just a backup singer. Be sure add a good amount of salt to your pasta water. This enhances the flavor of the pasta and keeps the whole dish in balance. The pasta only absorbs a bit of the salt, so don’t be bashful; you want your water to taste like the sea. Literally. And if you happen to have some truly great dried pasta like Rustichella D’Abruzzo on hand, now’s the time to let it shine.

Lemon Garlic Pasta

Recipe adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook (Page 204)
Serves 4

Ingredients

Water for boiling
Salt (preferably Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, but any will work)
1 pound angel hair pasta
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
zest and juice of 2 lemons
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Stir in enough salt to make the water taste like the sea (about 1 tablespoon per quart, but maybe less if you use a different kind of salt).
  2. When water returns to a boil, add angel hair. Cook one minute less than package directions (about 3 minutes).
  3. Meanwhile, combine oil, lemon zest and juice, garlic, and crushed red pepper in a 12″ skillet over low heat. You’re not looking to cook things that much, just warm it through.
  4. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta, and transfer to the skillet. Stir to combine everything (tongs are the best tool for the job).
  5. Stir in parsley.

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Sesame Orange Salmon

by Josh on July 6, 2011

I sometimes think my supermarket is psychic and evil. It reads my mind as I plan dinner and then deliberately does not carry important ingredients. It knows I’ll always come crawling back because well…a guy’s gotta eat, right? I’d been jonesing for seared scallops all day, but when I arrived at the store, I saw some very sad looking ones selling for an obscene price. It was teasing me. Like I said, evil. I cried a little. Ah, first-world problems

But then my supermarket threw me a bone. There was some beautiful wild Alaskan salmon on sale. I realized that the scallop tragedy was not the end of the world, so I wiped the tears from my eyes, picked myself up, and thew together a few easy ingredients for a great weeknight meal.

I served my salmon over a bed of sauteed spinach and garlic. But it’s the season of sugar snap peas and those would have been spectacular as well. You know…if my supermarket were carrying them.

Sesame Orange Salmon

Ingredients

1/3 cup orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed (about 1 orange)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2-1 teaspoon chili oil (optional)
1 scallion, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon butter, softened (optional)
1 pound salmon

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  2. Combine orange juice and soy sauce in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, until the volume reduces to roughly 1/4 cup. Remove from heat.
  3. Whisk in the oils, scallions, and butter if using. Pour marinade over salmon. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes.
  4. Bake salmon 7-15 minutes (10 minutes per inch of thickness of the fish) until it just flakes.

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Awesomesauce: Raspberry Almond Coulis

by Josh on July 1, 2011

Coulis is just a fancy (French) name for a pureed and strained sauce.  Summer berries lend themselves particularly well to this preparation, and the resulting sauces go beautifully on everything from french toast to baked brie to yogurt.

As great as fresh berries are to eat straight from the container, they aren’t important in this recipe because everything is getting cooked down.  Frozen work just as well at a  fraction of the price.

I love adding a splash of amaretto to an otherwise traditional raspberry coulis.  It adds a nutty richness to the background that helps the sauce work even better with ice cream, cheesecake, poached fruit, and more. If you like tart flavors, stick with the lower amount of sugar, but the higher end will give you a sweeter and slightly more classic sauce.

The best way to store the coulis is in a squeeze bottle so you can put it over whatever you want. But a regular container will work just fine!

Raspberry Almond Coulis

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

12 ounces frozen raspberries
1/4-1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons Amaretto
1 tablespoon lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)

Special Equipment

Blender (standard or immersion blender will work equally well)
Fine mesh sieve OR strainer and cheesecloth
Squeeze bottle (optional)

Instructions

  1. Combine raspberries and sugar in a medium saucepan.  Set over medium-high heat, stirring until berries thaw and mixture boils.
  2. Allow mixture to cool slightly, then blend on high speed until it looks smooth.
  3. Strain through the fine mesh sieve into a bowl to remove seeds.  Stir in amaretto and lemon juice.
  4. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Awesomesauce is a column dedicated to the incredible world of sauces and condiments.

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Dear Readers,

Thanks for letting me know that my site was hacked while I was taking a hiatus to pursue my education. I’m working to get the posts back up, though some may, sadly, be lost forever (or until I get around to making them again).

Update: Some of the old posts are back up, although the backdating appears to be a bit wonky. I’m still working on recovering the rest.

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Lemon Tart

by Josh on July 12, 2010

I have a confession. Until 3 months ago, I had bought perhaps 15 lemons in my entire life. I mostly used bottled lemon juice (gasp!). It was convenient. It did the trick when I needed it, and I was happy in my ignorance. 3 months ago today, I purchased a citrus juicer on impulse. My life would never be the same.

In truth, I bought my juicer primarily to make the perfect margarita with fresh squeezed lime juice, but I started using it for cooking. I could squeeze a lemon so easily that I didn’t think about it anymore. Suddenly everything tasted better. Inspired, I began using the lemon’s zest as well. I will never, ever go back.

This lemon tart is a perfect celebration of the beautiful vibrancy of lemons. The lemon curd filling is certainly rich, but the juicy tang of just-squeezed lemons bursts through with mouthwatering assertiveness. A tender, butter-loaded crust is an ideal foil. If you’re looking to shake things up a bit, garnish the tart with a sprig of basil, instead of the more traditional mint.

Lemon Tart

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart and Ina Garten

Ingredients

1 pie crust, store bought or homemade
4 lemons, zested and juiced (lemons should be at room temperature to maximize juiciness)
1.5 cups sugar
9 tablespoons (1 stick + 1 tablespoon) butter, at room temperature
5 large eggs, at room temperature
Pinch salt
Sprigs of basil or mint, for garnish

Special Equipment

Removable Bottom 9″ tart pan, or pie plate

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Lay out pie crust in 9″ removable bottom tart pan. Prick the crust all over with a fork, and cover with aluminum foil, pressing down the foil so it touches the crust. Bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake additional 15-20 minutes, until lightly brown. Remove from oven and cool.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together lemon zest and sugar.
  4. Whisk in butter until fully combined. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, until fully combined, then add the lemon juice and salt.
  5. Pour lemon mixture into a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. When the mixture thickens (about 10 minutes), pour into the pie shell.
  6. Cool at room temperature. Garnish with basil or mint, and serve.

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Lemon-Herb Pulled Chicken Salad

by Josh on June 14, 2010

If a savage and a gourmand met for lunch, they would eat this chicken salad. Pulling meat is a raw, carnal process. There are few times when you feel more connected with your food than when you’re tearing it apart. Coincidentally, it’s also a wonderful way to work out aggression. Despite the process, the final product is delicate, light, and clean. The flavors are clean and straightforward, with just enough nuance to make things interesting.

This chicken salad uses a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette instead of the usual mayonnaise. This works beautifully, as the meat absorbs all of the dressing, leaving you with a wonderfully fragrant dish without the heft of traditional chicken salad. A few fresh herbs only enhance the freshness of the dish.

Change things up however you want. I happen to love the contrast of bright lemon with sweet, peppery basil and a few chives, but feel free to use your own combination of herbs. Or substitute a different type of citrus. Better yet, if you have leftover roasted chicken, use that; it will cut your prep time and add wonderful flavor.

Lemon-Herb Pulled Chicken Salad

Ingredients

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Bring a pot with a few inches of water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and place in chicken breasts. Cover and cook until done (about 10-15 minutes).
  2. Remove chicken from water, allow to cool, then shred, using 2 forks to pull the meat apart.
  3. Stir together lemon zest and juice, and olive oil. Pour over chicken.
  4. Add herbs, stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to use. Season with salt and pepper.

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Warm Pear and Pecan Salad

by Josh on December 28, 2009

Salads are beautifully seasonal. During the summer months, salads are fanciful celebrations of über-fresh produce. We adorn perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes with a touch of this herb or that, and just a drizzle of fruity olive oil. In the fall, we turn our attention to roasted root vegetables, reveling in the complex, earthy characteristics that make them so inviting as the weather cools. And when winter rolls around, salads can even be warm.

This salad is an exercise in calculated contrast between textures and tastes. Slightly cooked pears give up just a hint of their crunch while pecans add substance. Together, they sit on a bed of barely wilted spinach coated in a mouthwatering, sweet-tangy dressing of caramelized shallots, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar. A hint of blue cheese adds an unnecessary, but much appreciated level of extravagance with its almost creamy texture and elusive flavor.

Warm Pear and Pecan Salad

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and cut into thin slices
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 pear, cut in half, cored, and sliced thin (apple would also work)
1 (10 ounce) bag baby spinach or chopped spinach
1/4 cup pecans, whole or chopped (walnuts would also work)
Crumbled blue cheese to garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat. Add shallots and cook until they start to brown, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add vinegar and sugar, and stir until sugar dissolves. Add pear slices and cook 1-2 minutes, flipping to cook both sides, until just warmed and starting to soften. Remove pear slices and set aside.
  3. Add spinach and toss to coat with the remaining shallot-vinegar-sugar mixture, cooking very briefly until the spinach begins to just wilt down. Put the spinach on serving plate or bowl.
  4. Top spinach with pears, pecans, and blue cheese.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pecans

by Josh on December 7, 2009

Imagine a world where the words “brussels sprout” were not met with looks of unabashed horror and disgust. Clearly, these adorable vegetables have a reputation that precedes them. But contrary to those nasty rumors, brussels sprouts are not always bitter and sulfurous. When made correctly, they’re seriously tasty.

This recipe is definitely a winner. As proof, I offer my testimony: I have witnessed first-hand as unsuspecting children willingly eat these brussels sprouts, then ask for seconds. After finding out what the little green things are, they are confused, knowing that they are supposed to hate them, but feeling compelled to take another bite. It’s a beautiful thing.

Roasting foods helps to caramelize some of their natural sugars, making them taste nuanced and complex even though they are simple to prepare. The trick with brussels sprouts is to not overcook them, which can release nasty odors. Instead, cook these only for a short time, about 20 minutes, to turn them into perfect tender morsels that are sweet and subtle, and mouthwateringly delicious.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pecans

Recipe adapted from Real Simple
Serves 8

Ingredients

2 pounds brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1-1 1/2 cup pecans, chopped or whole

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Cut the bottoms off the brussels sprouts and take of any yellowing outer leaves. Cut them in half or quarters, depending on size.
  3. Put brussels sprouts on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and add garlic. Sprinkle somewhat liberally with salt and pepper. Toss everything together to coat.
  4. Place pan in oven and cook 15 minutes. After this time, add pecans to the tray, stir, and return to the oven 5 minutes more.
  5. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

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