Sunday, December 12, 2010

You Can Call Me Al......Albondigas!

For some reason, I have been in a Meatball State of Mind lately. I have been wanting to make this recipe so now seem like the appropriate time.

Meatballs take some time to prepare. It is a messy job, pushing your fingers through raw meat, mixing in raw eggs, and it isn't fun when your knuckle deep in a bowl and your phone rings. Oh well. It is easy to get over and just jump right in. It is important to achieve a consistent shape in your meatballs. Too big and it dominates the plate, too small, it might over cook. I like the size of golf ball or just a smidge smaller.

For this recipe, albondigas are being prepared for a really flavorful soup. You can it order online or find in a Mexican grocer but making your own Ancho Chile powder is key I think. Just look for dried ancho peppers in those plastic see-through bags, toast them, and then grind them in a spice grinder. The albondigas also call for roasted poblano peppers. Mild in heat but adds a nice roasted pepper flavor.

From the January '10 issue of Bon Appetit (with a few changes..):

Poblano Albondigas with Ancho Chile Soup

2 large fresh poblano chiles* (9 to 10 ounces total)
1 pound ground PORK
1/2 cup coarsely grated zucchini
1/4 cup finely grated onion
1/4 cup panko
1 large egg, beaten
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, coarsely grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons homemade ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
8 cups beef broth
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 cup coarsely grated zucchini
1/4 cup long-grain white rice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil
4 corn tortillas, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
Chopped fresh cilantro

Char chiles under broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in plastic bag and steam 10 minutes. Stem, seed, and peel chiles, then chop finely.

Place chiles in large bowl. Gently mix in pork and all remaining ingredients. Form meat mixture into golf ball-sized meatballs.

For soup:
Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add chile powder and cumin; stir 1 minute. Add broth and oregano; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir zucchini and rice into broth. Increase heat to medium and drop in meatballs. Return soup to simmer. Cover and cook gently until meatballs and rice are cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Add 1/4 cup cilantro and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Season soup with salt and add more lime juice if you desire.

For toppings:
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium heat. Add half of tortilla strips. Cook until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer strips to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining tortilla strips, adding more oil if needed.

Ladle soup and meatballs into bowls. Top with tortilla strips and cilantro.

This soup was like a slap in the face. POW! Spicy, hot flavor nails you right away. I added a lot of ancho chile powder to create a nice base in the broth. The chile really comes out and makes the dish. The meatballs were like butter, mushy and comfy, and seasoned well. The tortilla strips added my need for crunch in a meal and the rice and zucchini added a nice, soft, pillowy texture to the soup. Me love Albondigas!

Meatballs are obviously versatile and each culture seasons and cooks them differently but they all achieve the same goal, a meaty ball of goodness!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vietnamese Pork Pho - YES!!

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup in its basic form. But it offers a world of varieties. Pho is an example of why I love to cook and eat. Simple, basic, peasant-workingman's food that contains a ton of flavor that expands the globe and cultures. Slowly-simmered for hours while intoxicating aromas fill the kitchen, it is hard to wait it out.

Varieties include all different cuts of beef like flank steak, or chicken, and my favorite, pork. It also includes any vegatables you want to incorporate. Most popular are bean sprouts, onions, and chiles. Garnishes such as cilantro or basil leaves, Sriracha and Hoisin sauce are mixed in to personal levels. It is basically an open canvas, an empty bowl wanting to be filled with anything.

Pho is popular in the States. Small shops and counters are opening up offering steaming bowls of pho for cheap price. Traditionally, it is a breakfast dish but pho can be enjoyed anytime of course. Websites and blogs are devoted to it. Chef celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain die for a good lip-smacking bowl of pho.

I gave it go, tried to make my own version after compiling ingredients from people's recipes on the web. Like the pad thai I made last week, I don't want to totally botch it and ruin the experience but I did my homework so hopefully it will be amazing.

Pho has a lot of components but like most soups, the broth has to be on the spot aces, remarkably tasty and a power punch of flavor. I decided a boxed pre-made stock wasn't going to satisfy my attempt. Sure, you can use premade stock and it probably would be great. But I wanted to put my own stamp on it.

For the broth:

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 star anise

Heat a pan and toast spices until fragrent, about 2-3 minutes. Remove and set aside.

In a large pot, add:
a touch of oil
2-3 lbs of pork bones/meat - I used 2 lbs of pork neck bones, smoked pork neck bone, and reserved pork butt bone/meat. Brown meat and bones.
8 cups (or more) of homemade stock or premade stock. I used leftover stock from my German meatballs.
3 inch piece of ginger, cut into strips
a few tablespoons of fish sauce

Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours or more. Strain stock and discard the solids.

While the stock is simmering, prepare the accompaniments. I used:

bean sprouts
cilantro leaves
red onion, sliced thin
red chile pepper, sliced thin
lime wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce, to mix in
Maifun noodles
center-cut pork loin chops
pickings from the pork neck bones

I cooked the pork chops seperately instead of simmering a pork shoulder or pork loin in the broth. I feared drying out the meat as I have had bowls of pho at places where the pork was tough and dry. I thinly cut center-cut pork loin chops into strips and added it into the broth after it was cooked.

Ladle the broth into bowls and add the noodles and the pork. The accompaniments can be displayed in a spread on the table as you can pick what you want. Add as much of whatever ingredient you want!

Wow! I did alright with the pho. It had plenty of flavor. The broth was the real star and the slow-cooked pork neck bones were very moist. I would recommend using a bone-in pork shoulder or 3 lbs of pork neck bones to simmer in the broth. I made the wrong decision to incorporate sliced pork chops. It was ok but the pork neck bones cooked in the broth had more flavor.

With the sauces, you can control the amount of heat you want to add to the bowl. I love the assembly of pho, you control what you want it to be essential. The sprouts, onions, and peppers were cooked by the heat of the broth, best to cut them mega thin. They added a nice crunch to the pho. The squeezed limes provided nice acid to the broth too. Oh yeah,  I love schlurping up those maifun noodles!

People, good people, literally stop what you are doing and go make some Pho.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Königsberger Klopse - German Meatballs

My ancestory comes from Germany and Poland and this dish is a staple from that heritage. I am making an attempt to cook more of the food from the old land.The dish originated in Königsberg, which used to be the capital of eastern Prussia, an old German state. Klopse means meatballs in German.

The original recipe for klopse includes anchovy but chopped up herring can also be mixed into the meatball. It is an age old recipe brought down from generation to generation on German tables and it represents the epitome of old-fashioned German comfort food.  Guten appetit!
Soak a thick slice of bread in water, broth, or milk. Mix together 1-1.5 pounds of ground beef and pork. Beat 2 eggs well together and add to meat mixture.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter to a hot pan and add 1-2 small, finely diced onions and saute until golden. Let cool for a bit and add to the meat mixture. Wring liquid from the bread and add bread to the meat along with 3 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon worchestershire sauce or grated nutmeg, anchovy paste, salt/pepper, to taste. Combine ingredients with hands and shape into balls however size you desire.

Drop klopse into vegetable stock, simmer, and cover for 15 minutes.

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour (or more to achieve desired thickness)
remaining broth (you can also add 1 cup of dry white wine)
salt/pepper, to taste

2 tbsp whole capers, drained
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tbsp whipping cream

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and stir in flour. Then add broth/wine. Add remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper. Cook sauce over a low flame for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.  Add the warm meatballs, cover the pot, and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

The German meatballs are usually served with boiled potatoes, rice, boiled noodles, or spätzle.

German comfort food at its top! The meatballs were Über tasty and the sauce was perfekte! Capers and the lemon juice added an acidic touch which balanced well with the creamy white sauce.
I literally licked the bowl like a schweinhund, sorry no photos.

This was an easy meal to prepare, done the old world way, with your hands, combining, mixing, forming, very German. Simple in its presentation yet reich in flaver.

More German recipes coming soon..........

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pork Pad Thai

Maybe some of you can relate. Maybe some of you know what I am talking about. Sometimes your life is consumed with work and tight schedules that doesn't allow for substantial cooking time. Or you are too tired to make the effort to cook late at night.

Sometimes my work schedule doesn't allow for my style of cooking. I like a window of at least a few hours to braise or roast or marinate or grill. To me, thirty minutes or less calls for a sandwich or take-out or something unhealthy. I struggle to find a common ground between work schedule and adequate cooking time. I live alone so I have to plan these things and it can get difficult. Well, whatever, enough excuses, lets cook anyway.

Another dilemma is my respect for certain dishes, cuisines I like so much I don't dare to make and try on my own, you know, in fear of totaling screwing it up and in return, not liking it anymore. Pad Thai is one of those dishes. I first had pad thai in Portland, OR and it was amazing. Big, bold flavors, noodles, sauce, meat, vegatables, washed down with beer, fabulous!!

There are lots of variations of pad thai but despite the differences, it can be prepared and cooked fast and be a sufficient and satisfying meal.

So you get home at 8-9pm from work, you are tired and hungry and bored of frozen pizza or sandwiches, suck it up and make some Pad Thai.

If you don't prefer pork (why are you reading this then...), you can substitute shrimp, chicken, or beef....
Warm up a pot of water and add:
  • Maifun noodles-rice stick noodles
Soak in hot water for 10-20 minutes, until softened. Drain and cover, set aside.
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 lb pork tenderloin, cut into strips
Combine and add to bowl with pork. Marinate for 15-20 minutes. Prepare sauce base. Combine in a bowl:
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons sugar
Stir together and set aside.

Heat a wok with 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat wok . Saute pork for a few minutes. Set aside. Add another 1 tablespoon of oil and add:
  • 3 well-beaten eggs
Cook until scrambed and remove to bowl. Reheat wok and add:
  • 1/2 cup of scallions, white parts only
  • 3 small red chiles, chopped and deseeded
  • 3 small garlic cloves, chopped
Saute for about 1-2 minutes. Add maifun noodles and stir until well coated. Add fish sauce mixture and stir well. Add pork and eggs. Stir in:
  • 1/2 cup bean sprouts
  • 1/3 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, cut into strips
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • lime wedges, to garnish

Yes! The pad thai was very pleasing. Ok, I haven't perfected pad thai or have been cooking it the vast majority of my cooking life but it was awesome. Lot of great thai flavor. Speckled with amounts of heat and acid from the lemon and lime. 

I wouldn't dare match it to the fantastic pad thai I had in Portland many years ago but for a quick meal, late on a work night, it kicked my ass.

I love the dish for its simplicity and it has a world of potential and room for improvement. Perhaps pork belly would work well or a broth would elevate it. But this version would please many people. The cilantro and basil herbs provide a great balance to the acid and the chile peppers and dash of red pepper flakes add enough heat. I really enjoyed the maifun noodles. They are easy to cook and act as a good base to the pad thai. They don't inferfere with the other flavors and its thin noodle combines well with the ingredients.

Do it!