Friday, January 21, 2011

A Night in Bologna, Italy - Bolognese sauce

I've been wanting to do two things. One, create a comfy, romantic dinner for my lovely Ryoko and two, make Bolognese sauce. I knew that the dish was going to be a perfect accompaniment to a candle-lit dinner with Italian red wine and Pavarotti singing in the background. It would transcend both of us right to Bologna as if we were dining under the moonlight. At least we could ignore the cold winter weather for a bit.

Italians obviously take their food and recipes very serious. Family recipes are sacred and remain secret. But recipes also remain controversial. Italians can engage in heated arguments over ingredients to a dish or preparation of a dish. So much so that the Accademia Italiana della Cucina registered the official recipe in 1982. Despite the official recipe, Italians and cooks everywhere use various ingredients. But the result should all be same; a warm, comfort sauce were flavors build and meld together creating a delicious meat sauce.

Bolognese is a meat sauce with tomatoes, not a tomato sauce with meat. The registered recipe calls for beef but I choose three different types of ground meats; veal, beef, and pork. Add in diced pancetta and you have your meat sauce.

Bolognese sauce is also known for its cooking time. The sauce is slowly-simmered for hours, which has also caused debate. Some choose shorter cooking times while I believe the lower and slower it simmers, the better it will taste. It takes time for the flavors to fully develop so shortcuts won't do.

The Bologna Chamber of Commerce states that an official Bolognese sauce should contain onions, celery, carrots, pancetta, ground beef, tomatoes, milk and white wine. Your basis of the recipe should start here and feel free to add any additional components. Set up with mise-en-place with:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion
4 small carrots
4 stalks celery heart
4 garlic cloves

Start with preparation of the soffrito-the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Chop them into a nice and fine cut. Make sure the size is the same to ensure even cooking.

4 oz. of diced pancetta

3lb of meat mixture-veal, beef, and pork

1 cup dry white wine
2 cups milk
1 28-oz San Marzano tomatoes, diced (use liquid)
1 cup beef stock

Melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add soffrito with a good pinch of salt and cook for about 5 minutes or until soft.
Add in diced pancetta and cook for 10 minutes.

Increase your heat to high and slowly add the meats 1/3 at a time. Break up and stir out the lumps of meat. Cook until you no longer see pink in the meats, about 12-15 minutes.
Add one cup of white wine and scrape up any bits on the bottom of pan. Cook out the alcohol, about 2-3 minutes. Then add in your tomatoes/liquid, milk, beef broth. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a slow simmer.
Simmer the sauce for 4 hours, occasionally stirring, not allowing the sauce to stick to the pan. You can partially cover the pan with the lid. You want a small, steady simmer.
The liquid will break down while the flavors start to build. After 3 hours the colors deepen and the sauce thickens.
Yet another debatable topic is the type of pasta used with this sauce. I prefer a heavier, thick pasta, one that will serve well with the sauce. You have to go with the classic tagliatelle or pappardelle pasta. I chose the pappardelle. Use fresh pasta if you can. I used store-bought so cook according to instructions.
To serve, use freshly shaved Italian cheese and garnish with basil. Ha, I forgot the basil....
We both absolutely loved the sauce. It hit us on all levels. The richness, boldness, depth of flavor was more intoxicating than the red wine. The trio of ground meats was the right way to go instead of using just one meat. Each meat brought its unique profile.
The tomatoes had the right amount of presense in the dish, not too much but achieved a nice base, the chunky tomato held up next to the bold meaty flavors.
The pappardelle was the perfect pasta to host the sauce. It clinged to the pasta and was the right size/shape for the sauce.
Ryoko was very pleased and we really enjoyed the ambiance from Pavarotti, the candles, and the wine but the sauce was the highlight. Despite my dressing up in a tie, she would say the sauce was the highlight as well.
 I understand why there is much debate over the recipe after eating the Bolognese sauce. Such love and care goes into making the dish. To prefecting the sauce, choosing the right ingredients, the amount of ingredients to the satisfaction gained from eating it, such debates are important I guess.  It is a dish worth fighting over.
A true comforting meal took us to Bologna, Italy for a night. It was so worth it!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mole Negro Pork with Calabacitas

So far it has been a cold winter and that obviously is making me think about the warm weather months (not many here in Wisconsin). And good, authentic Mexican cuisine is perfect for summer so I'm planning that this meal with mentally transport me to the summer hot air.

I've made moles on this blog before but have never attempted Negro Mole. Moles are basically a sauce that is popular in central Mexico and Oaxaca. Main ingredients consists of chipotles and ancho/pasilla peppers mixed in with spices, tomatoes, and garlic. The state of Oaxaca is known as the "state of seven moles" and one of those is Negro Mole. It is a dark, thick, and rich mole that includes Mexican chocolate. I just like the sound of the it and I'm sure it will taste even better.

Screw the snow and the cold, lets make negro mole.

Pork Loin:

  • 3 canned chipotles in adobo
  • 3 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • 1⁄2 cup corn oil
  • 1⁄2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • salt/pepper, to taste
  • 3 lbs. pork loin, trimmed
Marinate the pork:

In a blender, purée the chipotles with their sauce, oil, vinegar, chile powder, oregano, honey, and garlic until smooth and season with salt/pepper. Put pork into a plastic bag and pour sauce over pork. Refrigerate overnight.

Negro Mole:
  • 1 large tomatillo, stemmed, rinsed, and quartered
  • 1 small tomato, cored and halved
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup corn oil
  • 6 pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 plantain, cut into cubes
  • 1⁄4 cup peanuts, plus more crushed for garnish
  • 1⁄4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1⁄4 cup raisins
  • 2 1⁄2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 oz. Mexican chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 slice white bread, toasted and crumbled
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  •  brown sugar, to taste
  • 6 sprigs cilantro, for garnish
Set oven to broil. Toss tomatillos, tomatoes, and onions with 2 tablespoons oil in a bowl and transfer to a baking sheet. Broil for about 15 minutes, turning over about half way through. Transfer charred vegetables to a large bowl and set aside.

Toast chiles until dark and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer chiles to a bowl and cover with 3 cups boiling water; set aside to let soften for 15 minutes. Drain chiles, reserving 1⁄2 cup soaking liquid; set aside.

Heat remaining oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add plantain and cook until browned, 2 minutes. Add peanuts and sesame seeds and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, 3 minutes. If your pan is too hot, the sesame seeds will explode and pop out of the pan.
Add remaining ingredients: raisins, the tomatillo mixture, and the chiles with reserved soaking liquid, chicken broth, chocolate, oregano, cinnamon, and bread. Bring the mixture to a boil and remove from heat. Allow yourself to take in the mesmerizing aromas from the mole. Bits of chocolate, the sting of the peppers, and the tickle of the cinnamon will fill your nose. Working in batches, purée the chile mixture in a blender to make a smooth mole.

Add mole to a pan set on medium heat and cook, whisking frequently, until it thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and brown sugar. Dip a tasting spoon in there and get a taste.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 400˚. Remove pork from marinade and season lightly with salt. Transfer pork to a rack set in a roasting pan. Cook the pork, flipping once, until browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of pork reads 150˚, about 45 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Slice the pork loin and arrange over mole and garnish with peanuts and cilantro.

My chosen side for the pork was calabacitas. It is basically a squash and/or zucchini dish that includes onions, peppers, corn, potatoes, etc. It is a good vegetarian option for tacos/burritos. I used potatoes, corn, zucchini, and onions that were sauted in a pan and seasoned with salt/pepper.

Great, great meal. The mole has a lot of flavor and you can taste almost each ingredient that makes it. Not too spicy or hot, it pairs well with the pork and the calabacitas. Moles are fun to make, sure it takes time and different types of cooking techniques but the final product is worth it.

The marinade for the pork really enchanced the loin. Pork loin is bland on its own so it is essential to marinade it.

The peanut garnish added a nice crunch to the dish. I always need a crunch element in a meal and these little unsalted buddies did the job.

And yes, negro mole pork put me in a mindset of summer time but it only lasted a little while. I'll take it though.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chilaquiles - Ain't Yo' Mama's Nachos

It is NFL Playoff weekend and I am excited to watch my Green Bay Packers take on the Atlanta Falcons. Salsa and chips are a staple when it comes to this sort of experience but I wanted to take it up a notch like my Packers team.

Instead of chips just dipped into store-bought salsa, chilaquiles are tortilla chips that are simmered in a prepared salsa. Its main attraction is chorizo and chipotles peppers. Yeah, that sounds awesome! This dish comes from the Central part of Mexico (I have to get my ass there someday) and it usually served as a breakfest or brunch dish. Due to its spiciness, it is also a cure for a hangover, which I won't have yet at the time I will be eating these so perhaps I should leave some for the next morning. Anyway, leftover chilaquiles can be used for tortilla fillings for tacos/burritos.


  • 6 plum tomatoes, cored and halved
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and halved
  • 1 small white onion, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for frying
  • 4 canned chipotle chiles en adobo
  • 4 tablespooons chopped cilantro
  • 1 1⁄2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon dried oregano
  •  corn tortillas, cut into triangles
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 6 oz. fresh chorizo, removed from casing and chopped into chunks
  • 1⁄4 cup sour cream, optional
  • 2 oz. Mexican cheese, for topping
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
Heat oven to broil and place rack 6" from broiler. In a bowl, toss tomatoes, garlic, jalapeño, and onions with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Transfer ingredients to a foil-lined baking pan.

Broil for about 5 minutes and then turn over ingredients. Broil another 5 minutes. Transfer roasted vegetables to a food processor. Add chipotle chiles, 2 tablespoons cilantro, sesame seeds, oregano, and a little water to the food processor and purée until smooth. If you have extras, you have a really nice roasted salsa!

Pour vegetable oil into a skillet. Heat over medium-high heat. Add triangle-cut tortillas (totopos) and fry until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes per batch. Transfer chips to a plate.

Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Add chorizo and cook, stirring frequently and breaking chorizo up into small pieces. Cook for about 8 minutes. Chorizo should be a deep red color.

Add tomato–chipotle sauce to pan, stir to combine, and season with salt. Bring to a simmer, add tortilla chips. Simmer until the tortilla chips just soften, about 2 minutes.

Transfer chilaquiles to a platter and garnish with remaining cilantro, sour cream, cheese, and radishes.

Damn, these aren't your mama's nachos and I totally understand the hangover aspect. Spicy, crunchy, creamy, perfecto! It is a messy plate but that should not be a concern, use your fingers or grab a fork and dig right in. Don't wear a white shirt though. Spilled chorizo really leaves a nasty stain.
The chorizo-tomato/chipotle combination is definitely a winner, very tasty. The radishes and cilantro add a nice garden flavor and work really well as garnishes. The Mexican cheese adds the creamy touch.
Chilaquiles are not Gringo nachos. These are way better than nachos you will get at a chain restaurant or local bar. Plenty of zing and zap!
Oh yeah, tastes great with an adult beverage and it has me ready for the NFL Playoff games today!

EDIT: Packers win in domination 48-21!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Panang Pork Curry

There is something about curry that is exciting to me.  I think it is a style or culture of food that is so far from home, from a place across the world, something opposite from what I was eating when I was a young boy. But after developing my tastes and interest in foods, curry isn't much different in essense from pasta sauces or mexican sauces. It is huge in flavor and very versatile with all types of meat, vegetables, and grains.

I've seen chefs on the tele from across the pond whipping up curries in large woks and hot pans, electric colors red and neon yellows. It looked so exotic and really caputured my attention. It is all that and more in my mind (and stomach.) I've come to really, really love Thai curries and with recent opening of Pacific Produce on Milwaukee's south side, 5455 S. 27th St., I knew I would be exposed to thousands of ingredients that has traveled from a far away land.

The making of a curry is simplistic and contains a small number of ingredients but it takes time to really perfect it. My version of this curry recipe is based on the eyeing of ingredients, not necessarily measuring out exact amounts. I love this style of cooking so add as much or little curry paste as your taste desires.

There are many types of curries but this features panang curry. It is a milder curry that features ingredients such as: chili peppers, galangel, lemongrass, coriander root/seeds, cumin seeds, garlic, and salt. Someday I would love to make curry from scratch but curry paste will do the job just fine.

Heat a pan with veg oil and add about 5-6 tablespoons of the curry paste.

Cook and break down the curry and then add about a cup of coconut milk and mix thoroughly until it is consistent.

Add the chopped pork to the curry. I used sliced tenderloin. Stir and cook for about 8 minutes until done.

Add about a tablespoon of sugar and a few tablespoons of fish sauce. Adjust amounts based on your personal taste. The pork and curry sauce on its own is a fine dish but I added a few vegetables for crunch and added texture. Cook the onions/carrots/carrots or whatever you choose for a minute or two.

Add more coconut milk throughout the cooking process to keep a consistent sauce base. This whole cooking process should only take about 12 minutes or so. Meanwhile, the kitchen smells amazing makes me imagine being in a steamy, hot kitchen in Thailand.

Garnish with basil leaves and kaffir lime leaves. The kaffir leaves have a strong flavor so beware how much you add. If you add too much, it can dominant other flavors. Serve with white rice.

Amazing, amazing flavors. The panang was indeed mild but it still had a distinct spice bite to it. The coconut milk rounds out that spiciness while adding base to the curry. The garnishes deliver a great herby touch, the kaffir providing a limey taste. The fluffy rice acts like a soft bed to the pork. It all works marvelous together.

Ok, enough of this blogging. I'm going to have another bowl.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Meatloaf Redemption!

I'll be honest. I didn't grow up with meatloaf. I don't remember my mother or grandmother ever making it. But that is ok, they were/are great cooks. Meatloaf played a role for me later in life. It was a weekly endeavor at my university's dining hall. Topped with gravy or ketchup, I really enjoyed it, eventhough, it was cafeteria food.

So instead of "Mom's Meatloaf," I am starting a new meatloaf tradition in my cooking life. Topping it and wrapping it in bacon! How could it go wrong? Well, it can't. Do yourself a favor and top your meatloaf with bacon.

I'm sure everyone has a recipe for meatloaf. There are all different kinds styles and recipes that uset various types of ground meat to vegetables to spices to glazes. I chose to go basic here but don't let 'basic' dissuade you, it is stilled packed with meatloaf goodness.

Start by cooking your aromatic veggies. I finely diced up carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and fennel and cooked until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Allow the veggies to cool. Add in chunks of white bread that has been soaked in whole milk for 6-8 minutes. Make sure to squeeze out excess milk. The soaked bread adds to the tenderness of the meatloaf.

I combined 1 lb of ground pork and ground beef, 2 eggs, Worchestershire sauce, salt/pepper, ground cumin, red pepper flakes, horseradish, and finely diced scallions. Your additions to the meatloaf expands from dried fruits to herbs to any spices to ingredients such as capers and/or dried mushrooms. It is whatever you like or what you have in your pantry.

Form a 10x4 loaf in a 9x13 pan. Layer pieces of bacon on top of the meatloaf.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and cook until a meat thermometer registers at 160 degrees in the middle, about 50-60 minutes. Look at that baby sizzling away!

After you have achieved a middle of 160 degrees, turn on the broiler and crisp up the bacon, about 3-4 minutes. Allow the meatloaf to rest after it is done cooking to redistribute the juices.

That looks awesome, I'm ready to dig in. The kitchen smells of bacon and veggies and...and...and MEAT!

Yes, redemption indeed. The bacon provided a spectacular crispy crust while the inside was moist and tender. Bacon really adds a great pork flavor to the meatloaf since the fat bastes itself while it cooks. Does it get any better than that?

Sure, this isn't the world's greatest meatloaf recipe but it definitely provides a comfort level and was a perfect meal after shoveling snow. If you haven't made meatloaf before, start easy and take off from there, but don't forget the bacon!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Schweinshaxe - German Pork Knuckles

I've taken a little break from blogging due to the holidays and I decided to get back into it with another German pork recipe.

Schweinshaxe are basically roasted pork hocks or ham hocks and it is popular in the Bravarian region of Germany. It features the crispy skin of the hock while being seasoned by paprika, caraway, mustard seed, other spices/herb and basted with beer. It is a simple poorman's dish but I'm expecting big flavors after having one at a German restaurant in the past. In case you don't know where the hocks are in a pig, here is a photo.

Ha, no, I'm just joking around. Here it is:

Ham or pork hocks are widely used for making stocks but the meat is very good and edible. Give it a try if you haven't already.

I am excited to use for the first time a gift Santa brought me, the dutch oven. I have been longing one for some time to expand my cooking abilities and opportunities. Here, I brown the skin first and then place in the preheated oven to roast for two hours. I can't wait.

Here is the recipe:

  • 2lbs pork or ham hocks
  • pepper/salt/paprika
  • oil or lard, for browning
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries
  • 1/2 tablespoon clove
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 cup water, boiling
  • 1/2 cup (or more) good German beer, for basting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse and pat dry hocks. Cut skin diagonally to make diamond/square patterns in skin. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika.

Heat oil/lard in a dutch oven and brown the hocks on all sides, for about 10 minutes total. Peel and quarter an onion and add to pot along with bay leaf, berries, cloves, and seeds.

Add the cup of boiling water and a little beer into the pot. Place dutch oven in middle of the oven and roast for 1.5 to 2 hours. Baste with beer.

Remove hocks from pan and add some beer to scrape up the bits on the bottom of pan. Thicken the sauce using 2 tablespoons of cornstarch/water paste and season with salt and pepper.

For a German side, I am making German potato dumplings a.k.a Kartoffel Knödel.
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled, boiled, and cooled
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1.5 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 eggs
Grate the potatoes or use a potato ricer.
Add eggs, flour, salt and mix well together.
Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and drop them into boiling water. Gently boil for 10 minutes. Top with beer gravy.

Well there it is, the German pork knuckle. I have to be honest with you. I FAILED at it. Something was off. I believe it was in the gravy. Perhaps it was the beer I chose to baste the pork with. There was a bitter taste. Perhaps there was too much clove and I should have be wary of the clove because I am not a big fan of the flavor and I should have added less than I did.

The meat from the hock was tasty though. Nicely braised and tender, meaty, well-balanced porky flavor, but I couldn't get past the clove and bitter beer taste. The potato dumpling worked well. I believe I added 1 egg to many as I ended up with a sticky, gummy mess while trying to shape the dumplings. But with a litte salt and pepper, they tasted good (despite the gravy).

It is a shame but it happens in the kitchen. You can't always hit the home run. Sometimes your efforts don't pay off. It is ok though, you turn it into a learning experience.

There were a few positives. I really liked my dutch oven and I got to drink some really quality German beer.