Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ulrich's Albondigas

A very long time ago I had a very good friend that I hung out with a lot. It was student times, and we cooked a lot for each other, nothing fancy, but mostly good. My favorite of his foods is still one of my staples - his Albondigas. Albondigas is nothing else but a fancy way of saying meatballs. But these are soooo good. And they get better!

Emptying out the freezer and getting it ready for the arrival of the quarter pig, I found some oven roasted tomatoes and garlic that I had made at the end of the last tomato season. Perfect starting point for the albondigas.

The trick is to put all the seasonings in the meatballs, and leave the tomatoes fairly unseasoned. And then cook everything until the tomato sauce comes together in a very thick sauce, at least an hour, if you have time better two. And if you have more time let it cool down, and reheat it the next day for perfect flavor!

The seasoning is mostly garlic (yes, that's one pound of meat and probably 6 garlic cloves), and your favorite chile. I like a combination of Ancho and Chipotle, but you probably have your own ideas. Make little meatball, less than an inch in diameter.

In the meantime get the tomatoes heated. I used my oven roasted tomatoes, and a small can of high quality canned tomatoes. In the summer I use fresh tomatoes, I'll just have to let it simmer longer, but the taste is out of this world. When the tomatoes are simmering, carefully add the meatballs to the sauce, bring back to a light simmer, put a lid on, and go on with life.

This is at the beginning of the process, two hours later it's very thick and very red and very yummy! (Note to self: next time pick out the tomato skins before freezing them.) And duh, of course, I forgot to take a photo of the finished product, I was hungry! I promise to take a photo of the whole goodness the next time.

Ulrich's Albondigas

2 lbs tomatoes, fresh or roasted (see below)
- or -
28 oz can of good quality canned tomatoes, e.g. fire roasted Muir Woods
- or -
any mixture thereof
1 lb ground beef
6 garlic cloves
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced, or 1 fresh chili
salt - very little if using canned tomoatoes, a bit more if using real tomatoes.

Heat tomatoes in a medium pot. Chop garlic and chili, add to ground beef, form little 1" diameter meatballs. When the tomatoes are heated, carefully add the meatballs, stirring as little as possible until they have firmed up. Leave on stove at low heat for at least 2 hours, stirring every once in a while, until the sauce has thickened.

Serve with fresh crusty bread.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

When you see a good deal on tomatoes (I usually find them on the Farmers Market late in the season when people are sick of tomatoes) buy as many as you can handle / afford / stick in your freezer. Or, if you are lucky enough to be a good gardener, use your own (and watch me turn green with envy!) Wash, cut in half, put them on cookie sheets, cut side up, slightly salt, pepper, add some garlic cloves or herbs if you have, and stick in the oven at 300 with convection. Convection helps dry out the tomatoes, and you can pack your oven with several sheets at once. Timing? I've had them in there anywhere between 30 minutes and 1 1/2 hours, depending on the tomatoes, the humidity, the amount of tomatoes, just keep an eye on them. When they start shriveling up, take out and let cool down, take off the skins (!), then freeze. You'll thank me in the winter!

Saturday, May 8, 2010


It looks like this is my "make everything from scratch" week. No, I'm not making my own cheddar yet. But Ricotta? Ricotta is easy, and so much better than what you can buy. Especially the stuff at Safeways in the plastic tubs, which has this rubbery consistency... Homemade, really fresh ricotta is very light, and I have to stop myself from just eating it straight from the bowl. Why not? Because it's great on pizza, or with fresh bread, a bit of honey, and my lavender salt.

So how to make this goodness?

For a cup, start with 1/2 gallon of milk. Yes, that's a lot of milk for a little cheese, but I guess that's why cheese is so expensive! I also add a bit of heavy cream if I have it available, I find that the ricotta gets a little smoother, but not that much... So if you want to skimp on calories leave the cream. Don't skimp on the milk, it's so much better with whole milk. Organic milk if you can afford it. Put it in a large pot, stir in a 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 1 teaspoons of salt. Heat over medium low heat while stirring slowly. Curdles will start forming.

When the mixture reaches 150 F stop stirring! Keep heating until the mixture reaches 175 F, take it off the stove, and ladle it into a strainer lined with 2 layers of cheese cloth.

Leave in there for 1 to 2 hours, depending on the consistency you want to achieve. I still have to try making ricotta salata out of it, which is the same ricotta, pressed into a form for further draining, and salted for preservation. If I would just manage to not eat it before!

Homemade Ricotta

1/2 gallon whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional
1/4 cup lemon or lime juice
1 heaping teaspoons salt
Herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, optional

Mix all ingredients in a pot, put on medium low heat, stir slowly and carefully until it reaches 150 F, then leave it alone until it reaches 175 F. Ladle slowly and carefully in strainer lined with cheesecloth, then let drain for 1 - 2 hours.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pork Rillettes

So here we go with the quarter pig.... It's safely in my freezer. Including a trotter and a half head. Why a half head and not a quarter head? Because my friend Mark, whom I'm sharing the half pig with also wasn't enamored of having dead pig stare back at him whenever he opens his freezer. Luckily I have a friend that's from France, and her mom makes a pate (head cheese?) out of pork heads. She actually goes out and buys them from the butcher. Brave woman! In any case, my half pig head is now waiting for her next visit, and I went on to deal with some other funny things that came along - the first one being a knee.

Ok, I'm German, I can deal with it. The bits just below, the shanks, are really a German specialty, Schweinehaxe. I have two of them and will have to make them this summer, preferably slow and on the rotisserie, to make my man happy! And the bit above the knee of course is the ham, which is being turned into prosciutto by my friend Mark. But that's a whole different story, sos back to the knee. It had a good bit of meat on it, but also a lot of fat.  Perfect for rillettes. Rillettes? It's a pate, and if you're lucky enough to find it buy it. It's essentially meat that has been slowly cooked in its rendered fat, and then shredded in little bits for a pot of meaty goodness that's perfect spread fresh bread.

Looks good, huh? I first got hooked on rillette when I went to France as an exchange student. Yes, that's a long time ago. I think it's because you can see what you eat, as opposed to pates or sausages where you can't tell what went in. My absolute favorite is duck rillette, but pork or lamb are excellent bases as well.

There are as many recipes for it as French mothers. And then some more. It's very easy to make, it's just time... You start out with a piece of fatty meat. Cube it, in about 1" pieces. Salt the pieces, and put them in the fridge for 24 hours. The next day they go into a large enough pot, with a bit of water (don't cover it, just enough to get some heat in and start releasing the fat without frying it, perhaps 1/2 cup), some onions, celery, and carrots, lots of herbs, peppercorns, bay leaves. Turn on the heat. Once it starts simmering turn down the heat, and leave it alone.

Ok, check it every hour or so if you must, and if it's just to ensure that it's not burning. I usually put it in a roaster. A slow cooker is a perfect tool for this as well. How long you cook it depends on the meat, on how hot you have it, but start checking after 4 hours. The goal is to have the meat so soft that it falls apart when you poke a fork in it. In my case it took 6 hours. Once you're there turn off the heat, and when the meat is cool enough to handle take it out and shred it. I like my rillette fairly coarse, but again, there are lots of French mothers.... Put it tightly in a sterilized vessel, like a jar or a ramequin. Press it down with the back of a spoon, to have as few air pockets in as possible.

The next step is crucial for a perfect rillette: Toss all the remainders of the veggies, but salvage the cooking liquid. In my case it was a bit watery, so I boiled it down until most of the water was gone. Then pour the hot fat over the meat. If you have done your job better than I have you will only have lard on the top - I have a few bits of meat stick out.

The main advantage of having it covered with the lard is that it will now keep forever, ok, at least for a few months. That wasn't really an issue in my case, it won't have to last longer than a week anyways... Cover the rillettes, put them in the fridge overnight (while you bake some bread perhaps?), and then enjoy it the next day as an appetizer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Maionese de Leite

Ohhhhh...... Did you ever see a recipe, and knew you had to make it? Immediately? That's what I thought when I found David Leite's recipe for milk mayonnaise here:

I'm a sucker for homemade mayonnaise, so this sounded very intriguing. And the ingredients are milk - check - lemon juice - check - garlic - check - salt and pepper - check - and oil - check. I was in the kitchen faster than it took you to read this blog to here. You blend the milk with garlic and lemon juice, then add oil just like you do for mayonnaise. And the result is splendid! Much lighter than mayonnaise, almost airy.

Didn't have any green olives as for his green olive spread, but that was probably good since I've eaten enough for today, and I don't think I'd be able to withstand a bowl of that, especially knowing that I have bread dough in the fridge that could be turned into a fresh crusty bread in 2 hours...

I made two little dips, though, one with smoked paprika and red pepper flakes, much like my version of aioli, and one with chopped up capers and preserved lemon for a briny version, a bit like a remoulade. Ohhhh.....

Chocolate Bread

The ski season is coming to an end, which means that everybody has to come up one more time to take advantage of the recent snowfalls. Of course this doesn't only mean skiing, it also means crowds for dinner and house guests, and it means that even if I make cheese fondue I like to have a dessert in my back pocket, for the off chance that people are still hungry. The chocolate bread that David Lebovitz posted last week looked yummy and fit the bill - ready to just be eaten by the slice, or whipped up into a quick bread pudding, or for French toast for breakfast.

I followed the recipe almost to a T, with the exception that I used some chopped white chocolate after I ran out of bittersweet, and that I retired the bread in the fridge overnight for a delayed fermentation. The dough looked wonderful:

DL is ambivalent about the nuts, so since I like nuts I put in walnuts and pistachios.

After the night in the fridge I put the dough in a slightly warmed oven, and it rose nicely. It also rose nicely in the pan and had a little bit of oven spring left. Baking happened at 6000' which is a bit of a challenge, but there was no catastrophes. I baked the bread to 180 F internal temperature - it took about 5 minutes longer than DL advises.

The house smells great when you bake this, I could barely wait for the bread to cool down to cut it open. 

The flavor of the bread is great, and I'm glad I put the nuts in. It was definitely the best on the first day, and didn't improve over the next days. But it's wonderful with a little bit of salted butter on it, as a little after dinner bit of sweets with a cup of coffee. 

The structure is more cakey than bready, fairly fragile. I wonder whether it's because I baked at altitude, and will definitely try it again once I'm back down the hill. 

This morning one - by now quite stale - slice got turned into French toast. I used part milk part coffee for the egg milk, and I let the bread sit in the egg milk for 15 minutes on each side for a super custardy result, bringing out the taste of the fresh chocolate bread nicely.

I might make another experiment tomorrow where I fill it with banana, though I'm not sure it'll be stable enough to be sliced any thinner.

As I was eating it it occurred to me that French toast was probably one of the first dishes I made when I was a kid. The literal translation of the German name for it is Poor Knights. It's made with white bread, and dusted with cinnamon sugar, for a quick cheap tasty lunch.