Friday, February 26, 2010

faycat and j-cat cook: romantic pork cheeks and gnocchi

I cook him meat. He cooks me carbs. I knew we were meant to be. This Valentine's Day, J-Cat and I decided on a collaborative dinner, which really is more romantic than any meal we've had on previous Valentine's Days, even if we never bothered setting a table or, um, turning off the TV to eat it.

And is there a more romantic cut of meat than pork cheeks? Pork Cheeks is going to be my new pet name for J-Cat. And gnocchi. That's a sweet word, too. So here I give you - Pork Cheek Ragu with Truffled Polenta Gnocchi.

I got a couple pork cheeks with our pork CSA, which made me decide on the pork cheek ragu. But I only had two cheek medallions, so I went up to my friendly neighborhood totally awesome butcher and asked for some more. They very kindly pulled some pig heads out of the walk in and sliced them off for me. Now that's romantic!

And the gnocchi. Well, J-Cat has lately been OBSESSED with gnocchi. Cooking it, not just eating it. He made gnocchi three times in two weeks. Mostly he was focusing on gnudi, the riccota-based gnocchi, so I thought this would be a nice change. The polenta gnocchi had a lovely grainy texture and were delightfully crisp from a pan saute. The addition of a splash of truffle oil in the dough brought the indulgence to a new level.

This recipe tasted luxurious, rich, and so so savory, but was actually the ultimate in rustic, inexpensive peasant food. The pork cheeks (a very affordable and tasty cut) cooked low and slow and fell apart into deeply flavorful, tender chunks. Set atop the crisp truffled gnocchi, this dish was everything you want in comfort food, with a bit of a fancy twist. And yes, that is one giant bowl that we both ate out of. Awwww.

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Travis Hyde, Z Cucina Ristorante, Columbus, OH.

1½ cups semolina
1½ cups cornmeal
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk
1 Tbsp. truffle oil
to taste, salt and pepper

Pork Cheek Ragu:
1 medium sweet onion, julienne
1 Tbsp. garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
2 tsp. fresh oregano, chopped
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 lb. pork cheek medallions
10 cremini mushrooms, quartered
1½ cups chianti wine
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
to taste, salt and pepper
to garnish, Parmesan cheese

For gnocchi: Combine cornmeal and semolina. Bring liquids to a simmer and add truffle oil to bloom flavor; add seasoning. Slowly whisk in dry mix until completely incorporated and mix until it begins to pull away from sides of pan. Pour onto tabletop surface dusted with semolina to prevent sticking. Allow to cool for 10 minutes until you can work with it. (The warmer the polenta, the easier to roll out cylinders to cut gnocchi.) Sprinkle a baseball-size piece of polenta with semolina and roll into a cylinder about ¾" diameter. Cut into ½" pieces and dust with semolina before placing on parchment-covered sheet pan.

For pork cheek ragu: Sweat the onion in 1 Tbsp. oil until tender. Add garlic and bloom. Season, then add cheeks and raise heat to caramelize them a little, along with onions. Add vinegar and allow to reduce by half. Add wine, tomatoes, herbs and mushrooms; reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer for 1 hour. Cook until pork cheeks just start to fall apart. Season with salt and pepper and mix in last Tbsp. oil.

To compose dish: Heat extra virgin olive oil to medium high; add gnocchi, making sure to coat in oil so they do not stick to pan. Allow to brown and crisp on sides; toss for 4-5 minutes on heat. Pull off heat and place in bowl. Ladle ragu over gnocchi and sprinkle with shaved Parmesan. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil if desired.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

j-cat cooks: jinese surprise

A few months ago when we were up in Rockland visiting his sister, J-Cat and I went into one of our favorite bagel places from when we were growing up. He pointed out something called a Chinese cookie, which for some reason I have never had. I had no idea that it was called that. It was always in the cookie case at every Jewish deli right next to the giant cookie with the chocolate chips stuck in the top, which was what I always got. Great big yellow cookie with a dollop of chocolate right in the middle. "What is remotely Chinese about that?" I asked. He had no idea. Until he tasted the Chinese Almond Cookies we made this weekend. I took a bite and said "My childhood!". And J-Cat took a bite and said "What? That's my childhood, too!". And there you have it, a surprise Jinese food.

I had found this recipe on Simply Recipes a couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of Chinese New Year. I took one look and said "I want that". And J-Cat said "I want to make those for you". And let me say, I wasn't sure they'd really come out like the Chinatown cookie I grew up on, but they really did. It completely surpassed my expectations. And they are incredibly addictive.

For most of the batch, J-Cat made the traditional sized cookie, but he also really wanted to recreate that Jewish Deli Chinese Cookie. So here he is sitting on the floor staring into the oven watching his giant almond cookie bake. Recipe after the jump:

From Simply Recipes

1 1/3 cups of almond flour, lightly packed
1 cup of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
Pinch of kosher salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of almond extract
1 3/4 cups of flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
Thinly sliced almonds

Place the almond flour, salt, and butter into an electric beater with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for three minutes. The mixture will become course and chunky looking.

Add one of the eggs, reserving the other for later, and the almond extract. Mix on low speed until just incorporated.

Sift together the flour, sugar, and baking soda then add to the butter mixture at low speed. Mix until just combined.

Take the dough and flatten it into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator for two hours to chill.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the other egg into a bowl and beat it.

Take pieces of dough and roll them into balls about a half-inch wide. Place them on the sheet about and inch apart and then press them down slightly with your palm to make a coin shape.

Place a slivered almond onto each cookie and lightly press it into place, then paint the surface of the cookie with some of the beaten egg using a pastry brush or your finger (this will give the cookie a lacquered appearance once it bakes).

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until the edges just being to tan. Cool on the sheet on a wire rack.

Makes 5 dozen.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

buttermilk pie, sans diabetes

On paper, this pie sounds like a toothache. It's a traditional Southern dessert, so you know it must be crazy sweet. I worried it would approach momofuku-milk-bar-crack-pie levels of sweet, which quite literally gives me an instant headache and makes me shiver. But then I came across this recipe on NPR with alternative measurements for a less-sweet version. Call me a wuss, but I'm drawn to the idea of buttermilk pie because of the creamy custardy tanginess, and I just don't need killer sweetness to cover it all up.

And it was a good call. I got my creamy custardy tanginess, a simple, wonderfully satisfying pie, and we didn't make faces at the sweetness level. This one is a winner, except for the danger associated with how much of it we can eat in one sitting. Recipe after the jump:

From the recipe by Natalie Moore on

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour, plus a little for dusting
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat eggs slightly and add sugar and flour. Then add melted butter and mix well. Add buttermilk and vanilla and mix.

Dust the unbaked pie shell with a little bit of flour. Pour batter into shell, and then sprinkle a little more flour on top.

Bake at 325 degrees until the custard is set, approximately 1 hour.

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