Chopped Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing

Atkins Day 7.  Here is another quick low carb breakfast, brunch or lunch option inspired by classic wedge or cobb salads. Using crispy cool romaine lettuce as the base, combine it with whatever you happen to have in your fridge to add texture and flavor.  Today I had crunchy thinly sliced red cabbage, peppery red radishes, and diced tender sweet zucchini. Toss everything in this creamy ranch style dressing full of fresh dill, chives and parsley, and top with hard boiled eggs and crispy salty bacon, smoked salmon or salmon gravlax for protein.  If you are feeling ambitious, plan ahead and make your own bacon or gravlax.

Creamy Herb Dressing

adapted from Chow.com’s Basic Ranch Dressing

INGREDIENTS, yields about 2 cups

1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. sour cream or creme fraiche
4 tsp. lemon juice (or white vinegar)
1/2 clove garlic, finely minced or grated on a microplane
2 Tbsp. finely chopped Italian parsley
2 Tbsp. finely chopped chives
3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp. coarsely ground or cracked black pepper

PROCEDURE:

Whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream (or creme fraiche), lemon juice and garlic. Fold in the herbs and season with salt and cracked black pepper to taste.  Store for refrigerated for 3-4 days.

Tip:  Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

The perfect hard boiled egg is cooked all the way through, with a bright yellow yolk.  Just a minute or two too long and the yolk starts to turn green and chalky.  Everyone I know has their own fool proof method for making them.  Here are two of them:

Method 1, the old school way. Place the eggs in a 2-3 quart saucepan, and cover them with 2 inches of cold water. Bring the water to a boil and lower to a simmer. Cook the eggs for 9-11 minutes more, then remove them and plunge them immediately into ice water. Wait until they are completely cooled before peeling.

Method 2 comes from one of my cooks. When you are in the kitchen and have a lot of things going on at the same time, it’s easy to miss moments like when your eggs start to boil.  That’s why I love timers.  Place anywhere from 2 to 10 eggs in deep saucepan. Cover with about 1-1/2 to 2 quarts cold water.  Place the pot over high heat and set a timer for 20 minutes.  When you notice the water boil, turn the heat down so the eggs boil gently and don’t break.  When the 20 minutes are up, remove the eggs and plunge them into ice water. Wait until they are completely cooled before peeling. I had my doubts about the accuracy of this method.  But I used it to make this recipe, and as you can see, it worked perfectly.

Cumin & Coriander Rubbed Duck Breast

On Day 5 of the Atkins plan, I finally realized the importance of having readily available low carb snacks on hand at all times.  Without grains, rice, pasta, or bread to fill up on, three meals a day is just not enough.  And when you get hungry again it’s like falling off a cliff in a primal “REALLY-HUNGRY-AND-NEED-TO PUT-FOOD-IN-MOUTH NOW” way.  All week I was unprepared for this, and fell off the no-carb snack wagon twice.

Determined not to fall again, we have begun keeping cold meats and cheese around.  It would be easy to buy cold cuts, but I simply don’t like the idea of consuming so many nitrates on a daily basis.  So instead, I just cook extra meat or protein the night before. Last night, inspired by a dish I had on my birthday at Eleven Madison Park, I made Cumin & Coriander Duck Breast, plus an extra one for next day snacking.  I rubbed the duck breasts with salt, pepper, crushed coriander and cumin seed, and a pinch of five-spice. Rendering the skin in a skillet really slowly made it really crispy while toasting the spices and bringing out their aroma.  Cooked to medium, the duck breasts stayed pink and tender for the next day.

Today, D and I had a late brunch, then a busy afternoon of running errands.  By 4 pm, with no low-carb snack options en route, and dinner still hours away we were getting pretty cranky.  A little cold sliced duck, sharp cheddar cheese, sheeps milk gouda, and cornichons were the perfect foil.  The coriander added a citrusy herbal flavor, the cumin an earthy smokiness, and the five spice was sweet and aromatic with anise, cinnamon, and clove.

Game Day Smoked Ribs

Superbowl Sunday morning, I couldn’t think of a better place to be than sitting on the fire escape, watching smoke billow out of our brand new Big Chief electric smoker.  D. set a fan in the window to keep the smoke blowing outward, but that didn’t keep the warm smell of hickory from filling the apartment.  After about a half hour, I thought I spotted trouble when a police car slowed down and rounded the corner.  Smoking and barbecuing on one’s fire escape in NYC isn’t exactly, um…allowed.  I doused the wood chips and brought everything inside.  Ok, so I panicked, and it turned out to be a false alarm.  If they had really seen us, they would have made a U-turn and parked it right out front. Duh.

We like a taste test, so I was making ribs two ways.  Inside the smoker were two racks of St. Louis style ribs and two racks of Baby Back ribs.  The night before, I braised the larger, St. Louis Ribs until they were falling off the bone tender, and allowed them to cool overnight. I rubbed the Baby Back ribs with a dry rub instead and wrapped them to marinate overnight. The next morning I placed the cooked St. Louis ribs and the marinated Baby Backs in the smoker.

Even though they didn’t get a full hour like I wanted, the ribs were nice and smoky. From there, the Baby Back ribs finished roasting very slowly in a low oven.  Later, I glazed the already cooked St. Louis ribs in a hot oven with barbecue sauce once our guests started arriving.

So now for the taste test.  Braising the St. Louis ribs meant that the flavor of the spices penetrated all the way through.  The meat just fell off the bone, and glazing them in the oven with barbecue sauce gave them a nice caramelized molasses-vinegar flavor.  But they didn’t even come close to the superior slow roasted flavor and texture of the Baby Back ribs.  These babies didn’t even need barbecue sauce.  They were meltingly tender on the inside, and had an aromatic crust of toasted herbs and spices from the dry rub on the outside.  It was no contest. The dry rubbed, slow roasted ribs were more like true slow smoked barbecue and blew the braised ribs away.  Go Seahawks.

Slow Roasted Baby Back Ribs

If you don’t have access to a smoker, don’t worry.  These ribs are just as tender and delicious straight roasted in the oven, and the smoked paprika in the rub will give you some of that campfire flavor you’re missing.

INGREDIENTS:

for 2 racks Baby Back Ribs

Dry Rub:

1 Tbsp. coriander seeds

1 tsp.  mustard seed

1 Tbsp.  cumin seeds

1 Tbsp.  black peppercorns

1 tsp.  white peppercorns

2 Tbsp.  smoked paprika

1/4 tsp.  cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp.  chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tsp. dry)

1/2 – 3/4 cup  dark brown sugar

1-2 Tbsp.  kosher salt

For roasting, if needed

1 quart chicken stock

PROCEDURE:

1.  Using a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle, grind the whole spices.  Mix thoroughly with the paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, dark brown sugar, and salt.

2.  Rub the spice mix into the ribs.  Wrap tightly in plastic and marinate, refrigerated for up to 12 hours.

3.  If you have access to a cold smoker, you can first smoke the ribs for an hour.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.

4.  After the ribs have smoked, transfer them to a roasting pan and place them in the oven, loosely covered with foil.  Once the ribs start to release cooking liquid, baste them periodically.  If they seem too dry, you can add a little chicken stock and baste with that. There should be enough juices to baste with, but the ribs should not be submerged.  If they seem to be burning, lower the oven to 325°.  Roast for about 4-5 hours or until tender.

Basic Barbecue Sauce

This is a good base to start playing with making your own barbecue sauce.  I use organic ketchup, which doesn’t contain corn syrup.  I also prefer lighter vinegars like distilled, cider, white wine, or rice wine instead of thick or strongly flavored (and expensive) vinegars like balsamic or aged sherry.  Choose whatever hot sauce you prefer, and adjust the amount based on spiciness and flavor.  Use this as base to add other flavorings too.  Bourbon, if you like it boozy, or even coffee if you want a darker richer flavor.  Go ahead, have fun with it.

INGREDIENTS, makes about 3 cups:

1-1/2 cups molasses

1-1/2 cups ketchup

2 cups vinegar

1/4 cup Frank’s Red hot sauce

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

PROCEDURE:

Mix together all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently so the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  The sauce is ready when it is thick enough to coat a spoon.

Our go-to recipe for cole slaw, and the perfect complement to these ribs can be found at Smitten Kitchen.

You might also like BBQ Wings with Braised Greens and Cole Slaw.

Beyond Kitchen Doors: To Complain or Not?

The clams were sandy.  The more I ate the more grit I chomped.  The spaghetti was a little salty, but edible.  Wait.  Nope.  The more I ate, the saltier it got and the thirstier I got.  Spaghetti with clams seems simple, but clams are very sandy and very briny. So they need to be scrubbed really well and take very little salt if any.  Halfway through my lunch, I pushed my dish aside and went back to reading.  My waiter  asked how everything was.  Do I say something?  This restaurant is new to my neighborhood and I want to be able to come back without being labeled as a fussy regular.

As a diner, how many times have you found yourself in this dilemma?  When in doubt, the answer is yes, say something.  Any chef worth his/ her salt would want to know.  Sometimes as a chef, you can do everything right and a customer simply won’t like a dish. Sometimes they insist that they ordered medium steak when the waiter insists they ordered medium rare. Other times you just have to own up to a mistake that went out to a table.

Often customers won’t say anything at all.  That’s why I like a kitchen with the dish pit right next to the line so I can keep an eye out for plates not licked clean.  If I see the same item coming back unfinished, it sends up a red flag for corrective action.  I might have to correct a line cook who’s heavy handed with salt, or a prep cook who doesn’t wash the greens properly.  I might have to revisit the dish myself or take it off the menu altogether. The success of a restaurant rests on how you address each complaint and build lasting relationships with your clientele.

I told my waiter why I didn’t finish my meal, and he showed the chef.  He offered me a complimentary cup of coffee or tea, which I accepted. I never expect a free meal and I don’t think anyone should.  If it’s truly inedible, I at least give the kitchen an opportunity to make it again or order something else in it’s place.  As I was sipping my coffee, the chef came out to apologize to me.  I explained that I hated to complain, but as one chef to another, I thought he would want to know.  He was a stout Italian man who, upon hearing that I was also a chef smiled broadly and graciously shook my hand.   Restaurant redeemed.

Cracklings!

There is still plenty of suckling pig in our freezer: a bit of pancetta, a piece of five spiced pig belly, one more ham, two shoulders, the trotters, the head, and a bunch of bones.  We cooked a bone-in loin the first weekend. It was the tiniest loin you ever saw – smaller than rack of lamb. It was so juicy and tender, but both the loin and our boxing day ham didn’t have cracklings as crispy as I wanted.  When you roast a suckling pig whole, the best part are the cracklings – salty, crispy, chewy pieces of skin that are the result of long slow cooking. The problem was these smaller cuts did not have enough cooking time to get cracklings.

So how to get the same results from smaller cuts of suckling pig? Since I’ve only been working part time to develop brunch for La Vela, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to experiment at home. Yesterday I defrosted the other loin, and put it in a salt and sugar brine.  Deboned and unrolled, the loin was about the size and thickness of a large duck breast.  So I thought I’d use a similar technique cooking it.  This time I scored the skin in 3/4″ diamonds and placed the loin skin side down in a saute pan with some vegetable oil over medium heat.  I weighed the loin down by placing a heavy saute pan on top of it so that the skin wouldn’t buckle.  This way the entire skin would be in contact with the heat of the pan long enough to render the fat and crisp it without over cooking the meat.  It took time and some patience.  If the skin wasn’t crispy before going into the oven, it would never get there.  Once the skin was brown and crispy all over, I flipped the loin over and popped it in a 400 degree oven for a couple minutes to finish cooking.  After it had a chance to rest, I sliced it.  Success!! The cracklings were perfect.  They had just the right amount of crunch and salt, and the meat was still tender, sweet, and juicy.

By the way, while the meat rested, I tossed some brussels sprouts with the fat in the pan and popped them in the oven.  Once they were brown and roasted I added some orange zest, salt and pepper.  They made the perfect complement to the crackling loin.

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