Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Artichoke Mania Part 1- Cleaning

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to northern CA, my first since I was 1.  California is an interesting ecosystem, mainly because it's beautiful weather allows for fruits and veggies to grow in abundance all year while the rest of us have to deal with droughts and low frying temperatures.  Not that I'm jealous or anything.

It's artichoke season, and my aunt happens to live in close proximity to Castroville.  One quick note, if you ever see a sign for "French fried artichokes", I highly recommend you indulge.  You will not be disappointed. 

I'm like any other eater, I like my artichokes steamed and dipped in a little bit of mayo.  It's pretty simple really.  Cut off the stem, cut the top ¼ inch from the artichoke, and using scissors, clip the tips of each leaf to remove the thorns.  Steam them upside down for 25-30 minutes until a knife slides into the stem with little resistance.  You can enjoy them warm or stash them in the fridge and eat them as an appetizer later.

If you have lots and lots, I recommend harvesting the hearts (best part).  Let me tell you, pictures and words can help, but until you actually do one, you really have no idea what's going on.  I followed Tom Collicho's method, mainly because there were pictures and the dish I made using the artichokes was a recipe of his.

I broke this post over three parts, cleaning, braising, and finally the dish.  Today I just want to list out how I cleaned my artichokes and some tips I found while doing so.

Artichokes (Cleaning and Preparing)

Large bowl of water
1 lemon
8 artichokes

Squeeze lemon into water to acidulate nicely.  Use real lemon juice; you need the acid to prevent the artichokes from turning brown.  Retain the lemon and use it to rub over the artichoke if the cleaning is taking you a particularly long time.

Step 1- Peel the outer leaves from the artichoke until you get down to a cone like shape

Step 2- Cut off the stem (from the bottom) and all but 1 inch of the leaves (from the top).  You should be left with something that resembles a 2 inch thick circle with a little bit of the stem attached.

Step 3- Turn the artichoke upside down so the remaining stem is facing up.  Using a paring knife, peel off the outer layer of green like you would peel an apple (you can do this on a cutting board and cut in a downward motion the first few times you do it).  You should have mostly off white meat left.

Step 4- Trim around the edges of the heart to remove any remaining hard bits.  Should look something like this.

Step 5- Using a spoon, dig in the middle of the leaf side of the artichoke and remove all of the fuzzy choke.  If it's hard to get to, cut a little bit more down on the leaves.  Make sure you remove all the fuzz, it's indigestible.

Step 6- Place your finished heart in the bowl, repeat with remaining artichokes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cooking With Wolfes Episode 2- Salsa and Guacamole

I'm back!  Episode 2 is functional!  Thanks again to my friend Matt Bethune for shooting and editing this.  More to come soon!  

Recipes can be found HERE

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fish Tacos

Do you have a best food memory? One that you simply cannot forget and you can recall like it was yesterday? Mine is from Mexico. When I was young my grandfather lived in Ensenada, where we would go visit him for spring break. It was tradition, we went down quite a few times. We would go to the beach, walk the fish markets, see the gysers, it was all good fun. But the one bit that will always stand out to me is when I had my first fish taco. It was a food truck, on a bustling corner in town. My mom was freaked out because she thought we would get food poisoning, my grandfather insisted these women made some of the best food ever.
The truck was simple, small, and contained three women serving two things, tacos and sodas. One was cutting up shark, dipping it in a beer batter, and frying it. The second was taking the fried fish, placing a piece in a corn tortilla, topping it with crema, a squeeze of lime, and cabbage before handing it to customers. The third was collecting money and handing out bottled sodas (the good kind in glass bottles with real sugar). There were small stone mortars that contained both red and green salsa for you to add as you like, but be warned, the green was only for the truly adventurous in spicy food.

It was the best thing I have ever eaten. I think I ate 4 or 5, I know my dad had a dozen. We all left, stuffed beyond what anyone thought possible, but also elated at what had just transpired. If I ever go back again, I will wander downtown in hopes of finding three women still serving some of the best food around.

Fast forward to the present: My friend Matt (who directs my cooking show) is also shooting a commercial for a local fish monger, North Shore Seafoods. I promise I will write more on that at some point, but take my word for it; it’s well worth a visit. Matt, who is allergic to fish (!) received some uber-fresh halibut and it was requested we turn it into tacos. Please, twist my arm. We made a feast, tacos, rice, beans, salsa, it was amazing, just as I remembered. We sat outside (I made steak tacos for Matt) and loved every second of it. It was so good I made it again for Emily's parents when we recently went back to visit. I hope you all find this recipe as memorable as I have.

Fish Tacos
Serves 6-8

2 pounds fresh white fish (cod, shark, halibut, etc.), trimmed of skin, cut into ¾" strips (cut so they will fit into a tortilla)
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2-3 cups beer
1 quart peanut oil

½ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayo
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Juice from half of a lime
1 head cabbage, finely shredded
2 limes, cut into wedges
Fresh salsa or pico de gallo
Guacamole or avocado slices (optional)
2 dozen fresh corn tortillas (buy at a local Mexican grocer)

To make the crèma combine all ingredients in a small bowl, season to taste with additional cumin. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 1 day. Warm the tortillas in a toaster oven wrapped in foil

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Use a fry or candy thermometer to maintain the oil temperature at 375°F. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and cornstarch in a bowl. Add 2 cups of the beer and whisk until smooth. If batter is too thick, add more beer until thin but not extremely watery.

Dredge 1 filet of fish in batter, letting excess drip off, and place in hot oil. Depending on the size of the pot you can fry 3-4 pieces at a time. Do not fry more at a time as the oil temperature will drop significantly. Fry fish, turning occasionally, until brown and crisp, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to wire rack covered with paper towel to drain. Return oil to temperature and repeat with remaining fish.

To serve, spread a small amount of crèma on a tortilla followed by a piece of fish, a squeeze of lime, cabbage, and pico de gallo. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chicken with Almonds

Stir fries have become a big part of my life since I met my wife. Growing up I did eat sweet and sour pork my mom would make in our electric wok, but that was (I think) about it. No fault of hers, we had to trick my brother every time we had it because he didn't like Chinese food, but he liked sweet pork and rice.

Now, I break out one of my two woks every week. Fast weeknight meals, maybe a new rice dish, you can even deep fry in them (more on that later). Far and away the most common dish to come out of my wok is chicken with almonds, a fantastic adaptation from Craig Claiborne's "Chinese Cookbook" that my wife's dad shared with me.

It follows the general rule of stir frying. Fry meat, remove, cook remaining ingredients as needed, drain off most oil, add seasonings, replace meat, add sauce. Eat. You can make a lot of good food if you follow those rules. I like to serve mine with plain white rice and stir fried broccoli, which I have included below. Enjoy!

Chicken with Almonds
serves 3-4

1 1/2 pound boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg white
1 cup peanut or vegetable oil
1/2 cup blanched almonds (found in grocery stores)
6 garlic cloves, smashed
6 thin slices fresh ginger
12 dried chiles (arbol)
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry

Combine corn starch, salt, sugar, and egg white in medium bowl. Add chicken breasts and marinate 30 minutes (room temperature).

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium high heat in a wok or large skillet until just starting to smoke, about 375-400°F.  Gently add 1/2 chicken and fry, stirring to break up into individual pieces, until brown and just cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Remove chicken with slotted spoon and transfer to paper towel lined plate to drain.  Return oil to temperature and repeat with remaining chicken.  After, add almonds, frying and stirring until almonds are well browned, about 5-6 minutes.  Remove almonds and let drain.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil (cool the rest in a pyrex cup, bottle, and refrigerate for future use).  Add garlic, chiles, and ginger, frying until all are well browned.  Remove seasonings and discard.  Add chicken back to wok and warm, stirring constantly, 1 minute.  Add soy sauce and sherry, toss until sauce thickens. Serve immediately with almonds on side.

Stir Fried Broccoli

1 pound broccoli or other vegetable such as asparagus, snow peas, or green beans
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Trim broccoli crowns into 1 inch pieces.  Peel stems and cut into 1 inch thick strips.  Heat oil over medium high heat in wok or large skillet.  Add broccoli and toss constantly for 2 minutes or until starting to brown.  Combine sugar, salt, soy, sherry, and water in a small dish and add to wok.  Cover and cook for 3 minutes.  Combine cornstarch with 1-2 tablespoons water and add to wok, stirring to thicken.  Serve.