Friday, June 16, 2017

Cacio E Pepe with Stinging Nettle Pasta

 In past posts I have talked about gathering stinging nettles and saving them for later use. This is one of those later uses. I usually gather up a few pounds of nettles and then sauté them with butter and a pinch of salt then puree them in a food processor. to store them I pour the puree into an ice cube tray and then freeze the puree, that way when I want to use some of the puree to make Gnocchi or pasta all I have to do is thaw out a few cubes and I am all set.

Typically when I make pasta I just make big sheets of pasta and make ravioli or agnalotti. I have stayed away from the long noodle pastas for no real reason other than I am a little intimidated by them, stemming from one bad experience years ago when they stuck together so badly I ended up with a giant ball of cooked pasta. I know I shouldn't let past failures keep me from trying things but they do and I don't know why.

A couple of months ago my daughter thought it would be a fun activity for her and I to make some spaghetti and since I am powerless against her charms I found myself making spaghetti. It really isn't a difficult process and if you flour the noodles adequately they don't stick together at all. I really should remember that just because it was difficult once doesn't mean it is always going to be that way.

After making the spaghetti with my daughter we boiled it up and cooked it exactly the way she likes it. With butter, a little black pepper and lots of Parmesan. Only after making this spaghetti with her did I realize that my little girls favorite way to eat pasta was Cacio E Pepe. Cacio is a Roman dish that is basically noodles, black pepper , and Pecorino Romano with a little butter. It is one of my favorite snacks and often I will make it when no one else is home because I love a lot of black pepper in mine and the rest of the family doesn't. Cacio E Pepe may have a simple ingredient list but it isn't a simple dish. If you don't pay attention and over cook it even a little bit the cheese will clump together and you will end up with large rubbery pieces of cheese mixed in with your pasta.

I decided after making spaghetti with my daughter that I wanted to try to make spaghetti with a nettle pasta and of course then make Cacio with the nettle pasta. Now I have eaten Cacio probably a few hundred times and I have used everything from Buccatini to ramen noodles and I can say with 100% certainty that Cacio was meant for Nettle pasta. The flavor of the noodle when accompanied by the cheese, butter and of course lots of black pepper made this, the best plate of Cacio E pepe I have ever eaten.

Nettle Pasta

This will make enough spaghetti for 2 large portions or 4 small portions

2 egg yolks
1/2 cup nettle puree
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
pinch of salt

Make a mound of flour in the middle of a large surface and make a well in the middle. Stir the yolks and nettles together and pour into the well. Add the pinch of salt and then with your fingers start to stir the nettle puree into the flour and work it all together until you get one ball of dough. If it is to dry add a few drops of water at a time until you get a dough with the consistency of Play-dough. once you have reached this point the possibilities are endless. using a pasta roller make your sheets of pasta dough first then feed the sheets into the cutter to make the noodles.

To Make the Cacio E pepe

4 ounces of noodles
2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano
1/2 cup of the pasta water after cooking
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

When the noodles are cooked set them aside to drain and reserve the 1/2 cup of pasta water. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat and add the black pepper and cook for 30 seconds. Add the noodle and toss with the butter and the black pepper. Stir in the grated cheese and then add the hot pasta water. Remove from the heat and stir vigorously until the cheese and water have made a light sauce and coated the noodles. Serve Immediately.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pickled Smelt

I didn't make it up to the north shore this year for smelt, I was just to busy to get away. I love going up there and spending the night out on the point dragging a seine net and hitting the run. I have mostly been unsuccessful in my adventures up there but a couple years ago I managed to get enough that I still had one more bag of frozen smelt in the freezer. I had almost forgotten they were in there until my wife and I went out for drinks at a place called Heirloom over in St Paul, MN. On their menu they had a pickled smelt salad and as soon as I read that I remembered I had another bag of smelt at home and needed to try this.

As soon as we got home that night I went to the freezer and laid out the frozen bag to thaw so I could get started on pickling some smelt the next morning. I used the same recipe for these pickled smelt that I use for my pickled pike so if you don't have smelt don't worry this recipe works well with other fish also. After they were pickled I cut a few up and tried them and was shocked at how good they were. I like pickled fish a lot but these smelt really hold up well with the pickling brine. they have a great texture and have a natural sweetness to them that I really like. 

Pickled Smelt 

1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 gallon water

3 lbs of cleaned smelt
7.5 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup Aquavit
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons allspice berries
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
12 juniper berries
1 tablespoon coriander
10 cloves
1 tsp pickling salt

fresh dill
sliced shallots
lemon slices 
Serrano chilies

1. mix together the kosher salt and water and make a salt water brine, put the smelt into the brine and refrigerate for 48 hours.

2. After the smelt have brined for 48 hours drain the smelt and gently rinse with cold water, mix together all the ingredients from the white vinegar to the pickling salt and bring to a boil. let the pickling liquid cool to room temperature.

3. In your sterilized pint or quart jars arrange the smelt with the dill, shallots, lemon and chillies. How much is up to you. I like a lot of dill and shallots and a couple thin slices of lemon per pint. I didn't want the smelt to be spicy but I did want a little flavor from the chilies so I only put 3-4 slices of chili per pint. 

4. Don't over fill the jars as you need to pour the pickling liquid in after they are filled with smelt. pour the room temperature liquid over the smelt and place the lids on. refrigerate for 2-3 days before eating. this will last for up to a month in you fridge. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Morel Salt

I have a love hate relationship with the morel mushroom. I will not argue that they are tasty because they are, and I enjoy eating them as much as the next guy. My problem is that I am not very good at finding them, and not for a lack of trying either. I have found a few over the years and have spent countless hours walking around the woods trying to find some. I always manage to find a few but I can never seem to find a large cache of them. One of the many problems with social media is that I see on Facebook all these people with table tops lined up with morels or some guy in Tennessee with the bed of a pick up full of them. I always feel like everybody but me is having success. The most I have ever found in one day was 14. When you don't find many you have to start being thrifty as to how you prepare them.

I have never been fortunate enough to find a large enough haul to just fry up a basket of them and eat them. I always find just enough to add to a dish or to make a nice risotto. Just once I'd like to be the guy with a five gallon bucket full of morels and running out of ways to cook them. This year I have been out on five separate occasions and on three of those occasions came up empty handed. On one of my successful outings I found four perfect little morels each about 3 inches tall. When you only have four morels there isn't much you can do with them. I thought about frying them and just eating them and calling it a season but I like to extended things as much as possible. instead of eating them I packed them in salt and let them sit for a few days then pulsed them in my food processor. this worked really well for infusing the salt with great morel flavor. I spread the sanding looking salt on a cookie sheet and popped it in the oven at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes to dry it out a bit.

The salt is exactly what I had hoped it would turn out to be. It is a perfect seasoning salt for eggs and meats and great on grilled fish. I ended up with about 1 1/2 cups of salt and will now be able to enjoy that magnificent morel flavor long after the season is over. To make this salt just cut the morels in half and clean them out really well. then pack the halves in a cup and a half of salt and let sit for 3-4 days. Then pulse in a food processor and spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes at 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Store in an airtight container and enjoy through out the summer.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tamago Gohan with Ramps and Nettles

It is interesting to me how many Japanese dishes I come across that I never tried or even heard of when I lived in Japan. I lived over there for two years and although I tried a number of things I missed out on a lot more. One of the things I missed out on is a dish know as TKG, tamago kake gohan. In its most basic form it is just a bowl of steamed rice with a raw egg stirred into it that is served for breakfast. If you want to kick it up some you can add some soy sauce or sesame seeds. Some versions have a small sheet of kombu added for flavor. Any way you look at it, it is one of the simplest and most satisfying things I have ever had for breakfast.

I have been eating tamago gohan for breakfast about once a week for the last several months. As soon as I ate it the first time I thought how wonderful it would be with something wild in it. I almost couldn't wait for spring because I wanted to try it with ramps. I just new that the great garlic and onion flavor of a ramp would be great with rice and egg. The first thing I did this spring when I picked some ramps was make this dish. I had also pick a nice sized bag of nettles to I mixed them in just for fun. If you are looking for a quick and easy breakfast give this a try and if you feel the need to add a few strips of bacon it only gets that much better.

Tamago Gohan with Ramps and Nettles

1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 egg
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp chili sauce
2 tablespoons chopped ramps
2 tablespoons chopped nettles

Place the hot rice in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, stir vigorously with chop sticks and enjoy.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Shredded Venison Torta

Today is Cinco De Mayo, for most college aged Americans that means lots of Tequila and Dos Equis. Your face book feed is probably loaded with Pictures of fresh street tacos and for the day we all get to pretend we know something about Mexican heritage. I don't know anything about Mexican heritage but I do love Mexican food. I was going to make something taco related but then figured so was everybody else. Instead I decided on something a little less well known but equally delicious and of course I used wild game.

A torta is a sandwich served on a crusty white roll usually oblong in shape. They are a very popular street food in Mexico and are often sold at sporting events and outdoor concerts. In the U.S. they aren't as popular as other Mexican foods but they are equally delicious. This Torta was made with venison and the bun was spread with refried bean and topped with pickled red onions. The shredded venison could also be used in tacos or tamales or even in a burrito if you choose.

Shredded Venison

2 1/2 pounds venison roast cut into large cubes
3 tablespoons roasted garlic paste
1 stick of cinnamon5 tablespoons Achiote Paste
2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
3 cloves
1/4 cup dried poblano peppers
1/4 cup dried oregano
1/2 cup sour orange juice

Place the cubed venison in a large bowl and season liberally with salt and pepper. Add the remaining ingredients to a food processor and pulse until you get a smooth paste. Pour the Paste over the venison and let sit for 30 minutes. Place the meat and paste in a crock pot and cook on high for 3 hours or until the venison easily shreds apart.

To make the Torta gently toast the buns and spread some refried beans on the bottom half of the bun. Place a generous portion of venison on the bun and top with pickled red onions.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Pheasant and Soba Noodle soup

Anytime I get to throw some wild game in a dish I jump at the opportunity. When a friend of mine sent me this recipe and said she really liked it but would like to see what kind of wild spin I would put on it I was intrigued. The original recipe was very straight forward and called for smoked trout. With the exception of a good Chowder I am usually not a big fan of using fish in soup. I went to the freezer to see what I had available and the first thing that jumped out at me were three pheasants I had been given by my buddy Eric.

I figured I could really fortify the soup base if I roasted some pheasant carcasses and add them to the stock. Along with the pheasants I  threw in a handful of dried lobster mushrooms I had from last year and some store bought shittakes. I also had some dried ramp leaves from last year so I added them as well. What I ended up with is a hearty stock that is packed with Umami flavors. The soba noodles and the pheasant made this one of my new favorite soups. 

 Pheasant and Soba Noodle Soup

6 ounces Japanese soba, cooked and tossed with 2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 broccoli crowns, cut or broken into small florets
1 pound of pheasant meat cut into one inch cubes
3 pheasant carcasses, roasted
5-6 dried ramps
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds for garnish
6 dried shittake mushrooms
1 cup dried lobster mushrooms
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 4- to 6-inch stick of kombu
8 cups water
2 inch knob of ginger, skinned and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
3 tablespoons Soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine (mirin)
Salt and sugar to taste

Start by making the stock, put the roasted pheasant carcasses in a stock pot then cover with 8 cups of water. Add the mushrooms, dried ramps, soy sauce, rice wine and the ginger. Cook the stock for about 45 minutes, covered. then add the pheasant pieces to the stock and cook for 10 minutes more.
Pour the stock through a strainer lined with cheese cloth and reserve the mushrooms and the pheasant pieces. Put the strained stock back on the stove over medium heat and add the mushroom and pheasant back in. Add in the Broccoli and cook for 5 minutes more taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Place a portion of the soba noodles in a bowl and pour soup over noodles. garnish with black sesame seeds and thinly sliced scallions. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Grilled Venison steaks with Gochujang marinade

Its always a lot of fun for me to come across a new ingredient that I like. It usually open up a whole new world of food and I end up cooking almost exclusively with it for a while. So when the folks at Chung Jung One sent me a sample of their new Gochujang Korean Chili paste I was super excited to give it a try. I wasn't familiar with it at all so it was a new flavor for me. I was ridiculously impressed with how good it was. I started researching recipes and found a dozen or so new things to try. The trick of course was trying to incorporate wild game into the mix.

As it turns out it wasn't that tricky to find ways to use the gochujang with game. This first thing I made was a Bibimbap with a gochujang and date hot sauce. After that I wanted to try it as a marinade and came across this recipe. I marinated the venison steaks in a gochujang marinade then painted them with the gochujang date hot sauce. The marinade is packed with sweet and savory flavors and even though it is a chili sauce it isn't overwhelmingly hot. There is just a small amount of spice to the sauce.

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of spring so I can get out and gather some ramps and try a ramp Kim Chi and maybe some kind of trout recipe as well.

Venison Steak with Gochujang Marinade

8 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
1 2” piece ginger, peeled, sliced
½ cup dry sake
½ cup gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
½ cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more for grilling
1½ pound venison roast cut into 1/4 inch slices for quick grilling

Purée garlic, ginger, sake, gochujang, mirin, and ¼ cup oil in a blender. Set ¼ cup marinade aside; chill. Transfer remaining marinade to a large dish. Add venison and marinade for at least 2 hours.
Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. Remove venison from marinade and grill, basting with reserved marinade, turning occasionally, this will cook pretty quickly about 2-3 minutes each side.