Saturday, June 25, 2016

Headcheese Bahn Mi

I have been tossing around the idea of making a Vietnamese style head cheese for a while now. I kept thinking that the flavors would go really well together and it would work great. My only problem was I didn't know what I was going to do with it after I made it. Then I was talking to a friend from work and he thought that a Vietnamese headcheese would make a great Bahn Mi. Why that thought didn't occur to me I don't know but when he said it, it made perfect sense.

About that exact time my brother in-law sent me a picture of a pig he was going to roast and I noticed it was missing its head. I asked him where the head was and he said that he was going to throw it out. I asked him to keep it in his freezer for me and I would come get it. The head was skinned and from a smaller pig so it was perfect for making headcheese. I always keep a couple of pigs feet in the freezer for situations like this. (you never know when you are going to need to make a headcheese)

The next step was figuring out spices and how I wanted to flavor this headcheese. I pulled out the flavor bible and looked under Vietnam and there was a whole list of spices and seasoning to use. I wanted it to have a bit of heat and I also wanted it to have a freshness to it as well. I simmered the head with all the spices but held off adding the chili's and cilantro until after the head was cooked. Adding them to the meat and reduced stock so they would maintain all of their flavor.

With some quick pickled daikon and carrots and a dab of sriracha mayo this headcheese Bahn Mi was perfect. 

Vietnamese Headcheese

1 small skinned pigs head
2 pigs feet, split
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons dark soy
1/2 cup dried oyster mushrooms
8 pods of star anise
1/4 cup palm sugar
1 large knob of ginger
2 stalks of lemon grass
2 shallots, sliced
1 head of garlic
3-4 Thai chili's
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1. place the head and feet in a large stock pot and cover with water by one inch.
2. add the rest of the ingredients minus the chili's and cilantro .
3. bring the water to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer, simmer for about 2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.
4. remove the head and feet from the stock and allow to cool. Remove all the anise, ginger, lemon grass and garlic, reserve all the cooking liquid and return it to the stock pot and reduce it down to about 2 cups.
5. When the head is cooled down enough to handle pluck the meat off the head and feet and set aside.
6. When you have reduced the liquid far enough pour about a 1/2 cup of the reduced liquid over the shredded meat and mix well.
7. finely dice the chili's and cilantro and add to the meat mixture.
8. Pack the meat into a terrine dish and set in the fridge over night to set. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Green Corn Tortillas

Last year my good friend Rick Edwards grew a bunch of Oaxacan Green Dent corn with the intent of grinding it and making grits and cornmeal. I made grits and I made cornmeal and corn bread and corn bread soup and corn meal tamales and more grits. I didn't even make a dent in the 45 pounds of shelled corn he gave me and my freezer is still packed with 2 pound bags of green corn kernels. I thought about making tortillas but the word Nixtamalization kept me from trying. 

Nixtamalization is a big word, a scary word and it intimidated me into thinking that I didn't want to try it. As it turns out Nixtamalization is harder to pronounce than it is to perform. The Nixtamal process is a way to process corn kernels to remove the outer shell of the corn and make Masa. Masa is the wet dough made from corn that is used to make tamales and tortillas. the process is ridiculously simple and not at all as intimidating as I thought it would be. Basically you soak the dried corn in an alkaline solution either wood ash or calcium hydroxide (lime). I used the lime as it was easier to get, a 1 pound bag cost about $2.50 and can be found in most stores with the canning supplies. 

For a 2 pound batch of dried corn you need to dissolve 1/4 cup of calcium hydroxide in 3 quarts of water. Then you add the corn and put it on the stove and bring it to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. I let mine sit in the fridge over night and the next morning I rinsed the corn in a colander and then put it back in the stock pot and filled it with cold water. using my hands I rubbed the corn for about 5 minutes and then rinsed it in the colander again. I repeated that process 7 or 8 times until all the little parts of skin were gone and the water I poured onto the corn was clear. That is pretty much it, at that point you basically have hominy and if you put the corn into a pot with water and salt and cook it for 30 minutes it puffs up slightly and is delicious and sweet.

If you want to continue the process and make Masa then you will need to grind the nixtamalized corn. This is where I had a problem. I have a mill for grinding corn but my mill only grinds dry corn and you need a special mill to grind the wet corn. I read everything I could and it seemed like I was shit out of luck until I read about using a food processor. It is possible to grind the wet corn in a food processor but apparently it doesn't do as good of a job as a masa mill. The first batch of corn I ground I kind of messed up because I added to much water to the processor. and the masa was to wet to form into balls so I had to add corn to dry it out a little and in doing that it didn't grind the kernels as fine as I wanted. On the second batch I ground the corn really well before adding any water and then slowly added water until the dough formed a ball in the food processor. This seemed to work really well and I ended up with a perfect masa that was all ready for making tortillas. I added a generous pinch of salt to the dough as I was processing it. 

To make the tortillas you just take a chunk of masa and roll it into a ball about the size of  a golf ball. Place the masa between two pieces of saran wrap and then press it flat. They sell tortilla presses and if you are going to be making a lot of tortillas I can see how they would be handy but they aren't mandatory. I made a dozen tortillas in about 10 minutes just using a book to press down on top of the ball of dough to flatten it. You could use a rolling pin as well. once the dough is flat all you have to do is cook the tortillas in a very lightly oiled pan for about 30 seconds on each side over medium high heat. 

The end result was hands down the best corn tortilla I have ever had. It was the perfect texture and the sweet nuttiness of the corn really stood out. I will most definitely be making a lot of tortillas in the future. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Northern Pike Quenelles In a Crayfish Cream Sauce

 There are very few fish that I enjoy catching as much as the Northern Pike. With every cast you never know what you rare going to get. You might get a strike as soon as the lure hits the water or you might get it right next to the boat. They attack with such speed and ferocity that you are never really ready for it. When I was kid at my Grandparents cabin on Leech Lake my grandmother would tell me to go down on the dock and practise my casting. I would take my old Diawa rod and reel and tie on an old school Red Devil spoon and cast it over and over off the dock. More of ten that not I would catch a Pike and then the fight was on. 

Here in Minnesota Walleye's are the king and it seems that people have forgotten how great catching Northerns can be. A lot of walleye fisherman will catch Pike while fishing walleyes and then throw them back. They claim that they are to bony or to fishy, or to slimy. Yes it is true that Northerns have an odd set of Y bones that make them more difficult to clean. But other than that they are just as good table fare as any other fish I have ever caught. 

The Y bones aren't a lot of fun to work around but there are a number of fillet techniques that help get rid of them. The five fillet method is one that I use regularly and it is pretty easy to learn and master. You can also prepare pike in many different ways that help eliminate the bones. Pickling pike is a great method of softening the bones so that you won't even know they are there. The French make Quenelles with is a dumpling of sorts where the grind the fish and press it through a tamis to help sift out the bones then mix the ground meat with a paste to make the quenelle. The large dumplings are then poached in salted water, drained and then baked in a cream sauce with Parmesan cheese. I have been wanting to make these quenelles for a long time but frankly I was intimidated by them and never tried. I really had nothing to be intimidated by French Pike Quenelles were not nearly as difficult as I had imagined they would be and after biting into the first quenelle I realized it would have been worth it even if it was as difficult as I had imagined.

This recipe is from Master the Art of French Cooking By Julia Child, it the book she states that even if you mess this up you can still use the batter by pouring it into souflee molds and making them to make Fish Mouse. A good Stand Mixer with a pastry attachment is needed. 

Quenelle De Lyon 

1 cup of water
1 tsp salt 
4 tablespoons of butter
1 cup sifted flour
2 whole eggs plus two egg whites
1 1/4 pound ground northern pike
a generous pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
4 tablespoons of heavy cream

Bring the water, slat and butter to a boil and then add the flour. Stirring quickly until the flour absorbs all the water and butter and you end up with a ball of dough. Transfer the dough to a stand mixer with the pastry attachment and turn on to medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time and the egg whites. Add the fish, nutmeg, salt and pepper and continue to mix until well combined. place the bowl and the mixture in the fridge to cool for about an hour. Place the bowl back on the mixer and then slowly add the heavy cream an ounce at a time to combine. When the cream is completely absorrbed into the paste you are ready to make the quenelle. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer being careful to not let it boil. using two large dessert spoons form the quenelle and drop the into the water. Quenelle is the shape and is used to describe the technique of making the shape out anything. the link shows how to make quenelle with ice cream but you will be using the fish paste. Once the quenelle are formed let them sit in the simmering water for for fifteen minutes then remove them and transfer them to a baking dish. 

For the sauce

1 quart crayfish stock (or other fish stock, chicken stock would work as well)
1 cup heavy cream

Place the stock in a sauce pan and reduce it down to about 1 cup then add the cream and bring to a light boil until it starts to thicken. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the quenelle in the baking dish and top with parmesan cheese. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and a light brown crust has formed on top.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ramp Salt

Ramps are hands down my favorite of all wild foragables. The power packed combination of garlic and onion gets me crazy excited to get out into the woods looking for them. Year after year I pick them and then try different methods to preserve them so I can use them all through out the year. In the past I have pickled them and made pesto's and Chimichurri and all of those are wonderful but I am always looking to find new ways to use them.

This year I had about a half pound left over after making my Chimichurri. A half pound isn't quite enough to do anything with so I was going to grill them and eat them. Then it occurred to me that maybe I should throw them in the dehydrator over night and see how the dry. They dried really well and looked awesome but then as soon as you touch them they started breaking apart. They were very brittle and wouldn't have held up very well so I tossed them in the food processor and pulsed them into a powder.

Initially I was thinking that I could take the powder and add it to pasta and make some kind of ramp pasta. The only problem was that the ramp powder only added up to about 1/4 cup. Then it hit me, I could just add the ramp powder to salt and make a ramp salt to use through out the year. The very first thing I had to do was use it on a venison steak and it was perfect. I am going to try grilling some northern pike in the next couple of weeks and want to season those pike with ramp salt.

Ramp Salt

1/4 cup died ramp powder
1 cup kosher salt

Mix thoroughly and enjoy. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ramp Beignet's with Ramp Green Goddess Dressing

Ramps are easily my favorite wild foragable. I look forward to heading out into searching for ramps the same way I do for deer. Luckily ramps will come back every year in the same area as long as you don't over pick them. so once you find a couple of different spots you can go right back to them year after year. I have 6-7 spots that I hit up every spring to pick them and usually only pick about 3 pounds a year. That way I can have some immediately and then have some to preserve and keep throughout the rest of the year. 

I just made five pints of ramp and sorrel chimichurri that I will be able to use all year long and a couple of small containers of ramp pesto that will get used up as well. I may hav eto go back out and get some more so I can pickle some ramps as well. 

These little ramp beignets are something I have been wanting to try for a while. Emeril Lagasse makes a savory beignet in a couple of his cookbooks and I have loved them so making one with ramps seemed a perfect fit for me. THe addition of the Ramp green goddess dressing hits these out of the park. The beignets ar light and crunchy and the inside is warm and packed full of ramp goodness. 

Each Batch makes between 12-15 beignets depending on how big you make them. My wife and kids devoured this first batch and I almost didn't get to take any pictures. 

Ramp Beignets

2 cups roughly chopped ramps, leaves and stems
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 egg plus one yolk
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Heat the butter in a large pan until melted and hot. Add the ramps and cook until the largest chunks of ramp are soft, season with salt and pepper. Combine the other ingredients in a large bowl until completely combined. Add the ramps to the batter and stir until well mixed. In a large pot or fryer heat oil to 350 degrees. Using a spoon drop large spoonfuls of the batter into the hot oil and fry until golden brown.

Ramp Green Goddess Dressing

1 cup mayo
1 cup greek yogurt
1 cup of chopped ramps, Leaves and stems combined
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until smooth and creamy.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nettle Agnolotti with Ramp and Ricotta Filling

One of my favorite parts of spring used to be one of my least favorite parts. Stinging nettles have always been a nuisance to me and then I taught myself how to pick them and eat them. Now they are one of my favorite things. The only problem with them now is that once they get to big they lose some of their edibility. They get a little woody and aren't as delicious.

So how do you keep the young tender nettles so you can make nettle pastas and gnocchi through out the summer. The answer is to freeze them. I recently picked about a pound and a half of nettles and after rinsing them and drying them off I sauteed them in butter with a little salt and pepper then threw them in the blender to puree them. Once pureed I poured them into ice cube trays and froze them. I measured it out and 3 1/2 cubes is about equal to 1/2 a cup. Now I can have my nettle pastas all through out the year.

I have eaten nettles in dozens of different ways, I have made nettle soup and have used nettles to make chimichurri and pesto. I have even made a nettle beer that tasted pretty good. But my all time favorite thing to do with nettles is to make gnocchi and pasta. Not only does it give you a beautiful looking pasta but it adds a distinctive and wonderful flavor. The flavor of the pasta is so good in fact that you don't really need to sauce it at all. Just a toss in brown butter and a light sprinkle of Parmesan and you are good to go.

These little agnolotti are surprisingly simple to make, they do require a pasta roller but you can pick up a decent hand cranked pasta roller for about 30 bucks. After you make the dough you feed it through you roller until you get a thin piece about 4 inches wide and 2-3 feet long. then you pipe the filling out onto the pasta. For piping it out I use a one gallon Ziploc bag and cut one corner off so you can squeeze your filling out onto the pasta. Then all you have to do is roll the pasta over the filling until you have one long tube. then using your fingers press the pasta down about every inch or so to make the individual agnolotti. Cut the pieces with a knife and then crimp the two open sides with a fork. 

You will end up with these beautiful little pillows of pasta and filling. For these I had been out trout fishing and found some Ramps (wild onions) so I sauteed a cup of ramp leaves and chopped them fine and mixed that with ricotta and Parmesan to make the filling. After cooking the agnolotti I tossed them with some brown butter, a tablespoon of lemon juice and some capers and topped them with some grated Parmesan. They were absolutely fabulous.

Nettle Pasta

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. You can make the agnolotti or you can make any other variety of pasta. 

For the filling

1 cup sauteed ramp leaves (roughly chopped)
1 cup ricotta 
1/4 cup grated Parmesan. 

combine all the ingredients and you are all set to make ravioli or agnolotti or tortellini.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Chicken Fried Venison Steaks

There are very few meals that make me as happy as chicken fried steak. It doesn't matter if its breakfast, lunch or dinner I love chicken fried steak. Even shitty chicken fried steak is good. This has been my go to meal for just about every hangover I have ever had. It is also my grab a bite after the bar go to as well. You can find it on almost every diner menu and it never changes. I have been trying to make a really good wild game version of chicken fried steak for about 10 years now and this is probably my best effort to date. In the past I have tried duck breast and elk heart but a perfect pieces of white-tail deer really can't be beat.

 I grew up eating a similar dish my grandmother used to make, fried round steak is great but doesn't have the same crunchy breading on the outside. The round steak isn't pounded out either so it isn't as tender. These venison steaks that I pounded to about a 1/4 inch thick were fork tender. This is always a crowd pleaser and I never seem to cook enough it always disappears fast. Served up with some pan gravy mashed potatoes and last years canned beans this is one of my favorite meals.

Chicken Fried Venison

4 venison steaks pound to about a 1/4 thickness
1 cup all purpose flour
3 eggs
seasoned salt
Canola oil for frying

Pound the steaks and then season them with the seasoned salt. Add a teaspoon of the seasoned salt to the beat eggs and the flour. Dredge the steaks in the seasoned flour and then into the eggs and then back into the flour. Shake off the excess and then set them aside for five minutes before frying to let the breading set. Pour enough oil into the pan to give you a 1/4 inch depth and heat the oil over medium heat. Fry the steaks for 4-5 minutes on each side making sure your oil isn't to hot and burn the breading. After frying set the steaks aside to make the gravy.

For the gravy 

1/4 cup of oil
1/4 cup of the left over seasoned flour
salt and pepper

Pour off the excess oil leaving about a 1/4 cup in the pan, add a 1/4 cup of the seasoned flour to the pan and stir until the four and oil are combined. slowly add milk while stirring constantly adding a little milk at a time. the gravy will thicken and clump. Keep adding milk a little bit at a time until you get the consistency of gravy you want. When the gravy is just right season with salt and pepper.

serve with mashed potatoes and beans or with hashbrowns and eggs.