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Monday, December 21, 2009

Oven Roasted Stuffed Porchetta

Sorry I've been gone for so long! I keep thinking I'll write up this recipe or that recipe. But it all seems boring. I know there have been a million people that wrote up their recipe for gyoza or lasagna. How is mine special? This time I'll write something great ... something everyone will look up. I know ... Porchetta!!!!

So our group of school friend decided to have a holiday party with gift exchange this year. And of course I think of this as my opportunity to try a new recipe! And since one of my girlfriends was going on and on about how she wants a porchetta recipe, I decided, why not? Everything is findable on the internet. But not really ... I found maybe two recipes online (in English, I bet there are a ton in Italian!). Everyone was reviewing the famous place in the East Village, NYC called Porchetta ... But no one really making it. Its pretty expensive to buy ... $10 for a sandwich. Luckily the meat used for this roast is an inexpensive cut. These guys are making a killing! I should open a porchetta store ... though somehow I don't think a Japanese making porchetta would be considered authentic to any of my potential customers!

Our holiday dinner was a feast as always!

Oven Roasted Stuffed Porchetta Recipe
Serves 18

1 T butter or olive oil
1/3 fennel bulb, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 head garlic, chopped
1/4 pound ground pork
1/3 pound chicken livers, soaked in milk 2 hrs, veins removed, chopped fine*
1 bunch sage leaves, chopped
1/2 bunch rosemary, minced
1/3 cup currents
splash of white wine
salt and pepper to taste but should be aggressive

13 pound pork shoulder, bones removed and butterflied with skin in tact

kitchen twine

2-3 days before planning to roast the porchetta, make the stuffing. Saute fennel, onion, shallot, and garlic over medium high heat until translucent but not browned. Add ground pork and chicken livers and continue cooking until everything is cooked, but not browned. Turn heat to low and mix in sage, rosemary, currents, and white wine until incorporated and not too wet. Salt and pepper this mixture. The flavor should be aggressive. Set aside and allow the mixture to cool.

Take the pork shoulder and score the skin and fat so it is easy to cut the cracklings when it is done roasting. Turn the roast over, and aggressively salt and pepper the inside of the roast, massaging the seasoning into the pork. Then place the stuffing in a nice even layer, leaving a one inch margin so the roast can easily be rolled and tied without the stuffing falling out. Roll the roast up. Using kitchen twine, tie up the roast. Starting from the center, very tightly tie up the roast. Then tie up a couple more times on either side of the center. Additionally tie up the length of the roast.

Allow the roast to marinate for 2-3 days in the in the frig.

The day you are roasting the porchetta, remove the pork from the frig two hours prior to roasting. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place porchetta in oven, skin side up. Allow to roast for approximately 30 minutes per pound (weight after the bones have been removed) until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 160-165F. It could take less time with a large roast such as my approximately 10 pound final weight pork shoulder. It took about 4 1/2 hours, so please periodically check the temperature of your roast. It does not need basting, since there is a large fat layer around the pork and the crackling skin needs to be dry to harden and crisp up. Remove the roast from the oven when it reaches the proper temperature of 160F and allow it to rest at least 30 minutes to let it redistribute all the juices. To slice, remove crackling first, and slice extremely thin. The thinner the better!

*Before this party, I had a bit of a dilemma with the roast. Originally got a much smaller roast, so I told my friend I'd make chicken liver pate so we'd have an appetizer. She answered "ew! I'm so not going to eat it!" I told her she's be surprised, she might like chicken livers and not know it. Most people just don't prepare chicken livers properly. Anyways, at the party she was going on and on about how much she loved the stuffing. I snickered and told her the stuffing is half chicken liver! She doesn't like being proven wrong!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Essex Restaurant and Sugar Sweet Sunshine Cupcakes

So a couple of you readers can tell by my blog that I always seek out good deals (read: poor and frugal) ... Some of my readers that actually know me in real life and are probably students much like me. With my graduate student stipend going up slower than inflation, my pay is less and less every year, so going out to a decent dinner, much less any dinner is a stretch for me considering I'm saving to attend at least two destination weddings next year (so far), one of which I'm a bridesmaid in. But eating at home gets pretty boring ... Come on, let's be honest, no matter how many different recipes we try from different countries, it kinda all tastes like my cooking! I can make Italian or Japanese, and it tastes like my cooking ... Ha ha! Even my boyfriend admits if I gave a bunch of my friends a recipe, and we all made the same thing, he would be able to tell which one I cooked ...

So anyways, the point to this little speech is ... I DO go out to dinner sometimes. I love eating out. I love the atmosphere of it. It doesn't hurt that I don't have to do a sinkful of dishes either! I hate dishes!

One of my favorite little outings is one I do with my very close friend from graduate school (well, she's actually a postdoc). We hike all the way down to the LES, which is a good 45 minute to one hour train ride from my lab. First we hit Sugar Sweet Sunshine for the best cupcakes in NYC. Oh, please don't tell me you're a fan of the dry cupcakes at Magnolia! And then Essex Restaurant.

Sugar Sweet Sunshine is a little bake shop in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, NYC. Their decor is just so warm and inviting with comfy couches and little tables. But their real draw is their super moist cupcakes. My all-time favorite is their Pistachio cupcake. I can just order 4 of these for a full box and be happy! My second favorite is their pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese frosting. And then its the Sexy Red Velvet with their "the Moose" frosting. Though sometimes their Red Velvet is a bit dry. One of my other school friends likes the Lemon Yummy. Sometimes I'm in the mood for their yellow cake. Their frostings aren't as buttery as Magnolia, but the cake is way moister plus there are more flavors to choose from. BTW, if anyone has an awesome moist recipe for pistachio cupcakes, please let me know. I've seen a couple recipes, maybe I should actually try one. I even bought a box of pistachio pudding mix to try one, but never got around to it ...

Next we hit Essex Restaurant for dinner. Actually, we just order cupcakes, not eat them, and then have them for dessert after Essex. Why do I love Essex so much? Why do I travel one hour on the train to get all the way down here just to eat here? First of all, they have this unreal $16 lobster deal on Wednesdays. A lobster with two sides for $16! They have other daily specials including $1 oysters (Mon and Th) and unlimited mussels $16 (Wed).

Then there's the fact they have happy hour with half priced drinks from 6-9pm Monday through Thursday. So I can get a Stoli tonic or decent glass of wine for only $5! And, to top it off, if I'm I decide to go Sunday through Tuesday for dinner, I can use Restaurant.com to get a $25 Gift certificate (must spend at least $35 on food) there for only $10. But generally they have a discount code. So currently its 70% off, so you can get a $25 Gift Certificate for $3. So if you calculate this out, you can get a $35 for only $13! Plus whatever drinks you decide to have. Its a great deal. Just so you know, Restaurant.com also has GC to other restaurants, but sometimes they don't let you use them. I think restaurants use it as a ploy to get you in the door and then you're too embarrassed to leave, so you just end up eating there. So, If I were you, I'd call before you buy the certificate, because this has happened to me twice already. I've never had a problem at Essex Restaurant. The only thing is you can not use the gift certificate/coupon for their daily specials, which means you can't use it for the $16 lobster deal.

As for recommendations at Essex other than their lobster deal:
warm goat cheese salad with roasted beets, walnuts & arugala $7
fried calamari with habañero-avocado dip $8
jumbo lump crabcake over hearts of palm salad $10
braised short ribs & polenta in a porcini mushroom sauce $11
herbed Colorado lamb chops over sautéed spinach & ricotta gnocchi $21
manchego macaroni & cheese with edamame, haricot vert & citrus salad $12

Sugar Sweet Sunshine
126 Rivington Street
New York, NY 10002-2300
(212) 995-1960

Essex Restaurant
120 Essex Street
New York, NY 10002-3211
(212) 533-9616

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Herb Brined Turkey

Why do I brine my turkey? Because the first time I ever liked white meat turkey was a turkey brined by my friend's mom almost a decade back. This was the first time I ever heard of brining a turkey. Sure I heard of extracting compounds in a brine solution ... Sorry, I used to work in an organic chemistry lab! Brining is all the rage now. You can even buy a ready brined turkey ... But really you don't want to buy a brined turkey becausing brining a turkey is not that hard and the cost of pre-brined turkey is ridiculous.

(If you hate science skip this paragraph! If you like to think of yourself as a nerd, please continue reading!)
So how does brining work? You soak your turkey in a solution of sugar and salt. The sugar and salt move from region of high concentration (the brining solution) to lower concentration (your turkey). Salt which is a ionic (very polar) molecule holds onto water very tightly (slightly polar), keeping water in your turkey. This is one reason you don't want to buy a brined turkey. Not only are you paying twice as much for the same turkey, you're paying extra for the water that plumped up your turkey from the brine solution. So then you throw your turkey into a hot oven, which cooks your bird, but also causes the water in your turkey to evaporate. If you have a brined bird, not only do you have more water to start with in your turkey, its harder to evaporate the water because salt in your turkey likes to hold on to those water molecules due to a phenomenom called boiling point elevation. Therefore, less dry turkey! And don't forget that salt can denature proteins, which works to make the turkey more tender. With all these benefits, why wouldn't you brine your turkey?

This year was our biggest Thanksgiving party yet. Over 20 guests! We had a large turkey last year, but even with brining I thought it could have been a moister turkey, so we decided to two small turkeys this year. I bought this KitchenAid Roasting Pan from Amazon thinking it was larger than it was but the dimensions listed on their site is for the box, not the pan itself. Luckily it barely fit the two almost 10 pound turkeys. The only problem is you have to turn your turkeys part way cuz the inside facing legs need more heat.

Recipe for Herb Brined Turkey
Loosely based on this recipe from Epicurious

Brining solution (for each turkey)
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
4 cups water
3 cups cool water
2 quarts ice
2-3 T black peppercorns
1 lemon
small bunch of thyme (6-10 stems)
small bunch of sage (5-10 leaves on their stems)

Up to 20 pound turkey (I used two 10 pound turkeys)
2 trash bags
extra ice
freezer packs
brining box if it doesn't fit in your frig

2 carrots, cut in half
2 celery stalks, cut in thirds
1 head garlic, cut in half so all the cloves are exposed
bunch of thyme
bunch of sage
1 onion, cut in half
1/2 lemon
1/2 stick butter
olive oil (optional)
1 quart chicken broth or white wine or water

To brine your turkey:
Remove neckbone (usually found in the cavity, up the butt) and keep to make stock for Turkey Sage Gravy. Remove bag with the gizzards (usually found where the head was, up into the breast). Take plastic handcuffs off the turkey. Place ice or freeze packs on bottom of brining box. Line with two trash bags.

Mix in salt, sugar, peppercorns, lemon with 4 cups of water over low heat until dissolved. Add 3 cups of cool water to cool down. Once this is cooled, add 2 quarts of ice. Place turkey, breast side down, in the double lined trash bags. Place the sage and thyme inside the cavity of the turkey. Pour the brine solution into the container. Make sure there isn't air inside the cavity by tilting the turkey so air can escape. Tie up the bags so there is little to no air in the trash bags. Place more ice and/or ice packs on top. Brine for 12-24 hours. Check turkey every 4-6 hours to make sure the brine is still cold. Change ice or ice packs if necessary.

To roast turkey:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove turkey from brine. Allow it to drain. Pat dry. Place on roasting rack. Tie legs together and tuck the wing tips. Place carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, sage, onion, and lemon into the cavity of your turkey. I also placed some of this into the neck area cavity. Loosen the skin in the breast area, and place a pat of butter with a sage leaf into this area (this will help keep the breast moist and flavorful). Drizzle whole turkey with some of the butter melted or some olive oil. I covered the breast area with some foil to keep it from cooking as quickly since it tends to get dry more easily than the thigh meat. Place in oven, do not touch for one hour. Remove foil and baste with melted butter every 20-30 minutes until you are out of butter. Next baste with chicken broth, white wine, or water every 20-30 minutes until you use up the liquids. Then baste with the drippings until the turkey is done. Here is a turkey roasting time calculator to get an idea of approximately how long your turkey needs to roast. If you have two turkeys like I did, turn your turkeys at what would most likely be your halfway mark timewise, otherwise the dark meat facing the inside of the pan will be underdone while the outward facing dark meat will be overdone.* I have seen various recommendations of internal temperature, but the original recipe says 175 degrees F in the thigh as acceptable. Another article tested 28 ways of roasting a turkey and they concluded that 165 degrees F gives the best turkey.

Once the turkey is done to a temperature of you liking. Remove from oven and allow it to rest at least 30 minutes under a tent of foil. This will allow the juices to redistribute into the turkey. It also gives you time to throw in your millions of sides into the oven that was hogged by your turkey!

*I actually had to re-roast part of the dark meat because I turned it too late.

Monday, November 23, 2009

5th Annual Thanksgiving Dinner

I've noticed as I've gotten older, its been harder for me to make new friends. Maybe I've become too set in my ways. Or maybe I'm just too satisfied with the friends I already have. As I've mentioned before I moved to New York a little over 6 years ago. I thought making new friends here would be as easy as it was when I lived in Japan back when I was 20 years old. Don't get me wrong, people out here are very friendly and always wanting to go out. Most of New York City is populated by transplants, so we all want to make new friends here. But there is a big difference between someone that wants to go get a drink with you every night and someone you know you'll keep in touch with for years to come ... someone that is like family to you in this big overpopulated lonely city called New York.

In the early years of grad school, we hung out almost every night. The stress of being in grad school can really only be understood by someone else in the same boat. And so we may have all started as a group of people that drank together every night, but we evolved into a small family. As the years have passed, we've all gotten more busy. Our gatherings have dwindled down to big events like departmental retreat, weddings, and engagement parties. The one big event that always brings us together is our annual Thanksgiving Dinner held the Sunday before real Thanksgiving. This is highly anticipated event for us. We take days to prepare. I usually do shopping on Friday night, brine the turkey and other prep on Saturday, and then the actual dinner on Sunday. All my friends are excellent cooks. Science benchwork is so similar to cooking, you shouldn't be surprised how good everyone is. Its so good, we all think our group Thanksgiving outdoes our own family Thanksgiving dinners.

Recipes to come

Warm Spinach Artichoke Dip
Marinated Mushrooms
Deviled Eggs

Herb Brined Turkey
Turkey Rollatini Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms
Sage Gravy
Spiked Cranberry Sauce with Apples
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes with Candied Pecans and lots of Marshmallows
Peas with Bacon and Onions
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
Cornbread Stuffing
Bread Stuffing with Sausage
4 Cheese Mac and Cheese with Bacon
Glazed Carrots
Green Bean Casserole with Shitake Mushrooms
Corn Casserole
Broccoli and Cheese Casserole

Pumpkin Bread
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Pumpkin Pie
Blackberry Pie

And of course plenty of wine!
Cheers to my New York family!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pasta with a Spicy Peanut Sauce

Peanut butter is one of those things, you either love it or you hate it. And the funny thing is, these people that love it or hate it usually love it or hate it for the exact same reason ... because they ate it everyday as a child for lunch! What American didn't eat PBJ sandwiches as a kid? I qualify it as "American" since I'm starting to realize some of my blogging audience is not American.

Speaking of Americans and peanut butter. When my BF lived in Japan for a year, he made sure to take a huge container of PB with him. He knew it'd be difficult and expensive to get ahold of his beloved Skippy while he was out there. Although his Japanese is quite fluent with very little accent, he could still shock his Japanese friends and colleagues with his American-ness. And of course his love for PBJ sandwiches was a dead giveaway he wasn't "one of them" ... Though, I get this feeling his love for natto might have tricked them into thinking he was actually Japanese! (I love natto too!) You rarely meet a non-Japanese that loves this stuff. According to Anthony Bourdain its the vegemite of Japan!

Anyways, I've been trying to clean out the frig of random leftover ingredients. I had some napa cabbage, onions, carrots, scallions in the frig ... a chicken thigh in the freezer ... we always have a ton of pasta in our cabinets ... and of course PEANUT BUTTER! So I threw together this chicken pasta with a spicy peanut butter sauce.

Recipe for Pasta with Spicy Peanut Sauce

1/2 pound of a thin spaghetti
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 chicken thigh, cut into bitesized chunks*
1/2 cup napa cabbage, thinly sliced
3 small carrots, cut into batons
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 T hoisin sauce
2 T sugar
2 T sake
2 T mirin
1 t soy sauce
1 T roasted sesame oil
2 T sesame seeds
red pepper flakes to taste
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Before draining the pasta, keep a cup of the pasta water for later use.

Using the large pot you boiled your pasta in, saute the onions, garlic, and chicken in sesame oil over high heat. After the chicken is cooked, turn the heat down to medium, and add the napa cabbage and carrots**. Mix in the peanut butter, hoisin sauce, sugar, sake, mirin, soy sauce, additional sesame oil, sesame seeds, and red pepper flakes. The sauce will be pretty thick. Taste it to check the flavor, adjust to your liking. Turn the heat to low, and add the pasta and pasta water until it is at a consistency you prefer. If the sauce is still too thick to mix, add more water. Make sure to check the flavor since it will get watered down by the pasta and water. Turn off heat and serve with more red pepper flakes and chopped scallions. I usually love cilantro, but since this was a frig clean out, I didn't have any! But please add some if you enjoy cilantro.

*This can easily be made a vegetarian meal by not adding chicken or replacing it with a firm tofu.
**I add these later because I prefer these veggies tender crisp.