Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pineapple Shrimp Salad

Welcome to Fantasy Island, Mon!

     You can find salad presentations like this half pineapple bowl in the caribbean, Florida, Tahiti, Hawaii, Mexico and of course Las Vegas.  Las Vegas?  Las Vegas is not exactly in the tropics, but I happen to live hear and I am a long time tropical cuisine chef.  
     I spent about 15 years cooking in the tropics.  I must admit that there are two types of cuisine wherever there are white sand beaches.  There is tourist food and there is the food that the locals eat.  Some of the tourist food does appeal to the locals.  This style of pineapple shrimp salad appeals to everyone!
     I really do not like popcorn shrimp!  They are precooked in brine and they practically have no flavor. I prefer doing things the right way.  Large 16/20 count per pound shrimp in a pineapple salad create a much better presentation.  The texture is better with large shrimp too, because popcorn shrimp cause a salad like this to be too dense.  
     Pineapple salads should be made to order, because the pineapple pieces leak juice into the salad after setting for a short time.  Mayonnaise is the dressing for this salad, but not much mayonnaise is required.  The juices from the pineapple will thin the mayonnaise when the salad ingredients are tossed together.
     In hot tropical kitchens that are located in busy tourist areas, the pace of the cooking is fast and furious.  Everything is made quickly.  Basic items are prepared ahead of time, but salads like this stuffed pineapple are prepared to order.  That means that splitting the pineapple, trimming the points off of the leaves and cutting a bowl are done blazingly fast, with no mistakes.  
     I made the salad in the pictures from scratch in just over four minutes.  While the shrimp poach, the pineapple and vegetables can be prepared.  Four minutes is fast, but keep in mind that I have made a few thousand of these pineapple shrimp salads in my lifetime.  In the tropics, food is prepared quickly, so the threat of airborne pathogens and spoilage is minimized.  In the tropics, raw seafood can spoil in 20 minutes if it is not chilled.  A different set of health code standards apply in tropical regions.

     Poached Szechuan Pepper Shrimp:
     Heat a pot over high heat.
     Add 4 cups of water.
     Add sea salt.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 8 Szechuan peppercorns.
     When the water come to a boil, add 1/2 pound of peeled and deveined large shrimp.  (Remove the tails.)
     Poach the shrimp, till they become fully cooked.  (About 3 to 4 minutes)
     Cool the shrimp under cold running water.
     Drain the water off of the shrimp and discard the Szechuan peppercorns.
     Set the poached shrimp aside.
     Pineapple Bowl:  
     Split 1 whole pineapple in half lengthwise and keep the leaves attached.
     Use kitchen shears to trim the sharp points off of the leaves.
     Cut a small flat spot on the bottom of the pineapple rind, so the pineapple will be stable on a plate.
     Place the pineapple on a cutting board with the cut open side facing up.
     Use a paring knife to cut a bowl shape in the pineapple, so the bowl has a 1/4" thick rim.
     Cut 2 vertical slices on both sides of the pineapple core, but do not cut through the rind.
     Use a spatula or spoon to pry and pop the pineapple fruit out of the pineapple bowl.  
     Set the two fruit wedges aside.
     Use a paring knife to cut under the pineapple core.  
     Remove the core.
     Trim the fruit off of the core and discard the core.
     Set the pineapple bowl aside.

     Pineapple Shrimp Salad Recipe:
     Cut the pineapple fruit into bite size pieces.
     Place the pineapple fruit into a mixing bowl.
     Add the poached shrimp.
     Add 1 tablespoon of thin sliced celery.
     Add 2 tablespoons of small bite size pieces of red bell pepper.
     Add 1 tablespoon of coarsely chopped bermuda onion. 
     Add 1 tablespoon of toasted shelled sunflower seeds.
     Add 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro.
     Add 1 small pinch of ground celery seed.
     Add 1 small pinch of allspice.
     Add 1 small pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise.
     Toss the ingredients together.
     Place the pineapple shrimp salad into the pineapple bowl.
     Set the stuffed pineapple on a plate.
     Garnish the pineapple with cilantro sprigs.
     Garnish the plate with bias sliced green onion.

     Cool, refreshing, tropical, fresh and delicious!  This pineapple shrimp salad is a pleasure to eat and to look at.  Yum Mon! 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mango Chat Masala Cured Bacon and Belgian Endive BLT Sandwich

A nice simple seven day cure bacon with an exotic flavor!

     Usually I do not get excited about bacon.  Many of the students at chef school think that bacon is like some kind of a prized possession.  They actually get excited about bacon.  That is the sign of a very green cook!  
     The basic duty of regular high volume breakfast cooking is the first step in becoming a good line cook.  Fast pace breakfast cooking in a restaurant is the very best way for a cook to develop good hand speed and coordination.  Food order ticket reading or dupe reading skills become sharp when cooking breakfast too.
     One thing that a good breakfast cook does, is to prepare plenty of food before the shift starts.  Backup containers of every item on the cooking line are prepared, chilled and ready for easy access, for when a container runs empty during a business rush.  Bacon is usually blanched on parchment paper on a grill or in an oven, so it shrinks less and so it takes half the time to cook, when things get busy.  Some very busy breakfast cooks prefer to cook the bacon till it is three quarters finished cooking ahead of time, so it can be finished simply by reheating.
     How much bacon is cooked ahead of time?  Lots!  Ten to twenty cases of bacon are partially cooked ahead of time for an average shift in a busy breakfast restaurant.  The bacon grease vapor saturates a cook's hair, clothes, skin and taste senses.  Everybody knows that a cook is a breakfast cook, because the cook smells like bacon!  After a while, cooks get to the point where they never want to see bacon again as long as they live.
     Some bacon is better than others, but the choices are rather slim.  Applewood or hickory smoked bacon are about the only two smoked bacon choices.  Varieties of salt cured bacon are the norm.  Dry cured bacon is available too.  Maple or black forest flavored bacon are about the only choices for flavored bacon in most grocery stores.  As you can see, the choices of commercially available bacon can get old and boring.     

     Salt Cured Bacon Information:
     Home cooks can safely use a refrigerated salt curing method to create new flavors of cured bacon, without worrying about spoilage.  After curing, the bacon can be sliced and frozen or smoked over a low temperature.  Salt cured bacon does have a limited shelf life, so the bacon should be consumed or frozen for later use, within a few days of when the salt curing process is completed.   
     Smoking the salt cured bacon is an option, but it is not required.  Before smoking, the bacon needs to be left uncovered in refrigerated air for 24 hours, so a film of patina forms.  I do not recommend the patina method for home cooks that are new to smoking bacon, because the health department does not approve of that old method.  Just smoke the salt cured bacon after the curing process is complete and smoke the bacon like a regular piece of pork or beef.    
     Dry seasonings, dried ground fruit powders, exotic spice mixes and exotic salts can be used to create tasty custom creative salt cured bacon flavors!  
     Fresh herbs, fresh spices and highly perishable seasoning mixtures should be avoided when curing bacon with food safety in mind.  Many infused oils are actually highly perishable and they should not be used in a curing process.
     Acidic ingredients may cause an unwanted pickling effect.  Orange peel is better for curing than orange juice!
     Soy sauce is an easy curing ingredient, if you like asian flavors.  Fermented processed sauces like soy sauce or hot sauce are okay.  
     Honey is a natural preservative and it can be added to a curing mixture, if you wish to cut back on the amount of sugar.  Raw sugar or brown sugar can also be used.  Maple, pomegranate syrup or agave syrup can be used as a sweetener too.  
     A gravlax curing salt and sugar proportion is also good for curing bacon.  The bacon will never taste salty if the gravlax proportion is used.
     Kosher salt burns meat less than sea salt does.  Sea salt is better for flavoring than it is for curing.  I used a small proportion of Himalayan Black Salt in my mango bacon curing mixture just to add an interesting flavor.  The high sulfur and mineral content of Himalayan salt actually aids in protecting the meat from pathogens.    
     No nitrates or color enhancers are needed for a seven day salt cure, if the bacon is cooked shortly after curing or frozen for later use.  Salt is the oldest of all preservatives known to mankind, but it does have its limits, so make use of the bacon shortly after it is cured! 
     The cured bacon can be thin sliced like store bought bacon.  A slab of bacon can be roasted whole and then sliced.  Thick bite size pieces can be cut, then grill, boiled or roasted.  
     Pork Belly:
     Choose a good fresh clean piece of pork belly!  Salt curing will not save meat that is already going bad!  That is a mistake that some people make.
     It is not necessary to cure a whole side of pork belly when making bacon.  I only cured a 5" wide slab of pork belly that weighed about 1 1/3 pounds.  Butchers will cut pork belly to any requested size.  The pork belly skin must be removed before curing.  
     The cure will only saturate the slab of pork belly from the outside in.  An ice pick, skewer or thin boning knife can be used to poke several tiny holes toward the center of a pork belly slab, so the salt cure mixture can saturate the middle of the slab and not just the outer edges.
     A large zip lock plastic bag is best for containing the curing mixture after it liquifies.  It is best to put the plastic bag inside of another container, in case the plastic bag leaks.
     For a first attempt at creating a custom flavored cure, go small.  Use a section of skinned pork belly that weighs 1 to 2 pounds.  A 5" wide slab of skinned pork belly is good for this recipe.

     Mango Chat Masala Cured Pork Belly Bacon:
     Himalayan black salt is not really black in color.  It looks milky pink or milky orange colored.  It is used in North Indian, Sri Lanka and Nepalese cuisine.  Himalayan salt can be found at Indian markets.
     Chat Masala is Indian 14 spice mix and it is used to flavor many desserts.  Chat masala contains cardamom, ginger, mango powder, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, peppercorn and a few other warm dessert spices that are perfect for a bacon flavor.  Ground dried mango powder and chat masala can be found in Indian markets.
     Mix 2 parts sugar with 1 part Kosher salt.  Mix about 1 1/2 cups for a 5" wide slab of pork belly.  Any curing mixture that is leftover can be saved for later use.
     Place the pork belly on a small roasting pan, to catch the excess curing ingredients that fall off.
     Thoroughly coat the entire small slab of pork belly with the salt and sugar curing mixture.  
     Note:  For the flavorings, just season like you would a regular piece of meat!  A large amount of spice is not necessary, because the meat will be in contact with the flavored cure for seven days.
     Season the small pork belly slab with a few generous pinches of Himalayan black salt. 
     Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of powdered dried mango evenly over the pork belly.
     Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of chat masala over the pork belly.
     Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper over the pork belly.
     No black pepper or white pepper is needed!  Both of those peppers are part of the chat masala spice mixture.
     Place the seasoned, salted and sugared small pork belly slab into a large zip lock bag.
     Scrape the seasoning and salt that fell off of the pork belly into the catch pan together and place it into the zip lock bag with the pork belly.  
     Add 1 extra tablespoon of Kosher salt to the bag to ensure a healthy salt curing level.
     Press the excess air out of the zip lock bag and seal the bag.
     Place the bag into a container, in case it leaks.
     Write the curing start time and date and finish time and date down and keep it in plain sight.
     Once every 12 hours, pick the bag up and shake it, so the brine evenly coats the meat.  Flip the meat, so the same side is not always facing down.
     The outer pork meat should darken to a beef like color after 4 to 5 days of curing.  
     Open the bag once a day and check the aroma.  There should be no hint of decay or contamination in the odor.  If the meat becomes badly discolored or if there is a foul odor, then discard the meat.
     By 7 days you should have a nicely cured piece of pork belly.
     Remove the pork belly from the bag and pat it dry with a clean dry towel.
     Cut 7 to 10 thin slices of bacon for this recipe
     Consume the freshly cured bacon within a few days or portion the remaining bacon and freeze it for later use.
     Mango Chat Masala Cured Bacon and Belgian Endive BLT Sandwich:
     Heat a saute pan or griddle over medium/medium low heat.
     Place ten thin slices of the Mango Chat Masala Cured Bacon in the pan.
     Grill the bacon on both sides, till it becomes crisp, lightly browned and fully cooked.
     Place the bacon strips on a roasting screen on a pan to drain of the excess grease.
     Toast 2 slices of whole grain wheat bread.
     Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on the toast.  (optional)
     Place a layer of trimmed Belgian Endive lettuce on one slice of the toasted bread.
     Place a few thin slices of ripe beefsteak tomato on the lettuce.  (Beefsteak tomatoes are rather big and they have a great tomato flavor!)
     Place the crispy cooked Mango Chat Masala Cured Bacon slices on the tomato.
     Place the top slice of bread on the sandwich.
     Cut the BLT in half and place it on a plate.
     Garnish the plate with a sliced peach or a fruit of your choice.
     Serve with an ice cold Mexican beer like Modelo or a beverage of your choice!

     Ah!  Just what the doctor ordered!  A great BLT made with great tasting home made exotic cured bacon!  An ice cold Mexican lager beer!  Yay!  
     This is a safe curing method to try.  A piece of raw uncured meat can sit in a refrigerator for 7 days with no problem, so a 7 day cure is well within a safe food handling range.  If you follow the guidelines and recipe, your Mango Chat Masala Cured Bacon should turn out to be really good.  Yum!  ...  Shawna                    

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tacchino Panini with Balsamic Sun Dried Tomato Pesto, Garlic Arugula and Provolone

Not your average panini!

     I decided to really double the level of flavor when I made this panini.  I wanted to create a turkey panini with bold flavors that would be perfect for a bar snack sandwich.  
     Panini sandwiches originated as bar snack food in Milan Italy.  As you can imagine, Italian bar owners do take great pride in their snack food.  The last Italian restaurant that I worked in was a family style place.  The bar and lounge was very popular for NY Jets football fans.  The owner would personally make fine focaccia snack bread with many different traditional Italian toppings for the patrons.  Those olive oil saturated focaccia snacks were mouth watering great tasting bar favors!
     A Haitian cook at the restaurant, who was a bit naive, asked the owner why he did not offer sandwiches to the patrons as bar favors.  The Italian owner replied by saying "You mean panini?  Panini is Milano bar food.  We are from Napoli!"  I just laughed, because I knew better than to ask that question.  Italians are proud of their regional cuisine and flavored focaccia was popular as a bar snack in Napoli.
     A panini can be pressed gently on a flat panini grill or a ribbed panini grill.  For a dry panini crust with good fresh ciabatta bread, I prefer a flat grill instead of a ribbed grill.  For a panini crust that can benefit from being brushed with olive oil, a ribbed panini grill is best.  Most commercial panini grills are equipped with both flat and ribbed grills.  Grilled vegetable panini or tuna carciofi panini taste better with an olive oil brushed grilled crust.  Roasted turkey seems to taste better with a dry toasted panini crust.
     The difference between a panini and a Cuban sandwich is that a Cuban sandwich is pressed very flat.  There are only 2 or 3 variations of a traditional Cuban sandwich.  However, that leaves room for creating new breeds of Cuban sandwiches like the ones I have posted in this blog.  Panini are not pressed as flat as a Cuban sandwich.  They are gently pressed, because the texture of ciabatta bread is so nice!  
     There are endless variations of panini, as long as the ingredients are Italian.  There are specific panini recipes for the Milan region.  Non Italian ingredients seem to go better with Cuban bread or French bread.  The French call their unpressed crusted snack sandwiches croque.  
     There is a wide open world for creating innovative Cuban sandwiches and French croque sandwiches.  Both are considered to be street vendor style food, so trendy non traditional flavorful ingredients can be used on those styles of sandwiches.  For panini made with ciabatta, traditional Italian ingredients are the best choice.  Turkey has recently become a traditional favorite meat in Italy, because it is a healthy choice and it tastes good with other Italian ingredients.  The new tradition of Italian turkey cuisine was the inspiration for recently posting a couple of Italian turkey panini sandwiches in this blog.  Tacchino panini cucina di Italia!

     Balsamic Sun Dried Tomato Pesto:
     You can mince and puree the ingredients for this spread the old fashioned way, but it is much easier to make in a food processor!
     Simmer 8 sun dried tomato halves in water over low heat, till they become soft and reconstituted.
     Remove the tomatoes from the hot water.
     Coarsely chop the sun dried tomatoes.
     Place the sun dried tomatoes into a food processor.
     Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic.
     Add 1 tablespoon of finely chopped onion.
     Add 1 tablespoon of virgin olive oil.
     Add 1 tablespoon of Modena balsamic vinegar.  (Modena Italy is where balsamic vinegar originated. Balsamic vinegar from Modena has the best flavor profile!)
     Add 1 pinch of basil.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Pulse the food processor for 5 seconds at time, till a smooth spreadable pesto is formed.  
     Add a tiny bit of virgin olive oil, if the paste becomes too thick.
     Set the balsamic sun dried tomato spread aside.

     Garlic Arugula: 
     Heat a saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 small splash of olive oil.
     Add 4 finely chopped garlic cloves.
     Saute till the garlic starts to become a golden color.
     Add 2 handfuls of baby arugula leaves.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Saute and toss till the arugula becomes wilted.
     Place the wilted garlic arugula into a bowl and set it aside.

     Tacchino Panini with Balsamic Sun Dried Tomato Pesto, Garlic Arugula and Provolone:
     Cut a 6" to 8" long piece of ciabatta bread.
     Split the bread in half horizontally.
     Spread the balsamic sun dried tomato pesto on both halves of the ciabatta.
     Place the garlic arugula on the bottom half of the sandwich.
     Place 4 to 5 ounces of thin sliced roasted turkey on the garlic arugula.  (Roasted turkey from a delicatessen is fine for this recipe.)
     Place a few thin slices of provolone cheese on the turkey.
     Place the top half of bread on the sandwich.
     Place the sandwich on a panini grill that is set to medium  heat.
     Gently press the sandwich, but do not squash the sandwich completely flat like a Cuban sandwich.
     Grill till the ciabatta becomes crust and the sandwich ingredients become warm.
     Cut the sandwich in half to create 2 triangles.
     Place the panini triangles on a plate.
     Garnish the pate with an Italian parsley sprig, black olives and a gherkin dill pickle.

     Deliciously Italian!  This is a great tasting panini sandwich.  Peppery garlic arugula and balsamic sun dried tomato pesto taste great with turkey!  Ciao Baby!  ...  Shawna        

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

La Islena Market in Las Vegas!

A nice old fashioned hispanic latin market and carniceria!
     La Islena Market is located at 4205 North Rainbow Boulevard at the intersection of Smoke Ranch in Las Vegas.  Because a freeway overpass was widened after the plaza was built, the access to the plaza is restricted to southbound Rainbow Boulevard traffic.  Hanging a U-turn is fairly easy to do in this area, if traveling northbound.
     La Islena is like the old fashioned neighborhood corner markets in east coast cities.  The market is small, the aisles are narrow and the store is jam packed full of merchandise.  I kind of like shopping in small markets like this, rather than shop in huge grocery stores that are stocked with unnecessary junk.
     La Islena offers a nice selection of Mexican, Central American and South American food products.  Many hard to find specialty items can be found at La Islena.  I found some frozen cashew fruit and loroco.  Those are items that are not seen everyday.  Fresh produce is stocked and the prices are reasonable.  Fresh epazote is available at La Islena.
     What impressed me was the carniceria at La Islena!  Many Mexican style cuts of beef and pork were available.  Tripas and specialty meats all looked fresh.  Small markets that have a steady flow of local clientele seem to be the better choice, when shopping for specialty meats.  Those items are not overstocked at small markets and they tend to be sold, before they get old.
    La Islena offers marinated meats for those who are on the go.  I have read reviews of La Islena and there are many people who mention that the marinated meats are very nicely seasoned.  For those who are new to Mexican cuisine, cooking marinated meat from a small butcher shop can be a good way to experience the correct flavor to shoot for, when planning on making a seasoning mix later on down the line.  It does help to know what something is supposed to taste like, before making that item for the first time.
     The La Islena carniceria offers some very nice quality hand crafted sausages.  Longaniza, several styles of chorizo and specialty sausages were offered.  I purchased some of the best longaniza sausage that I have had in many years!  The La Islena fresh longaniza was mild and expertly seasoned.
     Tortillas of all sizes are stocked at La Islena.  Home style lard and roasted lard can be found at this market.  Lard is required for many traditional Mexican recipes.  White lard that can be found in grocery stores has no flavor at all.  Old fashioned home style rendered lard is the best for Mexican cuisine.  Roasted lard adds a great flavor to tortillas to tacos, tlayuda and tostadas.
     What I like best about small markets like La Islena is the smiles and personalized service.  If you have a look on your face, like you have a question, a clerk will offer help.  Large grocery stores do not offer much help for those who have questions, because they tend to hire people that are not really food experts and people who will work for a cheap wage.  One secret to a small market's success, is for the employees to be well informed about the products that they sell.  The employees at La Islena were very helpful when questions are asked.
     Two snack items that I simply cannot resist were strategically stocked by the checkout counter!  Hand crafted coconut candy and pepita brittle were favorites of mine when I was a kid.  Pepita brittle is made with toasted calabaza seeds and raw sugar.  Pepita brittle is not overly sweet and the brittle is loaded with calabaza seeds.  This is actually a healthy sweet snack!
     I highly recommend La Islena Market for those who are looking for a good Mexican style market that has a high quality butcher shop!  La Islena is stocked full of useful food merchandise and the small market atmosphere is much more appealing than the cold feeling of large modern grocery stores.  Yum!  ...  Shawna