Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Habib's Mediterranean Market - Habib's Persian Cuisine, Las Vegas!

     Luxurious Persian Fine Dining In Las Vegas! 
     The first time that I dined at Habib's Persian Cuisine I was in awe.  When I stepped through the doors I did not expect to see a luxurious Persian dining room setting.  Marble floors, elegant furnishings and large gold leaf frame paintings were indicators of a restaurant that took great pride in in its products and services.  The service was formal and the food was presented with classic style.  The two vegetarian menu items that I tried were prepared with authenticity in mind.  Habib's Persian Cuisine was quite impressive to say the least!   
     Here is a hyperlink that leads to the Habib's Persian Cuisine Article that I wrote in the recent past.  A link to Habib's Persian Cuisine website is also listed.
     Habib's Mediterranean Market
     Just like the dining room atmosphere at Habib's, the Mediterranean Market is tastefully designed as well.  The market floor space is somewhat small, but the selection of high quality items is superb.  Words like luxury and elegance often intimidate shoppers, because high prices are associated with these terms.  This is not the case at Habib's Mediterranean Market!  The prices offer value and many bargains can be found.  
     Habib's Mediterranean Market is like an old world bazaar.  Plenty of Middle Eastern specialty food items line the shelves and there is a great selection fine Persian tableware, plates, glasses and old world decor.  Everything from fancy scrolled Middle Eastern style gold leaf plated clocks to classic works of art can be found in this market.  A few of the plates that I used for food presentation for years finally chipped or cracked in recent weeks.  I needed some new stylish dinner plates and Habib's has a nice selection.  The Mediterranean style plate in the photos above will be nice for presenting Middle Eastern food.
     Habib's has good prices on classic olive oil and grape seed oil from the Middle East.  In fact, the prices are lower than at common grocery stores in the valley.  Fresh regional Mediterranean bread, pastries, cookies and candy are available.  There are many Persian pickle products, fruit preserves and condiments to choose from.  

     Middle Eastern cooking utensils, kitchenware and extra long sword kabob skewers can be found at Habib's Market.  The sword skewers are two to three feet in length and they are sturdy enough to carry a great amount of grilled food.  For backyard chargrill BBQ party enthusiasts, a big sword kabob skewer loaded with marinated steak, chicken and vegetables could earn the ultimate respect from guests!  
     I purchased one long sword skewer a few weeks ago and could not wait to put it to the test.  The photo above demonstrates just how much food can be loaded on one of these classic Persian Arabic skewers.  The sword skewers easily held two large Jordanian Za'atar Chicken Breasts, Two Marinated Ball Sirloin Steaks, Sausages and Mini Sweet Peppers.  One large sword skewer that is fully loaded can feed four guests!  A recipe for that sword kabob will be published soon.  
     I liked the sword skewer, because it opens the door for creating impressive food presentations.  I mentioned these skewers to the butcher at The Butcher Block while I was shopping and he genuinely took interest in the potential of these skewers being the showcased in backyard chargrill party events. While shopping during a second visit at Habib's, I picked up a couple more sword skewers for doing large platter presentations.  Intrinsically, these long flat blade skewers are a great deal for a chef that likes to impress guests!

     Hard to find items like Persian Arabic Saffron Concentrate, Mediterranean Sardines, Grape Molasses, Date Molasses and flavored water for cooking can be found at this market.  Historically, the Arabic and Persian spice trade is legendary.  Great deals on bulk spices and herbs can be found.  I purchased a bulk package of Tarragon for not even one tenth of the price that regular grocery store charge.  Like I said, some great bargains can be found at Habib's!     

      Habib's Persian Cuisine and Mediterranean market is located at 2575 South Decatur, about one half block south of Sahara in Las Vegas.  This central valley location is fairly close to the Las Vegas Strip.

     Habib's Mediterranean Market is very easy to highly recommend!  Culinary enthusiasts will surely like what this specialty market has to offer!  Yum!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cilantro Jack Buttermilk Biscuits

     "Ain't Nobody Make Biscuits Da Way Momma Used To Make!" 
     The steam from butter and lard is what creates a great biscuit texture.  Jack cheese is oily, so it also adds to the light biscuit texture.  The chilled solid fats are cut into the flour, till the flour and cold fat grains are the size of small peas.  When cold butter milk is added, the dough has to be made quickly, so the dough remains cold.  
     As long as the tiny cold fat and flour riced pieces remain cold, the explosive steam making power will remain intact!  It is the steam that is created by the riced flour that gives biscuits a great layered fluffy texture.  If necessary or if the kitchen temperature is hot, then chill the dough before rolling the dough out. 

     Fiddling around with making new biscuit flavors is fun to do.  It is always best to think up a theme when doing so.  For example, the theme for today's biscuits is a southwestern flavor.
     Different types of flour require recipe adjustments.  Sometimes more buttermilk or baking powder has to be added, when a heavy grain flour is used.  Some types of zero gluten flour do have to be combined with a high gluten flour.  For example, if straight amaranth flour alone was used to make biscuits, the biscuits would be heavy as lead with a crumbly brick texture.     

     Today's recipe just requires good old fashioned all purpose flour.  Unbleached all purpose flour is always a good choice, if it is available.  All purpose flour was created during WWII when ration shortages were commonplace.  All purpose flour is a combination of super fine ground short gluten strand pastry flour and higher gluten bread flour.  This type of flour makes just "okay" quality pastry or cake, but it does make nice biscuits or bread.   

     Cilantro Jack Buttermilk Biscuits:
     This recipe makes several biscuits.  The amount of biscuits depends on the size of the biscuit cutter and how thick the dough is rolled out.  Extra biscuits can be frozen for later meals.  If cut into 2 1/2" squares, the yield is about 15 biscuits!
     A combination of lard and butter is used in this recipe, so the biscuits will have an old west flavor.
     Place 2 cups of all purpose flour into a bowl.
     Add 1 tablespoon of baking powder.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Sift the ingredients together into a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 1/2 ounces of cold butter that is cut into 1/4" cube pieces.
     Add 1 1/2 ounces of ice cold lard that is cut into 1/4" cube pieces.
     Cut the butter and lard into the flour with a fork or a baker's cutter tool (ricing tool), till the flour looks like it has been riced to a small pieces that are about the size of tiny peas.  
     Add 1 cup of cold buttermilk.
     Add 1/4 cup of small chopped cilantro.
     Add 1/3 cup of Monterey Jack Cheese that is chopped into small pieces.  (about half the size of a pea.)
     Gently stir with a spoon or fork, till the ingredients just barely combine. 
     Only knead the dough, till the dough barely holds together.  (Do not over mix biscuit dough or the texture will be flat instead of light and fluffy!)
     Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, till it is 3/4" thick.  (If the dough is roll out too thick, the biscuits will look like the Leaning Tower Of Pisa!)
     Use a 2 1/2" to 3 1/2" round biscuit cutter to cut biscuits or cut 2 1/2" squares.  Cut several biscuits.
     Combine the scraps and roll them out again to cut a few more biscuits.  (Cut these biscuits to a different size than the first round of biscuits.  This is because after working the dough twice, the texture will be more like a scone than a biscuit!  It is easy to notice the second round biscuits in the pictures above.)
     Place the biscuits on a parchment paper lined baking pan. 
     Brush the tops of the biscuits with buttermilk. 
     Bake in a 425º oven, till the biscuits become fully cooked and lightly toasted with golden highlights on the tops.  (About 10 to 15 minutes)
     Remove the biscuits from the oven and let them cool to a serving temperature.
     Keep the biscuits warm on a stove top.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Jones Market - Eastern European, Las Vegas!

     A Great Eastern European Food Market In Las Vegas!  12-26-2012
     The Jones Market is located at 3389 South Jones Boulevard in a plaza at the intersection of Desert Inn.  This is a central valley location that is fairly close to the Las Vegas Strip.  This plaza is on the edge of the Chinatown shopping district.

     The Jones Market is just like the small food markets that can be found in big northern cities from Chicago to New York.  In Chicago Polish neighborhoods, every food market carries Polish food products.  In Philadelphia, there a Lithuanian and Polish markets in some neighborhoods.  In Cleveland, there are neighborhoods that have Hungarian food markets.  
     In New York City, well ... just forget about it!  New York City has residents from every country around the globe and there are neighborhood food markets that specialize in every cultural cuisine!  Las Vegas is also in this same boat.  There are many neighborhoods where cultural ethnic groups reside in this valley and there always is a food market nearby that caters to the needs of each cultural group.

     Armenian, Russian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Czech and Scandinavian specialties can be found at the Jones Market.  As far as it goes, the food from every Eastern European country, Russia and the entire Baltic Region can be found at the Jones Market.
     I have heard folks talk about the Jones Market for many years.  Russian friends of mine in Las Vegas recommended this little food market more than once.  I finally gave this market a visit a few days ago and I really liked what I saw. 

     The Jones Market is not a big city Greek delicatessen that offers a few token Bulgarian and Croatian food items.  It seemed like many of the Eastern European markets in Chicago were more like a Greek market than an Eastern European market.  What this amounted to was the owner of the Greek markets that I visited, tacked up an "Eastern European Food" sign, in an effort to attract more customers.  Customers that sought Eastern European food were misled and they ended up being disappointed.  Things are different here in Las Vegas.  In  Vegas, a Greek market is a Greek market and an Eastern European Market is an Eastern European Market!  So, there is no disappointment!

     The Jones Market has a well stocked delicatessen.  The deli offers a nice variety of Eastern European and Scandinavian sausages, meats, specialty lunch meats, cheese and smoked fish.  Lunch meats and fine cheese are sliced to order.  
     There are many cryovac packages of hard to find specialty smoked meats and sausages to choose from.  I chose some nice Russian style beef and pork weiners, Kranjska style smoked veal kielbasa sausages and pushen vrat (smoked pork neck or smoked pork shoulder).  The quality of these meat items was very nice and the meats were prepared by small domestic Eastern European specialty food companies both domestically and abroad.

     I chose to purchase a wedge of madrigal cheese.  Madrigal is a semi firm aged cheese that has a high cream fat content.  Madrigal originated in Loire France and it is a popular cheese in Eastern Europe.  Many cheese makers in Eastern Europe produce Madrigal.  Madrigal is like Swiss Emmentaler Cheese (Swiss Cheese), but it has a stronger nutty kind of flavor and it is aged for a bit more time.  Madrigal  is a slight shade darker than Swiss emmentaler.  If you ever wished that Swiss Cheese had a little bit more flavor, then Madrigal is the cheese to try.

     Another cheese that I selected was imported Bulgarian Kashkaval.  Kashkaval is like many of the sheep's milk cheeses of Turkey, Spain, Albania and Italy.  Sheep's milk cheese like Kaskaval has been made since ancient times in Southeastern Europe and the Middle East.  In Bulgaria, there are several recipes that require Kashkaval.  Bulgarian Kashkavalka are little breakfast pastries that have Kashkaval melted on top.  Fried Kashkaval is another popular Bulgarian recipe.  Kashkaval is a whitish yellow sheep's milk cheese that has a rich flavor that is quite nice.

     The Jones Market stocks plenty of Eastern European canned goods, fruit preserves and pickle products.  The fresh produce looked nice.  They carry many Eastern European specialty breads that are made by local bakeries.  Nice looking regional pastries and cookies are also available.

     I purchased some cold-smoked sturgeon that looked nice.  New Years Eve is just a few day away, so a platter of smoked sturgeon with blini sounded like a good recipe idea!  Speaking of sturgeon, the Jones Market is the best place in Las Vegas to find good official government stamped authentic caviar.  Caviar is a fine delicacy that is traditionally served on New Years Eve and special occasions.  
     At the last Michelin rated French restaurant that I worked in, we had a Russian Vodka and beluga caviar appetizer on the menu.  The vodka, caviar and condiments were presented on an ice carving.  At that time, beluga caviar was not in short supply and the price of that elaborate appetizer was $88.  Eleven years later, the price of that appetizer would sell for over $250!  A fancy presentation of vodka and caviar is perfect for New Years Eve!
     I noticed three grades of beluga caviar on display.  Premium high grade beluga caviar, the secondary grade lighter beluga caviar and semi crushed beluga caviar for recipe usage all are sold by color coded labels.  It is best to do a little bit of caviar research before shopping for caviar, so you can understand the difference in the three major grades of caviar and their origin.

     English is spoken at the Jones Market, but Eastern European languages are first choice.  Everything is done the Eastern European way and Russian way.  Customers are expected to know to form a line at the deli and if you hesitate, then the deli clerk moves on to the next customer.  No customers are in a hurry, but the busy delicatessen clerks sure are.  
     It seems like a high percentage of the sales at the Jones Market comes from the delicatessen.  Christmas Eve shoppers were all buying specialty meats and sausages for big family get togethers.  It was interesting to see what items were in the customer's grocery carts.  Some of the customers had enough food in their carts to feed a small army!  Christmas is a traditional big family banquet feast event for many Eastern Europeans.  There are many traditional Eastern European recipes that are only served during the Christmas holiday season.  If a person needs some new holiday food ideas Eastern European and Russian culinary information is a good place to start.  

     The Jones Market, September 2014.  Old World Harvest Season Goods!
     On this recent shopping venture at the Jones Market, I purchased more food items that are impossible to find in average American grocery stores.  Black Currant Jam, Dried Cèpe Mushrooms, Smoked Sardines, Goose Liver Pâté and Russian Mustard were just part of the score!  
     From the deli, I got some Finnish Lappi Cheese and some great looking Belmont Black Headcheese.  Black Headcheese is a rare find.  This aspic for this traditional headcheese is made with cow blood, so it has a black sausage flavor.  Belmont specializes in high quality traditional Eastern European meat products.  I also purchased a full Bulgarian Lukanka.  Lukanka is an aged pork and veal salami that has white fungus growing on the casing.  Lukanka is always pressed flat and its shape is perfect for cutting whole slices for muse platters or hors d' oeuvres.  

     Since this is the harvest season, purchasing some traditional Armenian Nazook walnut pastries, bread and wine seemed appropriate.  Nazook are really a nice sweet pastry treat for this time of the year. 

     The harvest season bread of choice was Armenian Matnakash.  Matnakash is shaped like plowed farm field furrows in a crust ring border.  Matnakash is similar to Italian Focaccia, but it can also be made with a sourdough starter.  

     The harvest season wine selection will bring back many memories, especially for those who have seen these artistic glass bottles that are shaped like statues setting on shelves in Eastern European restaurants, back in the northeastern region of America.  
     Many wine snobs make the mistake of disregarding wine in fancy bottles for some reason.  All I can say about judging a wine by the shape of the bottle is this.  Bah Humbug!  Special wines are packaged in special shaped bottles.  
     Garling Collection produces specialty wines in artistic bottles.  First of all, the Ciumai wine grape growing region in Moldova actually is a unique micro climate that is perfect for accentuating the full characteristics of the Merlot grape varietal.  The soil is perfect for wine grape growing in Ciumai, so the vines are healthy and they grow for many years.   The Ciumai micro climate conditions allow the Merlot Grapes to produce their full sugar content before harvest, without allowing parasitic fungus to overtake the fruit.  The result is a full bodied Merlot Dessert Wine that is semi sweet.  
     Garling Collection Winemaker Moldova Ciumai Merlot is packaged in a glass bottle that looks like a statue of a winemaker carrying a keg of wine on his shoulder.  This is a great dessert wine choice for the fall harvest season.  Besides, the fancy winemaker statue bottle does make a great decorative conversation piece! 
     I highly recommend the Jones Market for locals and visitors of Las Vegas!  The Jones Market is the place to go, if you are seeking traditional old world Eastern European food, great wine and caviar too!  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Christmas Melon and Dragon Fruit Parfait with Añejo Tequila Honey Caramel and Thai Banana Coconut Crème Anglaise

     *This is the Thai Banana Coconut Ice Cream follow up recipe.  This simple Parfait Recipe features an interesting way to use the extra Thai Banana Coconut Crème Anglaise!

     The literal translation of the French word "Parfait" is "Perfect!"  The original late 1800's French definition of a "Parfait Dessert" was a chilled dessert, that was a hand stirred aerated ice cream.  Basically, the original French Parfait was crème anglaise that was stirred by hand in a freezer till it became a custard consistency.  Whisking the French Parfait made it light and airy.  Henceforth, this is how this dessert got the name "Perfect!"

     As time progressed, the definition of "Parfait" eventually became a layered dessert that is served in a tall parfait glass.  The layers usually consisted of custard, fresh or canned fruit, pudding, fruit compote, caramel, syrup, fruit aspic, crème patisserie, sabayon, chantilly or whipped cream.  

     As one can see, the modern definition of parfait is fairly loose.  To maintain a sense of integrity, when making a parfait, the ultimate goal is to make a layered dessert in a cup that is perfect!  What I mean by perfect, is that the ingredients should be light on the palate and the flavor should be angelic.  This is in keeping with the original French Parfait theme.  

     If there ever was a crème anglaise flavor that fits the French Parfait description, it is Thai Banana Crème Anglaise.  This thin egg custard dessert sauce seems to trigger some kind of taste sensation that causes an uncontrollable urge to eat one spoonful of this sauce after another.  The flavor is quite agreeable.  Perfect!  
     Crème Anglaise can easily be turned into a thick custard, by adding a few extra egg yolks and gently heating the sauce to 140º in a double boiler, while constantly stirring.  This is an option if a thick custard is desired.  As it is, a thin crème anglaise carries plenty of flavor and it easily clings to chilled fresh fruit in a parfait dessert.  

     Kah Añejo Tequila    
     Since I live in the Mojave desert, it was a natural to jazz the caramel sauce up with a touch of southwestern flavor.  This also made it possible to use a nifty looking green cactus stem margarita glass for the parfait presentation.  Ce est la vie!  
     Las Vegas has been one of the few test market cities for Kah Tequila.  Kah currently produces four types of tequila.  Every Kah Tequila comes in a hand painted Day Of The Dead skull shaped bottle.  The bottles literally works of fine art and they make great conversation pieces.  Kah is available in petite airline size bottles and 750ml bottles.  

     Three Kah Tequilas are pictured in the pictures above.  Kah Silver Tequila comes in a white skull bottle.  The Kah Reposado comes in a rusty tan colored bottle.  The bottle of Kah Reposado in the picture was a petite airline size bottle.  The black skull bottle is Kah Añejo and this 9 month aged tequila was used to flavor the caramel in today's recipe.

     Kah Tequilas are not cheap, but then again, few things are these days.  "If one wants the best, one has to be prepared to dish out some clams!"  
     Kah Tequilas are among the very best tequilas in the world.  The rule of thumb when shopping for tequila always seems to be, "the fancier the bottle, the better the tequila."  Kah Tequila certainly is packaged in a fancy bottle.  
     If Kah Tequila is not available in your area, then purchasing information can be found at the Kah Website.  This information is all that a good local liquor store manager needs to know, when a special order is placed by a customer.
     Kah Añejo Tequila ... Highly recommended!  
     Here is the Kah Website Link:  Kah Tequila 

     Thai Banana Coconut Crème Anglaise:
     This recipe was previously published in an ice cream recipe.  The recipe yield is about 4 cups, so if a small amount is all that is needed, the doing some Baker's Math will be necessary.
     Here is a link to the recipe that opens in a separate window:  

     Añejo Tequila Honey Caramel
     This recipe yields 2 small portions!
     Dark Amber Brown Desert Wildflower Honey was used in this recipe, because it has a very rich flavor.  This type of honey is common in the southwest.  Just about anywhere else, it has to be special ordered.  Any good local honey can be used in its place.
     Kah Añejo Tequila is a bit expensive, so using it in recipes is not really feasible.  I used Kah Añejo in this recipe, just so I could display the neat looking bottle to viewers of this website.  Using a cheaper añejo tequila for cooking does make sense.    
     Heat a small sauce pot over medium/medium high heat.  
     Add 1/4 cup of water.
     Add 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar.
     Add 1 tablespoon of light brown sugar.
     Boil the ingredients, till the water evaporates and the sugar starts to bubble.
     Continue cooking the sugar, till it becomes an amber brown caramel color.
     Reduce the temperature to medium low heat. 
     Immediately add 1/2 cup of water.
     Add 1 tablespoon of honey.  
     Add 4 ounces of Añejo Tequila. 
     Gently simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a medium thick glacé (syrup) consistency.  
     Chill the Añejo Tequila Honey Caramel till it is just a bit cooler than room temperature.  

     Christmas Melon and Dragon Fruit Parfait with Añejo Tequila Honey Caramel and Thai Banana Coconut Crème Anglaise:
     Dragon Fruit actually is a cactus fruit that is native to Mexico.  The flavor is gentle and sweet.  About one half of a dragon fruit is enough for one large parfait style serving.
     Use a paring knife to peel a dragon fruit.  Try to retain as much of the pink color flesh as possible.
     Cut the dragon fruit into quarter wedges that are about 1/4" thick.
     Place the dragon fruit wedges in a tall stemmed margarita glass.
     Cut a portion of peeled seeded Christmas Melon into 6 thin spears that are about 4" long.
     Vertically insert the melon spears into the back half of the glass in a row.
     Chill the glass and fruit to about 40º to 45º.
     Spoon enough of the Añejo Tequila Honey Caramel over the dragon fruit in the glass so a thn layer forms on the bottom of the parfait.
     Spoon some Thai Banana Coconut Crème Anglaise over the center of the dragon fruit to complete the layered parfait.  Try to leave a couple of dragon fruit slices exposed, so they can be seen.
     Sprinkle 1 pinch of lime zest over the crème anglaise.  
     Garnish with two thin lime wedges. 

     Viola!  Perfect!  Perfect is what French Parfait is all about.  Yum!