Comfort Foods: Boiled Peanuts

Boiled Peanuts were my favorite childhood snack.
We’d get them from roadside vendors; farmer’s markets dotted the major roads in the town I grew up in and every market had large cauldrons of boiled peanuts simmering. Pull up in your car, get some produce and a bag (plastic inside of paper) of boiled peanuts. Some vendors would even give you a second bag for your shells.

Convenience stores down South also had them, in regular and cajun, but it was never quite the same.

Imagine my surprise when I moved to Philly and they were nowhere to be found. With some searching I managed to find the canned variety at select supermarkets, which do in a pinch but for my money, fresh is best.

So today I threw a few pounds of fresh goobers into the crockpot with a little under 1/2 cup of salt, a handful of peppercorns and a few cloves of garlic. They’ve been slow cooking all day and are just about done. A little salty for a latenight snack, but when a craving hits you do what you’ve got to do!


Corned Cow’s Tongue

No matter how you slice it, (I prefer thinly) tongue has a bad reputation.
“I don’t want to taste something that can taste me back” and other cheeky comments aside, there’s an innate distaste for the tongue that’s seemingly cultural. A popular item in Mexican, Asian and European cooking, the tongue is a muscle that’s surprisingly tender when cooked.

I swung by Cannuli’s in Philadelphia’s Italian Market on Wednesday and picked up a fresh cow’s tongue with the intention of corning it. I’ve never really worked with brining before, so this would be a fun little experiment all around.

I had all the ingredients onhand save for pickling spice and a container big enough to hold the tongue, so once everything was picked up, I started preparing the brine. It came together quite easily, leaving an amazing aromatic odor in my kitchen.

While the brine was cooling, I washed the tongue and the brining bucket and did a little kitchen cleanup. With the brine refrigerated, I poured it over the meat and used a sterilized mason jar to keep it weighed down. Now all that’s left is patience. In five days it will be ready to cook.

Mozzarella Cheese- delicious frustration.

Since most of my food experiments seem to be meat based, I decided to go off course and try my hand at cheese making. Mozzarella seemed like a great first cheese. Recipes were abundant, supplies (rennet, citric acid) readily available and the process seemingly 1, 2, 3.

I decided to spring for locally produced milk; pasteurized but not ultra pasteurized. Apparently not supporting big markets like Superfresh and Acme comes with a price; and that price is $3.95/Quart. This was already starting to be a risky proposition. If I screwed up, which is always a possibility (see Lox) I would be out dang near $20. With good mozzarella going for about $5/lb… the potential was there for a very unhappy Shawn.

When the rennet and citric acid finally showed up I purchased the milk. Recipes ready, I followed them to the letter. The letters weren’t really consistent from recipe to recipe; cooking temperature, amount of citric acid and rennet, expectations of a nice thick layer of curd… everything was a little different.

Little Chef Claire was on hand to help keep my frustration at bay; as I adjusted rennet & citric acid quantity, cooking temperature and the straining process to something unrecognizable to all of the recipes I used as reference.

Straining the curds from the whey was “icky” and time consuming. We eventually resorted to cheese cloth to help strain it, appropriately enough. At this point, we were convinced we’d made ricotta. The kneading was constantly producing more and more whey and the curds weren’t bonding. Going back to one of the recipes, I decided to pop the pre-mozzarella into the microwave for 20seconds. Heating it up pushed out more whey and helped the curds start melting together. Repeat. Repeat. As the short trips to the microwave continued the blob of curd started to become cheese. It started getting stretchy. My frustration gave way to being geeked that I had just MADE CHEESE.

Claire took pictures of me pulling the cheese two, three feet. It was awesome.

I sampled a little piece. Amazing.

I couldn’t wait to get the pictures she took resized to include in this post. Then my macbook and my card reader had a disagreement and it deleted all of the pics she took. Of the cheese making process. Of the ribeyes and foie gras from the other night. Of the vanilla bean and snickers ice cream she made after I finished the cheese.

All gone.

Win some loose some. Pardon the iPhone Hipstamatic pictures.

I can’t believe it’s…. butter

It’s been a while since the little Chef and I have had a good kitchen adventure; our schedules rarely line up these days. So we decided on a quick, inexpensive experiment that could be done with minimal ingredients/preparation. Something that could be done while dinner was cooking.

Butter. Smooth, creamy butter.
The ingredients are simple enough: Heavy Cream.
The preparation is simple enough as well; put the cream into the kichenaid mixer and whip until the butter solids have separated from the butter milk.

I ran the mixer on a medium/fast setting (six, I believe) and did kitchen busy work while it whipped. (ok; I sat there watching it like a hawk as it thickened) First came whipped cream; a familiar texture and color. But as it whipped the color and consistency started to change. White became yellow and fluffy became chunky. The butter solids were pulling away from the buttermilk which is when I knew that the whipping phase was completed.

The next step was fairly “icky”. I pulled all of the solids out of the buttermilk (which hasn’t been fermented like storebought buttermilk) and began expressing the remaining milk from them. The heat of my hands/friction started melting the butter as I “squished” out the excess milk. Once all of the liquid was expressed, we pulled it into two batches to be seasoned.

I used slightly more than 1/4tsp of sea salt in the first ‘butterball’ and a little over 1/4tsp of truffle sea salt in the second. Claire had stepped out to buy a loaf of crusty bread, so by the time the butter was finished we were ready to try it out. For our first attempt I’m happy to say that it came out perfect.

Lardo Basil Mozzarella Sausage

The best way to describe tonight’s update is “calorically irresponsible”. Basil and smoked mozzarella sausage was the intended recipe, but my search for extra fat led me to the Italian Market, where I found a freshly cured sheet of lardo. Cured with salt and seasoning, lardo is pretty much a fancy word for “pig fat”. A bit excessive for a small batch sausage, but I just couldn’t resist.

The pork I bought was pretty lean, so I knew I’d need more fat to get the 40% ratio I like for my sausages. I diced 2/3 of the lardo into cubes, most of which would be ground along with the meat, but I saved a few of the cubes to be added to the paste; little bits of salty fatty goodness to the finished sausage.

Improvisation was the word of the day since every stall in the market was out of basil; which led me to pick up a baggie of thai basil in it’s place. The taste is a little more licorice than regular basil and combined with the spice mix I made added a much different dynamic than I had originally intended.

I compensated by adding more black peppercorns and coriander seeds as well as a little red wine to the white I had chilling. Trial and error has me pretty confident when it comes to spice mixtures, so once I ran everything through a round in the mortar and I was happy with the finished mix I moved on to grating cheese, mincing garlic and tidying up the increasingly messy kitchen.

With all the the ingredients prepared (which includes popping the meat into the freezer for a few minutes to partially freeze it) and at the ready, I started soaking the pork intestines and got to the task of grinding the meat/fat. The kitcheaid makes this part go by quickly; when I first started making sausage a few years ago I did everything by hand. While the artisan aspect of handmaking sausage is appealing, it gets old after the first five hours or so. The whole process took under five minutes for four pounds of meat. I could have cut that in half if I had an extra set of (Claire’s little) hands helping.

Everything goes into the mixer at this point; the spice mixture, basil, garlic, mozzarella, ice cold wine and cubed lardo get worked into the meat, making a pretty icky paste. Once it’s all worked in it’s time for the pig intestines. I could call them “casings” but that takes some of the fun out of it. They come packed in salt and have to be rehydrated and cleaned inside and out. Which is probably the most fun part of sausage making. The casings get put on the tube, knotted at the end, and then it’s time to stuff them.

This is another step that is much easier when Claire is around. The paste for this sausage was more emulsified than most of what I’ve made in the past; mainly due to the extra fat and cheese. Stuffing took twice as long as normal and I lost patience a few times, causing me to stop, swear and have a few M&Ms. Stuff, twist, stuff, twist and then you’re done. I used two intestines, which left enough of the mixture for two sausage patties.

The “cased” sausages needed to dry for a bit, so I cooked up the patties and had lunch.

Not a bad way to spend a day off!