Clams with Chorizo Almejas con Chorizo

Our wonderfully exciting Friday night meal.

60 Miles for 50 Clams

Back to the intended topic of this blog, the yearnings of my gullet. Last Saturday I improvised a dish of pan roasted cod and little neck clams with chorizo and white wine. The roasted cod was passable. I envisioned buying the thick cod center loins I used in restaurant cooking but only small tail portions were available for retail. It flaked and got lost in the haunting melange of clams and chorizo. Since then, I've thought of the dish everyday - wanting more. I rarely want to eat the same thing over and over. When I first moved in with my now Captive Husband, I prided myself on not preparing the same meal twice in 3 months. Here it is less than a week later and I'm making the dish again, sans cod.

Last week I purchased the fish at Whole Foods. I knew they would have cod and that it would be perfectly fresh. The clams were good, and even better that the cashier didn't scan the bag right and they weren't on my receipt. I would have bought it up had I looked at the receipt before I got all the way home. But today, I had to go to THE place to get clams, Hatfield Seafood in Delaware. Not Delaware county PA, Delaware the state. 60 miles round trip from my home in the 'burbs. In doing so I saved some $$ because Whole Foods has the unseen 'Gourmet Tax' added into it's prices. At Hatfield Seafood the only ambiance is a huge lobster tank and a smell that will stay with the building forever. The offerings were expansive, crayfish, all kinds of shell fish, shad roe, shark, monk fish and bacon wrapped everything. All restaurant ready picture perfect. I also picked up 2 stuffed crabs, a nice appetizer before we dig into the clams.
First I saute some spicy cured Spanish chorizo in a good amount of olive oil so it permeates all ingredients. Then I add to the chorizo a large diced onion to sweat and a goodly amount of garlic. Clams love garlic so when you think you have enough, add a few more cloves. Add a fresh bay leaf and salt and pepper. Yes, clams are salty, but if the other ingredients aren't seasoned the clams will taste bland and not clammy. Half a bottle of dry white wine - I happened to have around some of West Point Military Academy's finest 2005 vintage from my Sister in law the alumnus. Bring to a simmer and let the alcohol cook off. Last week I used a splash of clam juice, which isn't highly regarded for it's flavor, but I wasn't sure if the clams would yield enough liquid to form a broth. They did so this week I'll leave it out. Add some parsley stems to flavor the broth as well. Add clams. Cover tightly. When they are wide open, portion into large bowls. Sprinkle chopped parsley (for flavor here not just eye appeal) and a squeeze of lime juice for freshness and to compliment the spicy chorizo. Sit back and wait for the moans of "yummy" to begin. I will do my best to capture a photo to follow up with you, but that means delaying my dinner which could be problematic.


PETA to "Have it Their Way"

My apologies for two political food posts in a row, but someone must be on the frontline. I admire fast food giants as the streamliners of labor and cost effective change in the workplace. Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's invented fast food and franchising. The Holy Trinity of burger joints - McDonald's (not McDowell's) Burger King and Wendy's are also home to my least healthy guilty pleasure foods. My guilty progressive dinner consists of a BK double whopper with cheese no tomato, Mickey D's fries when they swam in beef fat and a Wendy's chocolate frosty.

Now Burger King says it will buy a whopping 2% of it's eggs from cage free chickens and source frolicing pork. Two percent of Burger King's eggs amounts to a whole bunch, and the pork is in the form of ham, bacon and sausage mostly for breakfast sandwiches. A good move to go after the same PC diner who ate at Spago last night. Yet, aren't those diners who are so concerned with humane treatment of animals also those who don't frequent these places? BK saught PETA's approval before making this announcement to ensure they all but got the PETA SEAL (ha ha) of approval. As tasty as BK is, it is McDonald's that sets the retail prices of eggs in this country. McDonald's purchases eggs as a commodity, and any unforseen costs in production end up on our supermarket shelves. Why does the McGriddle have to be so divine? Moves like this are certain to bring about change in the way chickens are raised.

I must comment on the difference of the terms "free range" and "cage free". By law, free range allows the chickens to be in cages as long as a door to the outside is open. There's a slight possibility the chicken may get to run. Most reputable companies do allow their chickens the kind of free range we romanticize about - running along a hill pecking at the sun. Cage free is gourmet free range. No cages allowed on premise, guaranteed free range. A food spin zone similar to the Bourbon term small batch. No restrictions to the actual size of the batch, 100 barrels or 1,000. Single batch is the new vogue.

Coming soon: single origin chocolate frosties and heirloom potato fries. Lola rosa lettuce to replace iceberg shreds, and organic onion rings. Artisanal paper wrappers and lattes made to order. I'd settle for a malt vinegar option for fries, little packets of vinegar instead of treacly kethcup.


Puck the Foie Gras

Wolfgang Puck will no longer serve foie gras. He's also revised his protein offerings based on how animals are treated before they make it to his table. While I don't agree with his move, I applaud taking a stance with a culinary empire as big as his. I'd rather see chefs make personal decisions as opposed to the government stepping in and telling me what I can and can't eat. This has been done in Chicago, California, and soon New York.

Puck and other high profile chefs have been under pressure for years to stop serving foie. I don't see his decision as bowing under pressure to these groups because they have been active for so long. I see it as a headline grabber to attract more customers for whom dinner is a political statement rather than a meal. He's popularized California Cuisine, and is now popularizing the earth friendly mentality born there. I wish the San Andreas fault would really show us what it's capable of!

This article in the Boston Globe quotes Puck as saying happy animals yield tasty food. Didn't I hear that in a cheese campaign? A baby cow that's been running around will not taste like veal but rather bland beef. The Japanese and their love for tuna have proved that seafood that has been put under stress does suffer in quality. If everyone flushed their prozac, would that help? You can have animals running around cage free in masses. If they're eating grass that has had acid rain fall on it, and breathe carbon monoxide, and will still receive lots of antibiotics - it doesn't matter if it had the pleasure of frolicing or not. It costs a lot more to have cousin Billy Bob chase down a chicken to sell than pluck one from to coop, and you can bet that cost will be added on to your dinner at Spago.

The Night of Many Feasts and a Magician

Many think long and hard about what to have for dinner. Last night our dilemma was which of many planned feasts to choose. I had planned a meal of pan roasted cod, clams and chorizo in a saffron broth. Captive husband was thoughtful enough to think I might not want to cook on a Friday night (often correct) and went out of his way on the journey home from work to secure some of the best BBQ in Philly from Tommy Gunn's. I would link to their website but it keeps crashing Internet Explorer. After securing the treasure, pal Steve calls to invite us to join him and his wife at their new favorite Asian spot, Wild Rice. We now had 3 meal options, all delightful. We chose to go to Wild Rice because we love to get together with Steve and Cyndie. Our choice wasn't even based on food!

Wild Rice has Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food. We started with an app of pork potstickers, wonderfully crisp on one side and steamed on the other. We then had a sushi deluxe plate and individual rolls eel and tempura shrimp. Steve and Cyndie had cooked items - Kung Pao tofu and a teriyaki dish. Wild Rice has a great cocktail menu so I ordered a Mango Long Island Iced Tea aka Bankok Tea and the guys had Thai Iced Tea. This might be the only place in King of Prussia to get the ubiquitous chewy bubble tea. Something I still haven't tried. The sushi was prepared well and service was attentive. When the meal was over we weren't done yapping so we went around the corner to Michael's, a terrific Jewish Deli with a few hundred beer options by the bottle. Cue the magician.

After choosing our brews, of which I opted for a Framboise Lambic, a perfect after dinner Belgian, we got a booth. Since we are there about twice a month we recognized our waiter as a new guy. No problem. He delivered chilled beer glasses and one had a large crack in the rim so I asked for another. It would be my luck to lose a lip on a chipped glass so I had to remedy the situation. We open our beers and I forgot small Lambics come with a cap and a cork so I had to ask for a corkscrew. I couldn't get any part of this visit to go smoothly. He was easy going and made light of the situation. We order dessert, Jewish apple cake with ice cream. The waiter didn't question what Jewish apple cake was, a baked item that this deli is known for, so we had no reason to think we would get anything else. Two slices of apple pie a la mode arrive. Thanks to Little Miss Sunshine we've all been schooled what a la mode means. We were tired of feeling like nuisances and having a good time anyway so we didn't send it back. We were looking forward to it because Steve and Cyndie never had Jewish apple cake. Instead we got Jewish apple pie. We did have to wait longer than normal for the check to arrive, but we were treated to a card trick on the way out by the new waiter. It was some funny comic relief but if I were his boss I wouldn't appreciate it. What an interesting night. The weekend is only beginning!


Food TV and How it Influences a Chef

Before culinary school, I learned my cooking techniques by watching PBS every Sunday afternoon. There was Yan Can Cook, The Ragin' Cajun who "gua-ron-teed" his food was tasty and New Jewish Cuisine. On the extra special days there was an episode of Lidia's Italian Table and it made me wish she was my own Grandmother. The Food Network existed, but wasn't offered on Brooklyn cablevision. This lineup enriched the meals I made for my hard working single Mother and ensured I wasn't clueless on day 1 of learning to cook professionally. At that time I was still in the stage of "make everything exactly as seen on TV".
Two years of culinary school left me qualified to make salads in Manhattan's premier restaurants. I ached to handle the "real food" and experience the adrenaline of the cooking line. In the time I was Queen of Salads I watched, worked hard, and learned even more from what was going on around me. How to adapt a menu item when the main ingredient isn't delivered. How to evolve menu offerings in tune with the season outside the door that I was too busy working hard to notice had changed. Listening for the sound of food that was cooked perfectly over the screaming of new orders entered by waiters. Learning how to prepare fine ingredients was worth making almost no money. After a long time and serving the sweat off my forehead that dripped into vinaigrette (common in every restaurant) I made it to the line. I was elated. I endured splashing grease, burning pan handles, and even accidentally tossed a completed hot plate at the sous chef's groin. Yes, this recipe led to quick burnout.
After being in the food business without cooking in a restaurant everyday, my outlook on food has changed. Now, food is just that. Breakfast/lunch/dinner - not a dish that evokes the second coming of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, a restaurant critic in disguise. No reason to have an anxiety attack over chicken breasts.
Everyone who knows me knows I am a harsh critic of television chefs of today. Now I get the Food Network and it's often on as background noise. With my training I am free to expand upon their dishes and make them great. Most food presented is dumbed down for the (below) average home cook. It is a learning experience to see what's important to the main meal makers of today. It seems no one wants to make a meal that takes longer than 30 minutes. Sandra Lee has a whole book about 20 minute meals and Robin Miller even has a 10 minute meal section. According to Chefography, Sandra Lee has sold more than 1 million cookbooks. No longer having to adhere to a printed menu, I ponder what to make for dinner. Robin Miller provided the flavor profiles and a difficulty rating easy recipe. I made it professional and tasty. Her recipe for a Thai chicken dinner salad featured a vinaigrette of peanut butter, fish sauce, a lot of sesame oil, chicken stock and lime juice. Not bad but it looked like thinned out peanut butter. What's interesting about that on a pile of lettuce? The vinaigrette I created after watching that episode included ginger, garlic, rice wine vinegar, sriracha chili sauce, natural peanut butter, lime juice, sesame oil and canola oil. I tried to adhere to the Asian credo of the 'hot-sour-salty-sweet' aspect of a successful dish. Poured over marinated stir fried beef, sugar snap peas, bean sprouts and lettuce, dusted with cashews, my palate was thrilled. The real kind of thrilled, not the fake yumm-yumm the presenters make when tasting their dishes at the end of the show. I never thought I'd have Robin Miller to thank for a dinner idea. More on this topic in the future.


A Salad of 4 C's

New lunch creation: curry chicken salad with cashews and cucumbers. Having made a pot of chicken soup with kale last night yielded me with leftover poached chicken. I thought about this salad even before I went to sleep last night. I love curry.
I made curry mayo by mixing lime juice & hot madras curry powder into Hellman's. I added shredded chicken, a handful of cashews and diced cucumber. I placed it atop a bed of lettuce inside a whole wheat wrap and blammo... something I would pay $7.99 for was born in my kitchen. Also, only 5 net carbs. Spicy, crunchy, crisp and juicy - all in the palm of my hand.
Even more leftover chicken will go into a poached chicken Caesar alongside dinner tonight. I over compensated for not adding noodles to the soup with vegetables. After making and straining chicken stock, I sweated parsnip, onions, mushrooms, carrots and celery. Added the chicken stock and simmered. Added fresh chopped kale and simmered, and simmered as kale isn't naturally tender. Added some fresh broccoli and shredded chicken. I had to re season often as all those vegetables demand a healthy amount of salt to taste proper. Adding Parmesan cheese rinds to the stock and grated parm into the bowls before serving with a healthy dose of black pepper kicked it all up a few notches from bowl of vegetables to wonderful, hearty soup.


The Yolk's On Me

I rarely buy Jumbo sized eggs, but they were on sale this week. This morning, I got a double yolked egg! This oddity is as rare as finding a four leaf clover, that needle that's been in the haystack for such a long time. Maybe I should play the lottery? A sign like this, a sign that something is a little extra special about today, is a true gift. The eggs were a part of my crimini mushroom omelet with shavings of parmiggiano reggiano on top. I needed a change from the scrambled eggs and chicken apple sausage breakfast of late. All this is to maintain my high protein low carb diet that I desperately want to make a way of life. It sure does work and you can see results. But there's pasta, and bread, and the food group of mashed potatoes!


A Slice of Heartache

I've sent this topic in an email to my vast reader base but I'm so enraged I need to expand upon it here. We endured the $50 burger at DB Bistro, the $100 cheesesteak at Barclay Prime, and now, for your viewing pleasure, the $1,000 pizza. I say, "Your viewing pleasure" because this is a side show. A stunt simply for publicity.

It is comprised of 8 ounces of 4 kinds of caviar. From Petrossian, a well respected caviar retailer who has it's own restaurant. The people at Petrossian are elegant and classy and I'm sure don't appreciate being mentioned with this dish. To put salmon roe (commonly used as fish bait, really large and unappealing) next to fine caviar is like garnishing your fine cheese tray with cheesy poofs. A little creme fraiche with caviar is nice, but a whole sauce like layer of it? And look at all that wasabi. Wasabi is grand, used in moderation with sushi and especially with Tobiko - but I daresay it ruins whatever morsel of taste might have been salvagable. Looking at the crust, I'd rather have a Boboli. The people at Totonno's are hopefully lauching hot coals through the windows of Nino's Bellisima. I'd love to hear from anyone who's eaten there, is anything edible? Check out the thread about this menu offering on eGullet.


Pantry Cooking

Once again I was sabotaged by my fridge. This time, it was a package of chicken thighs purchased well within sale date. Ancient ice box of a fridge couldn't keep then cold enough for 2 days. When I began to cook tonight... gotcha! Spoiled chicken. I was going to make crispy Asian chili sauced thighs. Now, I needed immediate backup. Too hungry to venture out and delivery to Norristown is limited, because it's Norristown. No other raw proteins in the fridge because it does often sabotage me. What's on the pantry shelf that's a satisfying Saturday night dinner?

Shelf stable spinach tortellini. Yes, yes, this will do. Not in the mood for tomato sauce either. Ooh, and here's a can of Stilton and Port soup from Scotland that I hadn't developed the nerve to eat by itself. And a hunk of Roaring 40's blue from Australia left over from a cheese plate a few weeks ago, voila! Spinach tortellini with blue cheese cream sauce was born. I added some other left over cheese bits (a small piece of La Tur from my last post), some parmiggiano that my fridge is never without and some Emmenthaler for a rich melty-ness to the sauce. Super tasty, and didn't seem like a pantry desperation dinner.

What other pantry staples do I keep around for just such an occasion? Cous cous - add anything and you have a meal. If the tortellini didn't jump out I was going to make curried eggplant cous cous for dinner. The Captive Husband wouldn't have even missed the meat. Stocks and broth equal instant soup. Add some leftover chicken or a handful of pasta and arugula to wilt in it and you have a simmered all day flavor. Speaking of pasta, multiple shapes are a definite pantry staple. A no cook sauce of extra virgin olive oil, grated cheese and fresh basil puts dinner on the table in 10 minutes. Stir warm penne into a mixed green salad dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and goat cheese, and I'm content. Canned chick peas. Whiz them in the food processor for quick hummus, add to a salad to make it hearty, toss them with a can of diced tomatoes and feta cheese and lemon for another quick pasta meal. Cured meats. Spanish chorizo, andouille sausage, Italian salumi. They all last forever, even in my fridge. Not only can you slice up a quick antipasto plate, but they can be added to eggs for a quick omelet, sauteed with potatoes for a hearty meal. Cheese. There's usually some American for the emergency grilled cheese, but there's also the leftover bits that happen there seemingly by accident. These bits that wouldn't constitute a platter end up in polenta, mac n cheese, another famous omelet and even fondue. Cheesy grit souffle. No need to specify a type of cheese, mixed with creamy grits it all becomes sublime.

I could go on and on but the message is the same. When you think there's nothing in the house for dinner, unless you're a bachelor who keeps only empty mayo containers and whipped cream in the fridge - you have more meals at the ready than you realize.

I Didn't Leave Him Cookies, I Left Him Cheese...

Of all the things to leave for Santa, when he's tired of Nutter Butters here comes a little present for him. La Tur always makes a splash on my cheese plate. While being soft and occasionally nice and runny, it won't smell up the car on the ride home. Made in Northern Italy of the milk trinity - cow, sheep and goat that is, there's something for everyone to like. The fresh center has that goaty crumble, the rind has a fresh bloom but is less chewy and pungent than heavy brie, all with the tangy smile of pecorino flavor throughout.
When perfectly ripe la Tur has a beautiful halo of ooze (a technical term) just flavorful enough to keep it intriguing without reaching for the sock spray. The edible rind is bloomy and wrinkly like a hairless pug and not at all imposing in the mouth. The label on top is made of rice paper and is edible, but I prefer to put it on the side of the plate as food art. The scene it contains of a woman selling cheese and bread from a small stand makes me think I'm back in Bologna, in the little alley that has the food shops normally kept away from tourists. Janet Fletcher writes about cheese weekly in the San Francisco Gate. See what she thinks of La Tur.

Most cheese is best eaten with fresh crusty bread. La Tur is memorable alongside Pecorino Ginepro and Gorgonzola Dolce, also from the same region. Add some Prosciutto di Parma, dried fruits and nuts, maybe some crostini and a glass of wine and you have a meal.