Monday, October 13, 2014

Pork Shank Osso Buco

In the last year I have wondered many times when I might be able to find the time, to once again document and share what I love to do. Sometimes life becomes much bigger, much more important than ones self and what they want to do, what they love to do. In the last couple of years I have learned more about myself, more about my spouse, more about my family than I had in my 55 years on earth and 37 years in my relationship/marriage. And while I haven't been able to take the time to document/share my times in the kitchen or on the grills, my love for cooking and preparing food for the ones I love has been a integral part of my care giving. This holiday weekend has inspired me to prepare a dish that I have planned for a long while and this cool, rainy October day will provide the perfect back drop for this king of comfort food.

Many times my inspiration for preparing a meal comes from a visit to a restaurant, where I am introduced to something new. On this particular occasion a large group of us had gone to an Italian restaurant tucked away by the railroad tracks, in the quaint downtown area of our hometown. After reading the menu thoroughly, I zeroed in on a pork medallion dish that I knew I had to have. While waiting for service that seemed to be moving slow and being told our first wine selection was not available, I was beginning to have restaurant remorse. As the server, served drinks, apologized for not having our first wine selection and worked hard to make our night out comfortable and special, I settled in and was happy and content. Those feelings were once again challenged when I placed my order and was told that my choice was not available. The entree had just been replaced with the changing of the season and the menu did not reflect the change. The server recommended the replacement dish and described it as a braised pork shank that was one of the chef's specialties and insured me I would absolutely love it. All I could relate it to was a ham shank and I was very apprehensive, yet she insisted I would love it. I trusted her judgement and I had one of the most amazing, flavorful entrees I have ever encountered. As we left the restaurant our server followed me out to the sidewalk and thanked me for such a large gratuity and explained she felt like things had not gone so smooth. I explained that she was the definition of a great server, having dealt with adversity that was not in her control and turned it into a great dining experience by making great recommendations and paying close attention to us while apologizing sincerely for things beyond her control.

In the days that followed I started looking at recipes for Osso Buco, which is traditionally made with Veal Shanks but found many recipes for Pork Shank Ossu Buco, as well. A while back my son was on the other side of the metropolitan area, in close proximity to a favorite meat market that I was quite sure would have the Pork Shanks I needed. They did and though  it has been a longer wait than I hoped for I wanted to cook this dish when I could share it, so here I am with the perfect day for Pork Shank Osso Bucco.

The Pork Shanks will braise for 2.5 hours which allows plenty of time to prepare side dishes but when I get the opportunity to spend a day in the kitchen I like to do as much early prep work as possible. That allows for a leisurely pace and the opportunity to enjoy a nice glass of wine and visit, while the kitchen fills with the aromas of all the goodness to come. I will prepare garlic mashed potatoes and fresh green beans sauteed with mushrooms and onions.

I have peeled my potatoes and have them in water ready to go. The garlic is ready for roasting and the green beans are trimmed, cleaned and ready to be blanched. When cooking something for the first time, timing can be one of the things that can derail your meal. By having my prep work done I will not be rushing while cooking the main course and trying to get my sides to come off at the same time. I can also prepare my vegetables for my braising sauce, peeling and chopping 2 carrots, cleaning and chopping 2 stalks of celery, chopping a white onion and getting my minced garlic ready.

I will brown the pork shanks before adding them to the braising liquid. I am using a seasoned flour, with  chili powder, salt, cracked black pepper and granulated garlic. I will brown them in olive oil and transfer them into the dutch oven for braising.

Now I will construct the braising liquid. I will start by browning the vegetables. I will add the minced garlic later in the browning process to prevent it from burning. When the vegetables begin to get tender (approx 5 min) I will add a cup of dry white wine and bring it to a boil and reduce the wine by approximately 20%. 

Once the wine has reduced I will pour the mixture over the Pork Shanks in the dutch oven. I then add the rest of the liquids and herbs. I'm using 4 cups of chicken stock, 2 cups of beef broth, 2 sprigs of fresh Rosemary, 3 Bay Leaves and salt and cracked black pepper to taste.

 My braising liquid covers about 80% of the Pork Shanks. I will bring the braising liquid to a boil and instantly bring it down to a simmer, cover and cook for 2.5 hours or until fork tender. I will turn the Shanks every 30 minutes to allow them to cook evenly. It is very important to keep this at a simmer and not allow boiling. This will create a very tender and flavorful experience that you will not forget!!

After braising for 2.5 hours the Pork Shanks are removed, placed on a platter, tented and placed in a warm oven. The braising liquid is poured into a colander and all the solids are removed. The braising liquid is then returned the dutch oven over high heat for approximately 20 minutes and reduced down to approximately 2 cups and spooned over the Pork Shanks. 

This was a very special day. I was able to relax this day away, spend a day in the kitchen, share a cooking experience with those that cook and hopefully some that aren't sure if they can cook. It's as easy as the internet, as easy as cookbooks and  allows for individual creativity. I got to visit with my son when he got off work and we had a beer and discussed our beloved Kansas City Royals. I got to spend a day with my wife and prepare her a special dinner. I got to relive a special moment when I was out for a great dinner with a dozen people that were all out supporting my beautiful wife while she was in such great need of support. Oh yes, this was a beautiful, rainy, gray October day that I will not soon forget. 

I give you Pork Shank Osso Bucco, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and Sauteed Green Beans with Mushrooms and Onions, paired with an Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. 

I urge you to live every day as if it could be your last. Gather your family, your loved ones and your friends at every opportunity. Always tell those you love, how very much you love them. And last but not least, always break bread with all of the aforementioned, at any opportunity. Until we meet again, Love and Happiness to you all!!!

For full size photos double click on the photo.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Veal Chops With Portobello Mushroom Reduction Sauce

Sometimes a great meal is the result of my impulse shopping. I will go to the grocery store or market to pick up something specific and I see something else that I cannot resist. I hate to admit it but I am the target market for the person that the store brings in that has a degree in psychology, whose job it is to say "if we put this shiny object right here, the person with the screwed up brain is going to see it and they will have to have it.." I cannot tell you how many times I have gone in the store to pick up a package of dog treats and left with 20 bags and a $350 bill. 

Well this time I had a partner in crime. My dear wife called me from Costco and she says "baby they have a beautiful USDA Prime Bottom Round." I thought man this is great, I'm at work and can't shop but now I've kind of got this personal shopper thing going. This happens quite often and I always take advantage of it. So after a little explaining as to how I'm not sure how I would cut and utilize the whole Bottom Round  she responds, "there is a beautiful Prime NY Strip Loin, with excellent marbling." "How much is it?" "$8.69 a Lb." I tell her "that is a steal, it is normally $14.69 lb, you need to get that." She says it is $115 and I say great price!! Now comes my favorite part. She's walking down through the meat market and telling me what is pretty and how much is. I'm shopping vicariously through her, it's like she is my eyes. I see it all very vividly and she stops and says "oh, they have some beautiful Veal Chops, some are cut like a Porterhouse and some are cut like a Rib Steak." "How much are they, I ask." "$14.69 a lb she responds" Now I must transition back from shopper to salesman. "I've been wanting to try some Veal Chops, why don't you grab those and let's give it a try." And, that is how this meal began.

My wife and I love college basketball. We actually love all sports but basketball tournament time is very special to us because we use to always take vacation to go to the tournaments and had a blast doing so. The last several years I have been going to Las Vegas for the opening weekend of March Madness but I start getting the fever a week earlier when the conference tournaments are being played. This week I took off on Thursday to go with my normal Wednesday off to watch some basketball and get outside to do some grilling and fire the smoker up. I decided Wednesday would be the perfect day for the Veal Chops and that I would serve them with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus Bundles. Peggy found me a recipe for Veal Chops prepared with a Portobello Reduction Sauce. The recipe called for searing the chops in  a skillet and preparing the sauce in skillet around the chops. After considering that, I decided I would sear the chops and cook them to about 80% done on the grill, then finish them in the Portobello Sauce after it had reduced some. With a plan in place it was time to get started.

As I was beginning to prep things Peggy asked if we might go out for an afternoon drink and see friends for a while. I had planned on staying in and I wasn't sure if the timing would allow for time out in the middle of preparation. After going over what needed to be done I said we could probably go out for about an hour from 5 until 6 and it would be a late dinner. She said she liked that idea and with me being off tomorrow that a late dinner would be fine. So I got to work on all the things that could be done ahead of time. I love making my Garlic Mashed Potatoes with roasted garlic. I took the heads off of  the garlic and gave them a nice drenching with a good olive oil. I will cover an oven safe dish with foil and roast for one hour. The garlic will be super tender and mash beautifully into the potatoes and adding in some of the garlic infused Olive Oil will add a smooth silky finish and great flavor.Meanwhile, I go out and get my grills prepped. I will be cooking the chops on the Primo XL and I will do my Asparagus Bundles on the good ole Weber Kettle. Normally both things could be accomplished on the same grill but the process for the chops will keep the Primo occupied too late into the meal preparation to do the Asparagus on it as well.


I've snapped my Asparagus and will wrap it in the Prosciutto. From the "if something can go wrong, it will" analogy, the Prosciutto was too thin, not packaged properly and was tearing apart while trying to remove the slices. I work with this stuff quite often and it is always somewhat delicate but for $6 for 4 ounces you would think it would at least be usable. So while I'm going slightly nuts, screaming that I've got some $24 a pound crap that is screwing up my whole day Peggy calmly tells me there is more Prosciutto in the freezer and I might give it a try, instead of having a stroke. After a quick thaw on the Prosciutto from the freezer and getting great results wrapping my bundles, it would only be right if the voice of reason came down to the kitchen and made me admit I was overreacting and that she had saved the day. Very, very annoying but I still love her enough to cook her a nice meal.

The Asparagus is wrapped, drizzled with Olive Oil and seasoned with Kosher Salt and Cracked Black Pepper. They can rest in the fridge and be ready to go on the grill when we return home. I will also season the Veal Chops. With this being my first experience with them, I take notice that they have an appearance more closely resembling a pork chop than beef. I will rub them lightly with Olive Oil, and season with Kosher Salt and Cracked black Pepper.

The chops are seasoned and I've got my potatoes peeled, cut up and soaking. Everything is pretty much ready to where we can go out for a while and when we return all that is left to be done is the cooking. It was a very nice visit to our favorite place for a drink. We were joined by our son and several friends for a very enjoyable but quick outing, returning home by 6:15 to get the fires going.

Upon returning home we got a visit from our favorite neighbor. He was coming with news that one of his great parties would be taking place on May,11th and the calender needed to be marked. He then informed me that I would have to leave before 5 a.m., maybe more like 4:30 this time. I told him someone needed to be there to run the party after he passed out and asked if there was anyone better than me for that job. Well that conversation was going to require a beer while he thought that over. Peggy and I were having a glass of the perfect white wine while I cooked. When I'm cooking a meal that is being paired with a red wine, I often like a light, crisp white wine while preparing the meal. The potatoes were almost ready and I will let them rest while I cook the chops and reheat them right before mashing them. The Primo XL has a hot fire going and is running 550 degrees, waiting to put a crusty sear on the Veal Chops. The Weber Kettle is fired up and the Asparagus will go on in the last 10 minutes of preparation

I leave the grill lid open leading up to putting the chops on. I want a flame that will be dancing right at grate level.  I like the flames to lick the edges of the meat to add the crusty exterior that I am looking for. Once I shut the lid the flames will subside and it will be a nice even heat. These are thick chops running probably 1 1/2" thick yet I will only cook them 3 to 4 minutes per side to give them a good sear and get them 75% to 80% done. I will then remove  them from the grill, let them rest while I prepare the mushroom sauce and add them to the sauce to finish cooking.

It is right through here where I would normally show you how I assemble the Portobello Reduction Sauce. Instead I enjoyed my wine, cracked jokes with my neighbor and tried not to cut my finger off.
The sauce starts with heating 2 tbs. of Olive Oil and 1 tbs. of butter. I take 8 ozs. of Baby Bella Mushrooms and cut them into slices between a 1/4" and 1/2 " thick, I add a good tbs. of chopped Shallots and once they have browned I add 11/2 cups of Chicken Stock, 1/2 cup of a good Cabernet Sauvignon and 2 tsp. of chopped fresh Rosemary. My chops come off the grill and come in to rest. Now I have a good hot fire to do my sauce reduction.

I put my Asparagus Bundles on the Weber and put my Cast Iron on the grill over the open fire. The smells are incredible as the Shallots, Rosemary, Red Wine and Mushrooms come together as one. I will reduce this down to a gravy consistency. The Mushrooms were intentionally cut thick to stand up to the high heat during the sauce reduction.

The sauce has reduced down to the point of adding my Veal Chops in. This will allow a little bit of the flavors to meld as the chops finish cooking. I will turn the chops several times and this will serve as a basting as the sauce thickens to its finish.

Sometimes you put in a lot of work and at the conclusion you have the feeling your work will result in a good dinner. Sometimes you put in a lot of work and you have the feeling that you nailed it and this will be a very special meal. I think this is going to be the latter.

The meal was paired with Edna Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Every single aspect of this meal came out perfect. It is rare that I prepare a meal and cannot be critical of the way something came out. This is one of those rare instances and this is why I love cooking. When you get it all right, there is not a single restaurant out there that you think could do it any better. Wow!! This was the first Veal Chop I have ever prepared or eaten and I must say it could very well be the best cut of meat I've ever eaten. The flavor was spectacular. The Garlic Mashed Potatoes were perfectly balanced with a rich but not overwhelming garlic infusion. The Asparagus was crispy yet tender and the Prosciutto added a saltiness that cannot be achieved by simply salting.

This was a near perfect day. I kept my eye on college basketball, did a few chores around the house and got to enjoy grilling out, a little over a week removed from the backyard having 3' deep snow drifts abound. I got to spend some quality time with some of the best friends and neighbors, man could ask for. I put time and love into preparing a meal for myself and my lovely wife and I got the reward of a lifetime. My wife said OMG, best meal ever and called me the Iron Chef of Lees Summit!! I would cook 1,000 meals to hear that once. Thank you to my beautiful wife for making me the proudest husband on earth. I love you with all my heart. Until I see you all again, enjoy one of the truly great times of the year, as we move from the cold of winter to the rebirth of all things green and the beautiful smells of  Spring. Viva Las Vegas!!!

For full size photos double click on the image.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Smoked Chicken, Andouille and Shrimp Gumbo. A Gift From Louisiana.

I absolutely love ethnic foods, regional dishes and foods associated with certain events. My wife and I use to get to travel considerably more than we do at this time. One of the things we always loved about traveling was trying the foods of the region, discussing the cooking styles, herbs and spices that are used. Going back many years ago I discovered that if we couldn't go to the places we were yearning to visit, I could bring those places to us. 

It all starts with your memories and your imagination. When a memory is special to us, we have a way of remembering the most minute details. The lighting, sounds, smells, sense of history and the color of the day, that create the ambiance that makes the time and place special. I have found that I can make the day special by recreating the minute details and then letting the imagination take care of the rest. It can be as simple as this. I love baseball, I go to every opening day for my hometown team. To me opening day in baseball is as much of a reference point of the New Year, as is New Years Day. When my team opens up the baseball season on the road and I can't be there, I can recreate being there by opening up the windows in the sun room, putting the game on the radio, grilling hot dogs and enjoying a cold beer and some peanuts during the game. If you breath deep you can smell the fresh cut grass, if you listen closely you can hear the crack of the bat and the fans cheering. 

This past week I have just gone through many of my friends going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I heard all the ads for my favorite Cajun Restaurant having Fat Tuesday parties. I kind of had that, wow I wish I was there feeling. I decided a good pot of Louisiana goodness was in order. The great dishes of Louisiana cuisine are a true treasure chest for all cooks, from celebrated chefs to kitchen amateurs using mixes from the bag. Today I will be making one of my all time favorites, Gumbo. I start getting excited when I get out two of the necessities for this dish, a cast iron skillet for my Roux and a big pot for the Gumbo! My basic Gumbo principles are add Okra, serve it over rice and of course the Holy Trinity. After that, the possibilities are endless, meats and seafood are like wild cards in a kids card game. With a beautiful day ahead on Sunday I decided on a Smoked Chicken, Smoked Andouille, Gulf Shrimp Gumbo. I will smoke my chicken and sausage on Sunday in preparation of making my Gumbo on Monday.

I have prepared the ceramic grill for some light smoking, using lump charcoal and some small chunks of hickory. I will run the cooker at 250 while the sausage is on and then kick the temperature up to 300 to finish the chicken.

I will use two Cajun/Creole seasonings. The more recognizable Tony Chachere's will be used as a dry rub on the chicken and my favorite local Cajun restaurant's spices,  Jazz A Louisiana Kitchen will go into the Gumbo.

Sunday is a perfect February day with the temperature in the low 50's and a sunny, blue sky. The Primo XL is running perfectly, as thin blue smoke tells me the cooker is burning clean and will produce a mild, clean, smoked flavor in my chicken and sausage.

I've got 1.75 lbs of  fresh Andouille Sausage made by one of our great local sausage makers. These are raw sausages that must be cooked but you can find fully cooked Andouille in most markets with the other sausages.   I will cook them at 225-250 with light smoke, to just done, leaving plenty of juices in the sausages as they will cook again in the Gumbo. This is a 4.5 lb Chicken and I have applied a light coat of Olive Oil and a good dusting of the Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning.  I will smoke it in a pan to reserve it's juices and it will produce a well seasoned, smokey broth to add into the Gumbo.

At first check everything is going well. The sausages are browning and the chicken is rendering fat. The Andouille will cook 45 - 60 min being careful not to overcook and the chicken will cook to 165 internal.

The Andouille and the Chicken have come off the smoker in great shape. I let the sausage rest and bag them up to be ready for the big event tomorrow. The chicken has beautiful color and tempting aromas. It is all I can do to not get out a carver and have a thigh/leg quarter for dinner. It is probably a good thing that I am also preparing dinner for tonight or this chicken might not have made it to the Gumbo. I will pull the chicken tonight while it is still warm, as it pulls much easier warm than cold.

Once the Chicken has rested I move it to the cutting board. I pour up the juices and will put them in the refrigerator over night, making it easier to remove the fat, leaving the broth and spices to add into my stock. The extremities of the Chicken show nice smoke penetration and the flavor is outstanding. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. It will be a gray, cool, damp day that should be very good Gumbo weather.

It was time to do some chopping. I will be using Green Bell Pepper, Red Bell Pepper, Celery, White Onion, Green Onion, Parsley, Minced Garlic and Bay Leaves. While I am at it, I will also slice my Andouille that I smoked yesterday. To make my stock I will use the Chopped Vegies, Minced Garlic, 4 Bay Leaves, fresh Chicken Legs and Necks and a link of the Andouille. I add Cajun Spices, Cayenne Pepper, Salt and Cracked Black Pepper.

While the stock is doing it's thing I start on my Roux. I will use 1 cup of Canola Oil and 1.5 cups of Flour. I use medium heat and slowly add the flour stirring constantly to prevent burning. I will let my Roux reach a paper bag brown then reduce the heat and add some reserved Chopped White Onion, Bell Pepper and Celery. I will let it simmer slowly until the vegetables caramelize. We don't like our Roux real dark, I will let it simmer to a dark caramel color. Roux is one of my favorite parts of the process. When you only do this a time or two a year you find yourself treating the Roux as you would drive a brand new car, very carefully. You can say when on the Roux, cooking longer leads to a darker Roux, a darker Gumbo and a richer flavor. I found a color I'm comfortable with that reduces my risk of burning the Roux, creates the flavor we are looking for and doesn't take too long to prepare. For someone very experienced with Roux this is a walk in the park, for the occasional Roux cook we celebrate each success.

Once the Roux reaches the desired color, I will remove the chicken from the stock. I will then add my Roux, Smoked Chicken, Smoked Andouille Sausage and I will skim the cup of Smoked Chicken Drippings from yesterday and add the remaining broth and seasonings. After simmering for an hour I do a taste test and make any adjustments necessary, more Creole Seasoning, Cayenne Pepper, Splashes of Tabasco.

Sometimes the best made plans meet with resistance. It turns out the fresh okra I had put up in the freezer had a little bit of frost bite going, so I went to plan B. I had a bag of frozen okra and  I will give it a try and use a little trick a fellow cook told me to try. I cooked the okra to 90 % done and added a tbs of vinegar to try and cut the slime that cooked okra produces. It seems to have worked well. I add the okra to the Gumbo and it will finish cooking as the Gumbo finishes. The Okra and the Roux both add flavor as well as act as thickening agents for the Gumbo. We love Okra so this is a must in all of our Gumbo.

Last but not least I have 1.5 lbs of Gulf Goodness!! I add these last to prevent over cooking. Five minutes of handy work has them shelled and nice and clean. When I'm cooking a Shrimp Gumbo this is like "putting the topper on the tree". Now you can step back and begin to admire your work. Peggy has the griddle going and is making some Crunchy Garlic Butter Bread. This is one of those dishes that is a labor of love but worth every minute.of it. This dish started yesterday with the Chicken and Sausage going on the smoker on a beautiful afternoon and is wrapping up on a cool, gray, rainy evening.

I wanted to go down that road of feeling like I was in Cajun Country. There is no better way to do that from home than the smell of the Holy Trinity of Cajun/Creole Cooking, resonating throughout the house. This dish looks and tastes like a celebration of food. It is a gift from a culture that is second to none in the food world. It is loaded with complex flavors and ladled over simple white rice, Uncle Ben's White Rice that is. I've paired it with an old favorite that I first had on a trip to my favorite Cajun joint 20 years ago with my niece, Blackened Voodoo Lager. I will drink this beautiful beer that pairs so well with this dish with a heavy heart. The Dixie Brewery established in 1907, resides in the 3rd Ward of New Orleans and was one of the many, many casualties of Hurricane Katrina. But as in so many cases in the Great City of New Orleans this beer lives on and is currently being brewed by a brewery in Wisconsin. I will hope that the Dixie Brewery can someday return to it's rightful place in New Orleans. It was a great afternoon and evening, as I did one of my favorite things, prepared a nice dinner for my family. My son, my wife and I broke bread, had good conversation and I had that little bit of Mardi Gras that I was yearning for. Until I see you again just remember, if you can't travel to where you want to be, you can bring where you want to be to you. All it takes is some memories and a little bit of imagination.

For full size photos click on the images.