Friday, December 30, 2016

The 99¢ Las Vegas Shrimp Cocktail

     A Las Vegas Tradition!
     I miss my home town Las Vegas when working abroad.  When home sick, I cook Las Vegas style food.  There are fantastic food values in Las Vegas.  One great value is the 99¢ Las Vegas Shrimp Cocktail!  A Shrimp Cocktail costs a high volume restaurant about one dollar to make, so the Las Vegas style Shrimp Cocktail actually is a casino promotional menu item.
     The Golden Gate Casino is located at Main Street and Fremont Street.  This luxury hotel was built in 1906 and it used to be called the Sal Sagev, which is Las Vegas spelled backwards.  Later in history it became the first casino in Las Vegas.  The Golden Gate Casino also was the first to introduce the Shrimp Cocktail in 1959.  Ever since, over 40 million Shrimp Cocktails have been sold at the Golden Gate Casino as of 2012.  This casino finally stopped counting the fantastic number of Shrimp Cocktails sold soon after 2012, because everybody knows that the Golden Gate is the number one top seller of the classic Vegas style Shrimp Cocktail.
     The Shrimp Cocktail was actually invented at Antoine's in New Orleans.  The Vegas style Shrimp Cocktail differs by only a slight variation.  The bottom of the glass is always lined with diced celery.
     The Vegas Shrimp Cocktail is a traditional celebration item for any big event, especially New Year's Eve.  One must simply have a Shrimp Cocktail sometime before the ball drops!  This is a fairly easy item to make and as the Golden Gate Casino sale numbers prove, the Vegas Shrimp Cocktail is a real crowd pleaser!

     Poached Shrimp:
     This recipe yields enough for 2 large Vegas Shrimp Cocktails.
     Step 1:  Place 1 quart of water in a small sauce pot.
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 2 whole dried allspice berries.
     Add 1/2 of a lemon.
     Add 6 whole black peppercorns.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seed.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Step 2:  Place the pot over medium high heat.
     Boil the liquid for 3 minutes, so the spice flavors infuse.
     Add 1 pound of whole large shrimp.  (Large shrimp are 16/20 per pound)
     Poach the shrimp, till they are fully cooked.
     Step 3:  Place the poached shrimp in a container of ice water.
     Wait for the shrimp to completely chill.
     Step 4:  Peel and devein the shrimp.
     Remove the tails.
     Place the shrimp in a container.
     Chill the shrimp till they are needed.

     Classic Cocktail Sauce:
     This recipe yields about 1 1/3 cups.  (More than enough for 2 large Shrimp Cocktails.)
     Cocktail Sauce was an Antoine's of New Orleans creation!  Organic Ketchup is the best, because it is the closest to the original ketchup recipe.   
     Step 1:  Place 3/4 cup of organic ketchup in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/4 cup of chili sauce.
     *American style Chile Sauce is a tomato condiment that is like ketchup in color and texture.  Chili sauce is not a hot pepper sauce!  If none can be found, then add 2 more ounces of organic ketchup.
     Step 2:  Add 3 1/2 tablespoons of prepared fine grated horseradish.
     *The amount of horseradish actually depends on the strength of the horseradish, so use your judgement!
     Add 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of finely minced garlic.
     Add 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce.
     Add 1 teaspoon of Louisiana Cayenne Pepper Hot Sauce.
     Step 3:  Whisk the ingredients together.
     Place the sauce in a container.
     Chill to 41ºF, so the flavors meld.

     The 99¢ Las Vegas Shrimp Cocktail:
     This recipe describes 1 Las Vegas Shrimp Cocktail.
     Step 1:  Place 1/4 cup of diced celery on the bottom of a large martini glass, a parfait glass or a brandy snifter.
     Step 2:  Alternate layers of 8 to 10 poached shrimp with generous spoonfuls of the cocktail sauce (about 1/2 cup), till the glass is filled to the top.
     Garnish with a lemon wedge and an Italian Parsley sprig.

     Viola!  A Classic 99¢ Las Vegas Shrimp Cocktail for New Year's Eve!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Kansas City Steak Soup

     A Hearty Steak Soup For A Chilly Day!
     Today's soup was a house specialty at a restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri many years ago.  A neighbor of mine used to drive to Kansas City from St. Louis a few times a month.  The guy kept talking about a steak house in Kansas City that served a great soup.  During one trip to KC, he asked the chef for the recipe.  To his surprise, the chef said that the price for a copy of the recipe was $50.00!  My neighbor liked the soup, so he paid the fee for the recipe.
     We were invited to dinner at the neighbor's house soon after and we tasted the Kansas City Steak Soup.  The soup was very rich, full of great steak flavor and it had a spicy kick.  The neighbor got a very nice soup recipe for the money spent!
     Everybody liked the Kansas City Steak Soup!  The soup was flavored with hot sauce, A-1 Steak Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce.  The flavor of the steak soup tasted like no other beef vegetable soup.  The neighbor said that the steak soup was always served with a bottle of hot sauce on the side and customers at the restaurant would add generous amounts of hot sauce to the soup while dining.
     I never looked at the neighbor's steak soup recipe that he purchased, because when I tried the soup it was long before I started my chef career.  I am now adept at figuring out the what ingredients are in a recipe and the techniques used to make just about any food item.  The KC Steak Soup actually was easy to remember, so it was pretty easy to figure out.
     I first offered Kansas City Steak Soup at a French café as a special du jour on a chilly day.  Customers liked this soup so much, that a few ordered a second bowl instead of ordering an entrée!  I have made Kansas City Steak Soup at several restaurants since then and each time the entire batch of soup sold out.  This soup is a real crowd pleaser!
     Kansas City Steak Soup is somewhere between a soup and a stew.  Mirepoix vegetables, peppers and mushrooms are in this soup.  Acidic tomatoes add a key flavor.  This soup does resemble a stew, because the soup broth is thickened with roux.  The broth is like a very thin gravy.  This is a very tasty hearty steak soup!

     *This entire recipe yields 5 cups.  (Enough for 2 large bowls of soup.)

     Steak Preparation:
     Step 1:  Select a 1" thick cut of beef steak that weighs 10 ounces.
     *Any thrifty priced cut of lean beef steak can be used.  Sirloin, Top Sirloin, Chuck Steak, Tri-Tip or Tenderloin Tips are good choices.  Beef trimmings can also be used.
     Brush the steak with melted unsalted butter.
     Season the steak with sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 2:  Heat a cast iron ribbed griddle or a chargrill to a medium/medium high temperature.
     Grill the steak on both sides, till it is cooked to a medium well done temperature.  (Be sure that dark grill marks appear on the steak!)
     Step 3:  Set the steak aside to cool.
     Cut the grilled chuck roast steak into large bite size pieces.
     Chill the steak bits till they are needed.

     Kansas City Steak Soup:
     Step 1:  Heat a wide sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 2 ounces of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add 1/2 cup of coarsely chopped onion.
     Add 1/3 cup of bite size chopped pieces of carrot.
     Add 1/3 cup of coarsely chopped celery.
     Add 1/2 cup of bite size pieces of green bell pepper.
     Add 4 small portobello mushrooms that are cut into thick slices.  (about 3/4 cup)
     Sauté the vegetables till they start to become tender.
     Step 2:  Add just enough flour to soak up the excess butter in the pan, while stirring.  (about 3 tablespoons.)
     Stir until the roux combines.
     Step 3:  Add 6 cups of beef stock.
     Bring the soup to a gentle boil.
     Stir the soup as it heats and thickens.  (The soup broth should be a very thin consistency.)
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add the reserved grilled steak pieces to the soup.
     Add 3/4 cup of peeled and seeded California Tomato that is cut into bite size pieces.  (Acidic California Tomatoes are best for this recipe.)
     Step 5:  Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 1 pinch of ground celery seed.
     Add 1 pinch of thyme.
     Add 1 pinch of ground sage.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of Spanish Paprika.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Step 6:  Add 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce.
     Add 1 tablespoon of A-1 Steak Sauce (or HP Steak Sauce).
     Add 1/2 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons of Tabasco Pepper Sauce.  (to taste)
     Step 7:  Add the white part of 2 green onions that are cut into bite size pieces.
     Add 1/2 cup of green beans that are cut into bite size pieces.
     Step 8:  Simmer till the volume is reduced to about 5 cups and the broth is a very thin gravy consistency.
     *The vegetables and steak pieces will be tender after simmering and reducing.  The proportion of meat and vegetables should be high in this soup.
     Keep the soup warm over very low heat.  Add a splash of water if the broth becomes too thick.
     Remove the bay leaf.
     Ladle the Kansas City Steak Soup into a shallow large soup bowl.
     Try to expose a few pieces of the grilled steak and vegetables on the surface of the soup.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.
     Serve with sliced bread on the side.
     Serve with a bottle of Tabasco Sauce on the side.

     The Worcestershire Sauce, A-1 Sauce and Tabasco gives this soup a classic steak house flavor.  Adding hot sauce to this soup at the table does change the deep flavor profile.  This is a great soup for a cold winter day!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Eastern European Meze Platter

     Cabbage Stuffed Peppers, Hungarian Paprika Deviled Pickled Eggs, Sour Cherries, Sourdough, Smoked Provolone & Czechoslovakian Salami!
     The word Meze (or mezze) translates to event.  In culinary terms, meze refers appetizers or a large event platter.  A meze platter is meant to be shared by guests during a social event.  Meze platters can be part of a casual afternoon get together, parties or formal occasions.  In America, a meze platter is called a party platter or a banquet hors d'oeuvres platters.  
     Meze does have its origins in Persia.  In Persia, dining is a social occasion.  When food is shared, manners take on importance.  Etiquette, politeness and social skills are enhanced.  Meze also promotes civility.  Sharing food at social event promotes a peaceful coexistence!   
     In America and many other countries, a meze platter often is designed with a theme in mind.  The theme can feature vegetarian, delicatessen food, local source food products or any number of ideas.  A meze theme can feature the cuisine of a specific region or country too.  
     Todays recipe features Eastern European casual food.  Every item on the meze platter is popular in Eastern Europe.  Most of the food items for today's platter came from the Euro Market & Deli in Las Vegas.  Similar Eastern European food markets are located in major cities nationwide.
     During the holiday party season, convenience becomes a factor.  Assembling a party platter with quality food products purchased at an Eastern European food market is easy to do.  A party platter like this will create far more interest than a cheap deli platter that is purchased at a regular grocery store.         

     Pickled Eggs:  
     This recipe yields 2 pickled eggs.
     This recipe is very easy to expand if more is needed.  One or two deviled egg halves per guest is a good par when planning party food.
     Eggs that are 2 week old are far easier to peel after they are hard boiled.
     Step 1:  Place 2 large eggs in a sauce pot.
     Add enough salted water to cover the eggs with 1" of extra liquid.
     Bring the salt water to a boil.
     Boil the eggs for 12 minutes.
     Step 2:  Cool the eggs under cold running water.  
     Peel the eggs.
     Set the eggs aside.
     Step 3:  Place 3 cups of water in a small sauce pot.
     Add 2 to 3 slices of fresh red beet. 
     Add 1/4 cup of cider vinegar.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of sugar.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher Salt.
     Add 1 pinch of white pepper.
     Add 1 clove.
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 1 pinch of allspice.
     Add 1 pinch of ground ginger.
     Step 4:  Place the pot over low heat.
     Simmer till the beet slices are tender and the liquid turns a purplish red color.
     Step 5:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Allow the ingredients to cool to room temperature.
     Pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a container.
     Add the peeled hard boiled eggs.
     Place the container in a refrigerator.  
     Chill for about 24 hours, so the eggs pickle and turn a purplish red color.

     Hungarian Paprika Deviled Pickled Eggs:
     This recipe yields 2 Deviled Eggs.  
     This recipe is also easy to expand.
     Step 1:  Remove the 2 eggs from the pickling liquid.
     Cut the eggs in half.
     Pop out the hard egg yolks and set them aside.
     Chill the egg white halves till later in the recipe.
     Step 2:  Place the egg yolks in a small mixing bowl.
     Add 1 pinch of onion powder.
     Add 1 small pinch of garlic powder.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add 2 drops of Worcestershire Sauce.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of Hungarian Paprika.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and white pepper.
     Mash the ingredients together.
     Step 3:  Add just enough mayonnaise while mixing, to bind the ingredients together.  (About 3 or 4 teaspoons.)  
     Mix till the ingredients are blended smooth.  The deviled egg yolks should be a thick creamy texture that can stand in a spoon.  
     Step 4:  Place a small portion of the deviled egg yolk in each pickled egg white half.   
     *A spoon or scoop can be used to place portions of the deviled egg yolks in each hard egg white pocket.  A small star tipped pastry bag can also be used.
     Step 5:  Place the finished Hungarian Paprika Deviled Pickled Eggs in a shallow container.
     Chill the deviled eggs till they are needed.

     Eastern European Meze Platter:  
     This recipe yields 1 Eastern European style party platter for 4 to 8 guests.  
     All of the food products for this party platter can be found in an Eastern European food market.  The Preserved Sour Wild Cherries and Pickled Cabbage Stuffed Paprika Peppers are sold in large glass jars.       
     Step 1:  Place 8 slices of Eastern European style Sourdough Boulle Loaf Bread on a countertop.
     Place 1/2 of a thin slice of Smoked Provolone Cheese on each slice of bread.  (half moon shaped slices)
     Place 2 thin slices of Czechoslovakian Salami on each slice of bread.
     Overlap the meat and cheese bread slices on a large oval shaped party platter.
     Step 2:  Place 3/4 cup of Preserved Sour Wild Cherries in a large ramekin.
     Place the ramekin on the platter.
     Step 3:  Place the 4 Hungarian Paprika Deviled Pickled Eggs on a bed of curly leaf parsley sprigs on the platter.
     Step 4:  Place enough Pickled Cabbage Stuffed Paprika Peppers on the platter till fill any empty space.  (about 4 to 8)
     Step 5:  Serve the Eastern European Meze Platter with small ramekins of condiments on the side.  (Sour cream, olive oil, Ajvar and Russian Mustard are good choices.) 

     Ethnic party platters, like today's Eastern European Meze Platter are a good way to introduce food items that guests are not familiar with.  A good Eastern European party food platter will naturally please guests and inspire conversation!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lebanese Village Cheese Mezze Platter

     A Casual Lebanese Event Platter with Assorted Bread!
     The word "Mezze" is spelled many different ways in Mediterranean and Eastern European languages.  The word Mezze basically translates to "event."  In a culinary sense, Mezze refers to food for an event.  The event can be a small dinner party, cocktail party or a banquet for thousands of guests.  
     Food is considered to be a social item in Mediterranean countries, so mezze is essential to make an event a success.  Food definitely is entertainment at a social event and it is inspires guests to comment amongst each other.  Creating tasty event platters that inspire conversation is a key to mezze platter design.  
     Selecting interesting combinations of appetizers, cheese, fruits, pickles, dips, salads, condiments and appetizer items for mezze platter can be as easy as shopping at a Mediterranean food market.  I purchased the items for today's mezze platter at the Mediterranean Market in Las Vegas.  This market is stocked full of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food items.  Similar Mediterranean food markets can be found in most big cities in America.  
     There really are no demanding cooking techniques involved with designing a modest looking casual mezze platter.  A cheese, pickle and condiment mezze platter is fairly easy to make on short order, so a party platter like this is convenient during the holiday season.   
     Each item on a mezze plate should peak the interest of guests.  If there is a variety of items on a mezze platter, then surely some of the items will appeal to each guest.  Selecting interesting food items is easy to do at a Mediterranean market, because in America, cuisines of the Mediterranean region are still considered to be exotic.    
     The way that the food items are arranged on a platter creates interest too.  Platter design should include elements of focal point, flow, patterns and color combinations.  Grouping complimentary flavors together inspires guests to combine the items, so they can experience the effect.  Crowding items together on a platter will result in a cluttered look.  Leaving space between items results in a clean visual effect.   
     A theme can also be part of mezze platter design.  Because Lebanese Village Cheese is the featured item on the platter, popular Lebanese accompaniments should fill the rest of the platter.  Even the accompanying bread selection should support the theme of the platter.  
     Lebanese Village Cheese Mezze Platter:
     This recipe yields enough appetizer items for 8 to 10 guests to sample.  This casual mezze platter can easily be refreshed with more food as the event goes on.
     All of these items can be found in a Mediterranean food market or Persian Arabic food market.    
     Step 1:  Select a 16 ounce to 20 ounce wheel of Lebanese Village Cheese.
     Cut half of the cheese wheel into thin wedges.
     Place the uncut half of the Lebanese Village Cheese Wheel on a large oval platter.  
     Arrange the thin cheese wedges next to the cheese wheel head piece.
     *This will be the primary focal point of the platter.
     Step 2:  Place about 2 to 3 ounces of Persian Rosebud Jam in a ramekin.  
     Place about 2 to 3 ounces of Brinjal (highly spiced eggplant and tamarind chutney spread) in a second ramekin.
     Place the ramekins on the back half of the platter.
     Step 3:  Garnish the rest of the platter with:
     - Arabic Black Olives
     - Sliced Preserved Lemon
     - Sliced Persian Pickled Wild Cucumber
     - Capers
     - Spicy Turkish style Harissa Sauce
     - Italian Parsley sprigs
     Try to organize the items so they are visually appealing.
     Mediterranean Bread Platter:
     Mediterranean breads are en vogue and they create interest.  Since today's mezze platter is about convenience during the holiday party season, purchasing fresh baked bread at a Mediterranean food market is a good option.  
     The bread should be sliced into portions that can be eaten with a few bites and presented on a separate platter.  
     Bread Selection:     
     Whole Wheat Tonil Lavash (The first lavash recipe created!)
     Mediterranean Ring Bread (Koulouri Thessalonikis)
     Small Pita Bread (Khubz Arabi)

     Mezze platters like this inspire good conversation and smiles!  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Macaroni & Cheese with Asparagus, Ham and Stewed Tomato

     Gourmet Mac & Cheese!
     Macaroni and Cheese has to be one of the all time favorite comfort food entrées!  Macaroni and Cheese has been around for more than 500 years.  The original version involved layering butter, cheese and macaroni pasta in a casserole dish, then baking till the cheese melted.  In modern times, Macaroni and Cheese is usually made with a béchamel sauce that is enriched with cheese.
     One of the classic accompaniments for macaroni and cheese is stewed tomatoes.  The recent gourmet Macaroni and Cheese trend has opened the door for many more creative toppings.  Green vegetables, like asparagus spears are an interesting topping.
    The rule of thumb is if it tastes good with cheddar cheese, then the chances are that it will taste good in classic Macaroni and Cheese.  Classic Mac & Cheese is usually made with cheddar.  Both asparagus and ham go well with cheddar cheese.  Sharp English Cheddar or Sharp Colby Cheddar are the best choices of cheese for classic Mac & Cheese.  For a gourmet Macaroni & cheese, quality is more important than quantity, so the better the cheddar, the better the classic Mac & Cheese will be!
     Macaroni & Cheese with Asparagus and Ham:
     This recipe yields 1 hearty portion.
     Step 1:  Place a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of roux while stirring with a whisk.  (The roux should be thick and shiny, like warm peanut butter.)
     Constantly stir till the roux is a white color with very little hazelnut aroma.
     Step 2:  Add 1 2/3 cups of milk while stirring with a whisk.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of Spanish Paprika.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground anatto.
     Add sea salt and white pepper to taste.
     Bring the sauce to a gentle boil.  Stir occasionally.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce till the sauce is a medium thin consistency that can coat a spoon.  (The volume should be a little more than 1 1/3 cup.)  
     Step 4:  Add 1/2 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese, while stirring with a whisk.
     Stir till the cheese to melts into the sauce.
     Remove the pot from the heat and set it aside.
     Step 5:  Cook 1 portion of macaroni pasta in boiling water till it is al dente.
     Drain the water off of the pasta.
     Place the macaroni pasta in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/3 cup of diced ham.
     Add enough of the cheese sauce to generously coat the pasta and ham.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Step 6:  Lightly brush a single portion casserole dish with melted butter.
     Place the macaroni, ham and cheese in the casserole dish.
     Step 7:  Heat a small sauce pot of water over high heat.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt.
     Bring the water to a boil.
     Add 7 thin asparagus spears.  (Thick asparagus spears should be peeled.)
     Blanch the asparagus for about 30 seconds.
     Step 8:  Remove the asparagus from the water.
     Arrange the asparagus spears on top of the mac & cheese, so it looks nice.  (If necessary, trim the length of each spear.)
     Step 9:  Lightly brush each asparagus spear with melted unsalted butter.
     Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of fine French bread crumbs over the casserole.
     Step 10:  Place the casserole dish on a baking pan.
     Place the pan in a 350ºF oven.
     Bake till the cheese sauce starts to bubble and a few golden highlights appear.
     *Do not let the mac & cheese brown in the oven!  Burnt cheddar cheese has an undesirable bitter flavor.  The asparagus will also dry out if it is baked for too much time.  Just bake the casserole till it gets hot and bubbly!  
     Stewed Tomato:
     This recipe yields 1 garnish portion.  (About 1/4 cup)
     The stewed tomatoes can be made while the mac & cheese bakes.
     Step 1:  Heat a small sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1/2 cup of water.
     Add 1/3 cup of coarsely chopped canned plum tomatoes and a proportion of their own juices.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 small pinch of thyme.
     Add 4 whole Italian Parsley leaves.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Step 2:  Bring the liquid to a gentle boil
     Rapidly simmer and reduce till almost all of the liquid has evaporated.
     Keep the stewed tomato warm over very low heat.

     Macaroni & Cheese with Asparagus, Ham and Stewed Tomato:
     Set the casserole dish on a doily lined serving plate.
     Place the stewed tomato on the center of the casserole.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.

     The little bit of accompanying stewed tomato topping adds a zesty flavor.  This is a nice gourmet Macaroni & Cheese!