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Tapas of Eggs and Chorizo

Posted by jwpiper on February 22, 2009

When I returned from California, it was to a fairly empty refrigerator. My wife doesn’t love to cook when I’m gone – in fact, there’s a lot of hummus an guacamole eaten. At least she makes the latter from scratch. Well, from our meager list of food, I was inspired to make a tapas based on something I’d once watched José Andrés create (the wonders of PBS). Simple, easy, but ultimately made of delicious foods: fried eggs and chorizo with garlic. It turned out wonderfully; I was a bit heavier on the chorizo than I would normally be, but I needed something hearty and filling since this “tapas” was going to be my meal. It turned out that the roasted garlic was perfectly complemented by the smokey flavors from the chorizo, and the textures from the runny yolks, the crispy fried whites, and the rich chewy chorizo in a crispy fried exterior were perfect together. This will make it into the rotation as a tapas, or appetizer, or even a breakfast dish.

Tapas of Eggs and Chorizo

2 large eggs
3-4 unpeeled cloves garlic
1/3 lb sliced spanish chorizo
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)
2 tbsp Spanish olive oil
serves 1 for a meal or 2 for tapas

Use your preferred method for frying an egg with a runny yolk: either use a lot of oil in a small pan/pot and drop the egg in or use a few tablespoons and fry one side at a time.
Be sure to salt the egg.
Remove and plate.
In remaining oil, add smashed garlic with peel on in order to roast the garlic and transfer the aromatic garlic oils into the olive oil. Do this for a minute or two.
Remove garlic and peel.
In the same oil, add the chorizo and some fresh thyme and just cook until it gets a bit crispy.
Place the chorizo slices and roasted garlic over the fried eggs and pour on all of the oil from the pan (some is from the olive oil and some is from the chorizo).

I didn’t have any thyme to use and the dish was still delicious. Additionally, I believe José separated the white from the yolk and just fried the white, placing the yolk on top at the end. The presentation was a bit more interesting, but I think if you’re careful when frying the egg, the end result is quite similar.


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Pistachio-Crusted Lamb

Posted by jwpiper on January 26, 2009

Some great restaurants you do research to find, others come on a recommendation. It’s the minority of good restaurants which you more or less stumble onto. After a conference in San Diego, Matt C. and Andy asked some randoms for a good restaurant. This is usually not advisable, but after some convincing that they liked good food, the got a strange and intriguing recommendation: an Afghan restaurant called Chopahn Restaurant.

I tagged along for the adventure and we were amazed at what we experienced. The dish which blew them all away, however, was the Shinwari Kebab – pistachio encrusted lamb chops in a roasted garlic sauce with grilled tomatoes, zucchini, and cardamom rice. Almost every trip I make to San Diego includes a dinner at Chopahn and every time I order the Shinwari Kebab. I’m told that this is a traditional dish which is made in a special clay/brick/or-something oven. I’ve yet to see or taste anything like it elsewhere.

I’ve come up with a recipe which has actually made me capable of going to San Diego without visiting Chopahn. After all, there are plenty of other meals which I can’t pass up in San Diego. This isn’t meant to be a replica of the meal by any means. Instead it incorporates the flavors and textures of the dish. An alternative preparation is to make a side of spiced rice and leave the cardamom out of the main dish. Given that I’m lazy, I usually go with the preparation below. I serve the meal with sauteed or grilled zucchini (or some related squash) on the side and usually break out a bottle of Layer Cake Shiraz.

The wine deserves a mention of its own. There’s so much going on with this $16 bottle, and it happens to be one of my favorite bottles. A real value on an under $20 bottle of wine. It brings an extreme level of complexity and the earthy, rich flavors complement the lamb excellently.

Pistachio-Crusted Lamb

2 tbsp olive oil
1.5 lbs lamb loin chops (4)
6 medium cloves garlic
pistachio topping
serves 2

Heat a heavy pan (I used a cast iron pan) on high.
Add oil.
Add garlic and salted lamb to sear.
Keep moving and flipping the garlic to cook without burning.
After 1-2 minutes, salt and flip the lamb.
While the lamb is searing, spread the pistachio topping onto the already cooked side of the lamb.
After a minute, transfer the pan under the broiler on high to brown the topping.
This will cook the lamb to rare, if a higher level of cookedness is desired, either sear longer or cook longer under the broiler.

The lamb can also be prepared on the grill in much the same way. Grilled zucchini is just incredible, so this method is preferred. The lamb should still be finished under a broiler so the topping doesn’t fall off.

Pistachio Crust

50g pistachios
5g cardamom (two pinches)
40g course ground mustard

Use a mortar and pestle to grind cardamom and pistachios separately.
Add mustard to the ground pistachios until a very thick paste is formed.
Add cardamom to taste.

The paste should have a taste strongly of pistachios with some mustard and a hint of cardamom.

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Pommes Frites

Posted by jwpiper on January 4, 2009

Good fries in the US are few and far between, I think. They’re either too soggy or overcooked – and that’s if they’re fresh. We won’t even discuss the fast food variety. Now, frites in Belgium are plentiful and in my experience almost universally delicious. Frites and mayonnaise and in some cases a brown sauce (ideally provided by Carbonnades Flamandes) are one of those pleasures which I seek out when there. Here’s my attempt to bring that home.

Pommes Frites

5 large potatoes
2 quarts canola oil

Cut the potatoes into 1/4″ strips along the long dimension of the potato.
Soak in water, rinse and repeat until the water is clear.
Dry throughly on towels.

Bring the oil up to 350 degrees.
Fry the potatoes in batches for 3-4 minutes until cooked.
Spread on paper towels and allow to cool to room temperature.

Bring the oil up to 375 degrees.
Fry the potatoes in batches for 1-2 two minutes until crisp and golden.
Toss with generous amounts of salt while hot and fresh out of the oil.
Place on a bread rack in a 200 degree oven.

I made this with half the oil with reasonably good success. Using less oil requires smaller batches and more finesse with the heat level to maintain the proper temperatures.

Optionally, refrigerate or freeze after the first fry and before the second until ready to eat.

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Carbonnades Flamandes

Posted by jwpiper on January 4, 2009

Also known as Carbonnade á la Flamande, this is the Belgian dish which held the most mystique for me. Actually, my history with Carbonnades Flamande is like a condensed version of my refusal to give up belief that there could be a good paella. From the first time I had it during a beach festival with some friends at what I would describe as a fast food restaurant, I knew what it could be. The experience sent me searching with an unwavering commitment to find an excellent example.

One evening, my company’s distributor had me stay out in the middle of nowhere Belgium near his house. I was pretty annoyed since when I’m there, I like to take in as much of the local culture as I can. This place literally had no other buildings near it for at least 1-2km. Since dinner at the hotel would have run me about 50€, my friend Jan took me to a restaurant before he left for home. It was definitely a country restaurant, but had a cozy outdoor seating area and as always plenty of good beer on the menu. I ordered the Carbonnades and was ill-prepared for the flurry of flavors which was to follow. This was what I had been waiting for. When asked what beer they used, the reply was “Trappistenbier,” which if remaining unspecified usually means Westmalle Dubbel in Belgium.

Since then, I’ve had some excellent versions, most notably one made with Drie Fontienen Geueze at one of my favorite Brussels restaurants, In ’t Spinnekopke.

Below is my attempt at reproducing what I experienced in that country restaurant outside of Antwerpen. It is also based on my friend Jan’s family recipe. As mentioned in the Christmas in Belgium post, this turned out very well (that was the second time I made it), but I think it could stand some additional souring elements, whether it come from using a different beer or from the addition of vinegar or increase in lemon juice or red currant jam. It ends up a very rich stew.

Carbonnades Flamandes
aka Carbonade á la Flamande

2 tbsp butter
5 lbs cubed stewing beef
2-3 strips bacon
2 large yellow onions
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp white flour
4 330ml bottles Westmalle Dubbel
1/4 cup concentrated veal stock
juice of 1/2 large lemon
3 slices of french bread
dijon mustard
5-10 sprigs thyme
2 tsp red currant jam
1 tbsp brown sugar
serves 6

Heat a heavy pot (I used a cast iron dutch oven) on high.
Add butter to melt.
Add beef in batches, searing both sides; sprinkle with salt, and reserve.
Chop the bacon into small pieces.
Add the bacon and render the fat. Reserve when the bacon is crispy, leaving the bacon fat.
Chop the onions somewhat coarsely and add to the pot.
Stir and cook for 10-15 minutes, salting about 5 minutes in. This should remove most of the brown bits from the bottom of the pot and the onions should start becoming translucent.
Stir in the minced garlic cloves and cook for 30 seconds.
Stir in the flour until fully mixed.
Pour in the beer and let simmer.
Add concentrated, unsalted veal stock.
Add lemon juice.
Add beef, bacon, and any rendered juices.
Remove the crust from the bread and spread one side with mustard. Place on top of the stew.
Add thyme sprigs.
Allow to cook on medium heat (low boil) for at least 2 hours until the meat is very tender, stirring every 10 minutes or so to ensure that the bottom does not burn.
Towards the end of cooking, add salt, sugar, and red currant jam to taste.
Remove the thyme stalks.
Add water or continue cooking until the liquid becomes the desired consistency, which should be fairly thick.

I cook this on medium heat, uncovered to ensure that the stew would thicken substantially. Alternatively, this could be placed in the oven, covered at 250-300 degrees. This approach may require the addition of more flour or bread to properly thicken the stew.

Traditionally, this is served with pommes frites and mayonnaise one the side. The frites are dipped in the mayonnaise and subsequently into the Carbonnade. The beef is also dipped into the mayonnaise. Not the healthiest meal, but there’s nothing quite like this combination.

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Posted by jwpiper on December 31, 2008

I’ve had many-a-paella over the last decade or so – in Cleveland, other places in the USA, and even in Spain. It was always a meal with almost unmatchable potential in my mind. In every case, I was disappointed. I’ve never actually had a paella at a restaurant that I was impressed with – not even close.

Then, I decided on day that I would try it myself. I’m not the best cook, but I can get something done with a few tries. So I figured, we’d eat a paella no worse that I’ve had in restaurants the first time and then by the second time it should be pretty good. I decided to do an American interpretation of a Mexican-Spanish fusion paella. It would include good Mexican-style chorizo, some prawns, and then traditional Spanish ingredients: softrito, pimentón, saffron, and medium short-grain paella rice.

Well, it turned out delicious the first time. I made it again last night for some guests (Matt G. and Gretchen), but this time with Spanish chorizo. My wife missed the spiciness of the Mexican chorizo, but I thought it was a little more subtle, but plenty worthy. The picture is actually of my second or third time making it – it’s something of a seldom-made standby for us at this point. My recipe is below, with credits largely to José Andrés for inspiration. Indeed, I would have given up on Spanish cooking for good by now if it weren’t for him.


2 lbs uncooked head-on prawns
1.5 lbs chorizo
1/2 cup sofrito
1/2 cup mushrooms
2 cups Spanish bomba rice (or other medium short-grained rice)
4 cups shrimp stock
1/4 cup green beans (or peas)
2 tbsp Spanish olive oil
serves 4

Clean whole head-on prawns, reserving their shells and heads for a shrimp stock.
On medium high heat, season and sear the shrimp in the paella pan in Spanish olive oil – reserve.
If using an uncooked chorizo (Mexican), sear this in the same pan – reserve. The goal is not to cook either meat, but to caramelize.
To the brown bits, add mushrooms and stir and saute.
Once the mushrooms are partially cooked, add the sofrito.
If saffron is not added to the shrimp stock, crush and toast a pinch or two of saffron on the side of the paella pan.
Add the paella rice; toast and mix with the sofrito for a minute or two.
Add the shrimp stock.
Stir for several minutes after attaining a moderate boil.
Add the chorizo and green beans or peas.
Spread the rice evenly, set the heat to maintain a simmer, and stop stirring. The goal is to have a low enough boil that the bubbles never break the surface – forming a film over the paella, which ensures an even cook.
It should take about 10-15 minutes at this point for the rice to absorb all of the water.
About 3 minutes before the water is completely absorbed, place the shrimp gently on top of the paella.
At the very end, when almost all of the water is absorbed, turn the heat to high. This will caramelize the bottom layer or rice – adding a further smokey flavor and a crispy texture to the paella.

This can all be accomplished either over a gas burner, giving more flexibility to temperature control or over a grill, giving a slightly smokey flavor (assuming charcoal) and a more even heat distribution over large paella pans.


3 large Spanish yellow onions
6 vine ripened tomatoes
4 garlic cloves
3 tbsp Spanish olive oil
3 tbsp pimentón (smoked paprika)

Finely chop the yellow onions.
Blanch the tomatoes for 30-60 seconds, peel, and blend in a food processor.
Add the olive oil to a hot pan over medium heat.
Add the onions and cook on medium heat for 45 minutes until well caramelized.
Season with salt several minutes into the caramelization.
Add pimentón and finely chopped garlic.
Add the tomatoes to the pan with the onions and cook for 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes have obtained a rich color.
Taste the softiro and add salt and additional pimentón as needed.

This can be made ahead of time and frozen in 1/4 cup portions, thawed, and added to recipes as needed. I like to make this when local tomatoes are in season.

Shrimp Stock

shells and heads from 2 lbs uncooked head-on prawns
vegetable scraps (celery, broccoli stems, onion ends and peels, fennel stalks, etc)
sprigs of fresh herbs (eg, oregano or thyme)

Place shells, vegetables, and herbs into a stock pot with water to cover.
Boil for at least an hour.
If this will be used for paella, saffron can be added 5 minutes before ending the boil.
Strain the stock through cheese cloth.
Reduce and salt as necessary to obtain desired richness and flavor.

Reduce and freeze with no additional salt for future use. Frozen stock can be diluted and salt added when the stock is needed.

Doing it right takes quite a bit of time and effort but is well worth it. I’ve skimped on the stock (boiling without vegetables or for less time) and sofrito (not completely caramelizing the onions or using tomato puree) – the results are still excellent, but the differences are noticeable.

Now I keep my effort down by making large batches of sofrito or shrimp stock ahead of time and freezing. In fact, I’ve got to get this round’s shrimp stock into the freezer straight away…

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Eggs, Truffles, and Sparkling Wine

Posted by jwpiper on December 30, 2008

I don’t often drink in the morning – there is some sort of social stigma against it. I think it’s silly – if there’s a food which asks for an alcoholic beverage, who am I not to oblige? Responsible drinking, day and night seems like a better course, not an arbitrary decision that excessive drinking is ok as long as it’s after 17:00.

One of my wife’s favorite breakfasts is truffle infused scrambled eggs – though being vacation, we didn’t partake until 11:30. Here is a meal which yearns to be accompanied by sparkling wine. This time, a bottle of Tarantas cava was standing by. A dry wine with notes of grapefruit and citrus, it also seems appropriate for breakfast in it’s own right.

Truffle-Infused Scrambled Eggs

7 large eggs
2 tbsp truffle-infused olive oil
1 tbsp olive oil (optional)
serves 2

Whisk eggs with a few pinches of salt until well mixed.
Pour plain olive oil into a non-stick or cast-iron pan as needed to keep the eggs from sticking to the pan. Don’t use too much – the flavor should be about eggs and truffles, not olive oil.
Pour the eggs into the pan, and keep scraping the cooked eggs from the bottom.
Turn off the heat when the eggs are still soft and a bit wet.
Give a few splashes of good truffle infused olive oil and leave in the pan while mixing until the aroma intensifies slightly.
After plating, sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

I used Urbani White Truffle Oil, which is made with real truffles. It’s a bit mild, but not fake tasting.

We save half the botttle for a repeat breakfast the next morning. Of course, it would be preferable to serve with real truffles rather than infused olive oil – some day I’ll break down and buy a few ounces of fresh truffles for a week in heaven.

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