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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Watermelon Sorbet

You ever buy a lame watermelon? You know the kind - it tastes more like cucumber than melon or maybe it's started to go soft and mushy. And, you wonder "what can I do with this?" If you have an ice cream maker, turn it into sorbet. The sugar, which is essential to create a good texture in a sorbet, helps immeasurably. Of course, if you bought a beautiful watermelon like the one in the photo, your sorbet will be even better!

You can use watermelon with seeds but it's a lot more work to remove all the seeds. Nowadays, seedless watermelons can be had easily, and this is the way to go. In my local supermarket, most of the mini-watermelons weigh in at 3 ½ pounds. I've scaled the recipe to use one mini-watermelon, which makes a bit less than 1 quart of sorbet.

Very refreshing!

Watermelon Sorbet
(makes not quite 1 quart)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Castelas Ginger Olive Oil

Food souvenirs from my trip to Provence.
Last year, I was lucky enough to ride a bike through a little bit of Provence. It was a magical trip. We visited some incredible places, such as Pont-du-Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct,

Pont-du-Gard. It's big. Really big.
the hilltop town of Les-Baux-de-Provence, with a medieval castle,

Looking up at Les-Baux-de-Provence. The castle and the town are a step back in time.
and a little olive oil producer down the hill from Les-Baux called Castelas.

We got a tour of their facilities. The picture above is the display to their fancy Italian olive oil press. Of course, no tour would be complete without a visit to the gift shop, where they sell their olive oils, olives, soaps, and candle (both made with olive oil). They let us sample their olive oils and they were absolutely delicious. The black fruit olive oil, pressed from ripe black olives, is very smooth with a background flavor of hazelnuts. It is incredible stuff.

But, the really special oil is the Ginger Olive Oil. It is not an infused oil. The ginger is pressed with the olives and the pure ginger flavor is unique. I have tasted every ginger olive oil I could find since I visited Castelas and nothing even comes close. A little goes a long way when used as a finishing oil. It enhances fish, or chicken, and makes a wonderful vinaigrette.

Something this special doesn't come cheap, of course. Well, if you are in Les-Baux, it's pretty reasonable. Unfortunately, I have no plans to visit Provence this year, so I need to order it from the source. Shipping is more expensive than the oil, but it's worth it. Indulgent, yes. But, I don't often splurge on things like this.

You can visit their main website or go straight to the Castelas store (in English) to order some of this exceptional olive oil. I would not wait too long. Last year, when my stash was getting low, I went looking for it and it was all sold out. I've been conserving it ever since. I ordered two 250 ml cans and they should get here next week. Let the olive oil flow!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Experience with Oxtails

Oxtails are one of those cuts that really need a lot of patience. The meat is very tough because it gets a lot of use (watch cattle - they swish their tails all the time) and there is tons of connective tissue holding it all together. That means you will be cooking them for a long, long time.

I tried cooking them in my slow cooker, which I guess would work if you cooked them long enough. I tried about 8 hours. Definitely NOT long enough. Next time, I'll try overnight and through the day.

Why bother with oxtails? They taste so very good, especially when given the Chinese treatment. I adore star anise which is kind of odd since I hate licorice. Some things are unknowable. :-)

Chinese Braised Oxtails

Start with about 1 ½ pounds of oxtails. This is enough to feed 6 if you don't expect to get a lot of meat. The oxtails give up their collagen, making for a very rich broth. So high in collagen, in fact, that the sauce gels when it is chilled. This is good stuff and makes are a delicious sauce.

Place the oxtails in a dutch oven. Add 5 whole star anise pods, 1 4" stick of cinnamon, about a dozen whole black peppercorns, 3 Tablespoons dark or black soy sauce (these are thicker and have some molasses or sugar added), and 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Stir in enough water to nearly cover the oxtails. Heat over medium heat until it starts to boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, covering partially. Cook for a very long time, like 4 hours until tender. You can't really overcook them. Check the water level and add additional water if most of it cooks off.

You can serve the oxtails whole but I like to remove most of the meat so that it becomes part of the sauce. This is a rather time-consuming process, however. First, take all the oxtails out of the sauce and allow them to cool on a sheet pan until you can handle them.  Pick as much of the meat off the bones as you can and add it back to the sauce. While the oxtails are cooling, strain out the star anise, peppercorns, and cinnamon, then crank up the heat on the sauce. You can reduce it as much as you like, until is quite syrupy (again, have patience). When it starts to get thick, reduce the heat so that it doesn't burn. Adjust the salt after you have reduced it. Add the bones back too because if you love oxtails, you'll want to suck all the goodness off of them. And the sauce adds lots of extra goodness.

The meat and sauce only improve if you chill it all and then reheat it. Great served over noodles.