Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Less is more

Came back from a night upstate and had this in the fridge: chicken thighs, collards, and the usual assortment of grains and condiments. So I defrosted the chicken (I know, I know) and rubbed it with some cumin and cinnamon, rubbed some lemon slices with the same, plus smoked salt, and seared up the chicken in the big sautée pan. Drained extra fat, then added minced onion, garlic, and chopped collards plus a bit of chicken broth from the other night. Fried the lemon slices while all cooked, and made some red quinoa. Chicken went on quinoa, with a dab of tapenade and then a lemon slice, with collards on the side. Ate it with a Pleiades XI (2001) by Sean Thackrey, which is drinking like a pair of red velvet hot pants after your honey has worn them out dancing all night.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Vegetable curry

I like to have a variety of curry pastes and powders around, as well as the individual components; it allows for fine-tuning flavor without having to grind your own from scratch every time. In this case, it was onions, chick peas, sweet potato and cauliflower with one small can of coconut milk and a dab of tomato paste, mixed with some curry powder, some vindaloo paste, and a few fenugreek and cumin seeds, then left to simmer until all was tender.

Served over the remains of a one-pot rice thing I did a couple of days ago, where I added sweet potatoes, collards, seaweed, dried mushrooms, pine nuts, onion, garlic, and ginger to some brown rice in the rice cooker and turned it on. Everything cooked up nicely by the time the rice was done. Add some kimchi and you're in business.

Lamb shanks

Another perennial comfort food, and to me further proof that one should go for either the best or the cheapest cuts; the best can be barely seared and are tender as can be, while the cheap cuts with proper slow cooking are magic. The key is a good braise with good ingredients. In this case, adzuki beans (dried, which cooked up perfectly and soaked up all the excess liquid,) mirepoix, porcini, garlic, fresh rosemary, bay, one quartered lemon and black olives. Added some of the chicken broth I made days ago, and enough water to cover. Simmered low for 2+ hours and it was perfect. Some people like their shanks to stay together, but I prefer it when the meat disintegrates into the stew. Finished with truffle salt, and enjoyed with the Torbreck Woodcutter's again- a great lamb wine.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Penne all'arrabbiata

This one has been a staple since I first learned to make it in Rome as a student 17 years ago. It's essentially a perfect plate of pasta, balancing the sweetness of tomatoes with the heat of pepperoncini and the depth of garlic.

The key is to cook the peppers and garlic until the garlic JUST colors, then dump in the tomatoes. I always use whole peeled organic; the purées and "sauces" have the wrong texture and flavors. One 28 oz. can to one pound of pasta is just right- just break up the tomatoes with your spoon a bit. The sauce will have reduced enough by the time the pasta is ready to be transfered to the sauce for the last minute or two. Finished with minced parsley and more good oil, and NEVER served with cheese, it's as good as comfort food gets.

I usually serve it with oily garlicky spinach, escarole, or broccoli on the side and either rosé to handle the heat or something weird and funky like Vareij by Hilberg/Pasquero.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Again with the chicken

Rubbed some legs and thighs with remaining pesto, plus the chardonnay smoked salt and herbes de provence and threw them in the oven with onions, garlic, olives, and cherry tomatoes. Once they were close to done I switched the oven to broil and got them all crispy. Poured off the excess fat and quickly cooked some shredded kale in there, then warmed up the half a baked kabocha we still had. I poured some wine (2003 Siduri pinot) over the veggies from the chicken pan and let it reduce while the kale cooked to make a sauce.

Today the bones from said chicken became a broth, with galangal, soy and wakame added, which then went over udon with blanched broccoli raab on top. Milo had a raab-pine nut flan which he liked OK but not as much as plain steamed sweet potato. Next time I'll purée a few raisins into his flan to balance the bitterness.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Dinner last night

A couple friends joined us last night, so as an appetizer I made a galangal-blood orange sauce and poured it over some sautéed shrimp.

For the main dish, I made kabocha-pine nut wontons and spicy pork meatballs and served them in a soup made from the liquid I saved from the Moroccan chicken stew from a few nights earlier (about which I didn't write, but see below) to which I added thai curry paste, tomato paste, white miso, wakame and sesame oil to drag it from Morocco to Thailand (sort of.) I sautéed some kale in the meatball fat and put it on top along with cilantro. Not bad. We had it with Valckenberg 03 gewurtztraminer, my favorite under 10 dollar Asian food wine, and then a Caymus Conundrum which also works really well with tropical and Asian flavors.

Today the remaining squash mixture went into some more of the wonton wrappers rolled into canneloni and baked with some leftover tomato sauce mixed with pesto from the deli.

The chicken stew was just chicken, mirepoix, herbs, olives, a lemon, herbs plus cumin and cinnamon cooked low in red wine along with sweet potato cubes.

I should also mention that I went to the opening party for my friend Mary's wine store last week which was great fun and included such treats as a 2002 Chave Hermitage and lastly a 2001 Harlan Maiden drunk with a pizza very late indeed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Our local grocery sells pretty good frozen pizza dough, which on principal I'm against yet in practice find myself buying occasionally since it's so damn easy and rolled out super thin tastes good too. (Thick it just turns to ghastly white bread.) But for times like this, when reaching the bottom of the fridge, and with the regular rhythm interrupted by a fancy meal out, it's a perfect time to bust out the calzone. In this case, the reminder of the onion soup reduced until thick and not too wet, some broccoli, some mushrooms, and a can of tomatoes quickly cooked with onion, garlic, and herbs for a sauce all got folded up in the dough and baked up really nicely. Doesn't need cheese at all, and the extra sauce goes on top. Quite good with the 2003 Torbreck Woodcutter's shiraz, one of my favorites right now. And the fridge is pretty much empty so tomorrow a big shop at the coop.

A note on cheese: normally we don't eat much dairy, since it exacerbates Christine's athsma and makes for a lot of phlegm when you have a cold. But once in a while, we enjoy some really beautiful stinky artisinal cheese at a dinner party or some such. As with any other decadent treat, I think it's better to enjoy a small amount of something pungent and beautiful than to simply grate soulless brick cheese on everything. We do like the good yogurt, and bread and butter has its exalted place. Again, the key is to make it a special treat rather than a baseline which can desensitize your palate and make you just crave fat for its own sake.

Dinner at Jean-Georges

Andrew & Ryan are in town, so last night we had the Valentine's prix fixe dinner at Jean-Georges, along with the wine pairings that came with (which, in retrospect, I would have skipped in favor of a great Burgundy that would have worked beautifully with most of the courses.)

1. Amuse bouche of shrimp and salsa with truffled potato soup
2. Tuna tartare with avocado and sort of a ponzu sauce
3. Foie gras on brioche with a brulée top (caramelized sugar and sesame seeds)
4. Salmon on Asian mushrooms with ginger-sake dressing
5. Veal cheeks on parsnip-celeriac purée with spicy celery-apple salad
6. Dessert of warm chocolate torte, lemon tart, and ice creams plus heart-shaped raspberry napoleon

It was all good, and the veal was exceptional. The foie gras was more a textural revelation than a taste one; tansformed into a crème brulée it was incredibly creamy and rich but too sweet. As with so many places like this, expectations rarely live up to reality. I'm always hoping for an experience which creates a sensation I've never had before- something new, which changes my ideas of what food can do. Having said that, though, it was a lovely meal, and left us perfectly full.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Onion Soup

By request from a still sniffly wife, after shoveling the sidewalk I went and got a bunch of big yellow onions. Caramelized to a dark near-sludge, then added some dried porcini, herbs, a glug of wine from last night, soy sauce, sesame oil, and then water to cover the onions. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes, salted to taste and served with chopped scallions and a drop of truffle oil. Wicked.

You don't need beef broth to make perfect onion soup, or even a cheesy crouton. It's all about the caramelization, and adding some bottom with the porcini and soy. Nobody would taste this soup, then make a disappointed face and say "Aaaaw- it's vegan!"

Toro! Toro! Toro!

Got some beautiful tuna belly yesterday from the place in the Chelsea market, where it's only $10 a pound. Trimmed off the best part and made some spicy tuna maki using the risotto and a sriracha/mayo sauce. Cut the rest of the fish into fat strips, then salt and pepper, then into the hot cast iron for about 30 seconds per side. Pulled out the fish and deglazed with Marietta Old Vine Red (an awesome wine for 12 bucks, and still one of Christine's favorites,) tamari, lemon juice, and a drop of honey to thicken it.

There was still some rice left, so I made balls, rolled them in sesame seeds, and crisped them up. I had also bought some baby yellow and orange carrots so I cooked them in just a little water with the bases of their greens still attached.

A ball went in the center of the plate, then a triangle of each color carrot, then strips of fish around the outside, and sauce over all, with a bunch of cilantro on top. From now on I'll try to take pictures, because this one looked pretty good.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Brown Rice Risotto

So given Christine's cold I took some chicken thighs and made broth out of them and added the very last of the enhanced duck broth so she could have soup for lunch. Milo had some of the chicken for dinner with sautéed zucchini which he loves. The remaining soup went into a brown rice risotto with dried porcini and the left over parsnip/celeriac purée (the truffle oil was perfect with the dried mushrooms.) Being brown rice, it took an hour to cook, but was well worth it. The yogurt in the purée was enough to make up for lack of parmesan.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Duck redux

Christine caught Milo's cold so I took the rest of the duck broth, added lemongrass, garlic, cubed tofu, and wakame and let it simmer while I cooked the soba. Once done, I drained the noodles into bowls and blanched some shredded kale in the noodle water (saves on dishwasing time) for about a minute. Then pour soup into bowls with noodles, top with kale, and add lots of hot sauce to beat the germs.

This is I think the 6th time we've eaten of this duck in one form or another, and only goes to show that the frugal peasant style of reusing and conserving coupled with the great ingredients is the best possible way to eat.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lamb steak

Last time I was at the Coop I bought a lamb leg steak, which if it was beef would basicaly be like osso buco, but instead of needing the slow cooking of same can be cooked like, well, a steak, since it's a section of a leg of lamb and is thus best rare to medium. So, having brought it to room temperature, I rubbed both sides with herbes de Provence, salt, pepper and seared it up in the selfsame cast-iron pan from last night.

Earlier, I had scrubbed and sliced some parsnips and celeriac which I steamed, then once really soft, whipped with the remaining steaming water, some plain whole-milk yogurt, and a bit of truffle oil. The stick blender was perfect for this (make sure there's not too much of the cooking water; it's a good way of getting the nutrients you steamed out back into the food, but you don't want a runny purée.)

While the meat was resting, I filled the steamer with chopped kale and let it go for a couple of minutes, then tossed it in olive oil and cider vinegar with the requisite Celtic salt and pepper. I deglazed the meat pan with a couple spoons each of the remaining smoked duck broth and the Marquis Philips 2002 Cabernet S2, which is a good lamb wine and has their characteristic funky richness (but less so than the Shiraz 9, which is like a mutant dessert wine but not sweet.) It doesn't take much of a pan sauce like this to complete the plate.

I ordered some of the Artisan Salt that Liz got for Xmas which should further improve the finishing of certain things. It might seem frivolous, but good salt, pepper, oils, vinegars, and other condiments make good seasonal organic ingredients taste their best and thus satisfy you more, reducing cravings for less healthy food.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Salmon in cast iron

Risotto was too ambitious for tonight, so some of the broth just went in the rice cooker with short-grain brown rice. I dredged the salmon that Christine bought today in sesame seeds, salt, pepper, and mustard powder, and cooked it on pretty high heat to crust the outside and keep the center really rare. After that I deglazed the pan with the juice of 1 tangerine, 1/2 of a lemon, some ponzu, rice vinegar, and a bit of honey to make a sauce. There was also a splash of the 2001 Castello dei Rampolla Chianti which is good (their 1998 Vigna d'Alceo is one of the best young wines I've ever had) and is improving as it airs out. 5 years from now it should be a lot better, but it seems to lack a middle palate. Then shiitakes and leeks caramelized, and last I threw some baby bok choy into the same pan (cast-iron) and added garlic and grated ginger with a splash of nam pla to finish. All in all pretty good, even if the wine should have been a silky pinot or a fat zin.

Milo had tilapia and cherry tomatoes with lemon and herbs; I had to mash it together after a few minutes since he was picking out all the tomatoes and throwing the fish at the cat. Everyone ate well tonight.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Dinner debriefing

The smoked duck carcass just became a nice dark broth to pour over udon. I used a bunch of broccoli stalks in the broth since I had saved them and they added some complexity.

The bison roast Saturday night was awesome, and went particularly well with the 1998 Beaucastel and 1990 Vieux Donjon (it was all Rhône except the 2002 Orion John had left from the night before.) I took the leftover split pea soup (made with smoked ribs instead of hambone) and mixed it with some amaranth Liz had in the fridge, plus teff flour, and made little cakes. Rolled in sesame seeds, and then fried crisp, they were really good with her porcini sauce. There was also braised burdock, bok choy in coconut milk, the duck and kumquat served sashimi-style, and a bunch of grains and pickles to round it out.

The key is to use the best raw materials you can get, in season and local, which leads to better leftovers. Better leftovers can become mighty sauces, fritters, soups or almost anything else a few days hence. Witness the duck: smoked, the legs were dinner that night. The breasts became the appetizer on Saturday, and the carcass made a beautiful broth for tonight. I can freeze the rest, or use it to make mushroom risotto in a couple days, or reduce it to make a base for the best BBQ sauce of all time, since I didn't salt it much.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Dinner tomorrow

Just smoked a duck and made some kumquat chutney for dinner tomorrow upstate (about which more later.) Reduced the short rib cooking liquid into a demi-glace of sorts to use as sauce for the bison rib roast with the espresso rub.

All this will be fleshed out properly with more details when I get back.