Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hey, Look- Food!

This tasted better than it looked, but it wasn't my best work. Kind of re-entry into the world of the living. Mixed garden veggies (beans,peas, potatoes, beets, zucchini, carrots onions, garlic- all added at different times so that they would each be perfectly cooked at the end) with fenugreek and lemon juice formed the base, along with brown rice. On top, chicken thighs simmered slowly in coconut milk, garam masala, and some other spices that I forget now, along with copious Thai basil, added every few minutes or so in order to thoroughly perfume the dish. And to drink, another lovely Givry; they're gone now but these light reds are hitting the spot until I go buy more rosé.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Another Week

Not so culinary; the family was in Chicago partying with Grandma so I used the week to rebuild our shower from scratch. The job was so consuming, and the time so tight that I reverted to bachelor-animal mode, eating junk (and not that frequently- I often skipped lunch) that I loaded up on right after dropping them off at the airport. I didn't even go into the garden all week, despite the attention it desperately needed, because I didn't have the time or brain space to deal with it. Actually, I did go in there once, but it was to grab a 5-gallon bucket to mix grout in. One day I had a cheeseburger for breakfast, worked 12 hours, showered, had a cheeseburger for dinner, and went to bed.

In my defense, they were organic.

I did go out one night; Liz had a dinner party and it was a blessed relief to eat real, garden-based food with wonderful people. I brought nothing. I am so far off my game it's silly.

On the upside, though, I got it from here (day two)

to here (day 7) and only swore 5,712 times in doing so. The best part was Sunday, as I was tiling, and a thunderstorm knocked out the power so I got to continue by candle/flashlight. The only problem with this kind of upgrade is that while the shower looks like it belongs in Dwell, the rest of the bathroom now looks like Double-Wide Weekly.

Now I have a couple of frantic days in the woodshop building the pieces for a 16-foot high octagonal pyramid that I have to assemble at a big rock festival in the city next week. After that, I get to return to being the guy with a garden and a blog (and a family) who is relaxed and witty and generally fun to be around.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What A Week

It was like summer camp, only without the archery, macramé, or nature wedgies. I worked dawn to dusk on an 8 x 80 foot wall in some seriously hot weather, but I got it done, and made a little time to work on the labyrinth too. Dinners are communal, and prepared on a rotating basis, so I busted my ass to be able to contribute on Thursday. Anthony went out and procured all the necessaries, so I made paella for the crew- having remembered to bring my pan with me. Tom- who took the picture below- was incredibly helpful with preparations and a damn fine guy to talk to as well. I felt bad for those on dishwashing duty, because I characteristically dirtied pretty much every pot and surface they have. Outdoor kitchen or no, I can make a mess.

It was pretty straightforward- a shrimp shell broth with onion, carrot, and herbs- lots of saffron plus the shrimp in the rice, with peas from their excellent garden- and clams and mussels to finish. Time and a couple of pescatarians combined to keep sausage and/or poultry out of the mix. The rice expanded to fill my pan, so I steamed the bivalves in the pot with a bit of broth in it, then dumped the accumulated liquor into the rice to finish it before serving. So the shellfish were on the side, with a gazpacho (tomato, red pepper, cucumber, zuchini, onion, citrus, herbs) appetizer, papaya/avo/onion/cilantro/lemon/orange salsa, and salad to round it all out. And wine. I brought up a bunch, and we poured much of it: three rosés (all French) and then a 1997 Teófilo eyes Ribera del Duero (I LOVE THIS WINE BUT IT WAS MY LAST ONE) and a Thackrey Pleiades XVI.

Good times. And it's good to be home now.

From left to right: Brace, Anthony, Paul, and yours truly drinking rosé out of a jelly jar.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Three Steaks Are Better Than One

A return to the source of the mighty boletes resulted instead in a bag of gorgeous wild oyster mushrooms, variety being the spice of life and all. And there were also beautiful organic NY strip steaks. And there were ideas. I couldn't find a winner among the competing ideas, so I declared a tie, and decided to trim and cut each steak into three pieces, then give each one its own sauce. But first, because when I get fancy sometimes dinner is an hour or three late, I whipped some ricotta with black olives and layered it between gently sautéed zucchini. With some caramelized turnips with vanilla on the side- that I originally intended to go with the meat- the little towers made for a nice first course.

Then, quickly, I cooked the mushrooms with garlic and wine, spun some bolted frisée and endive with olive oil in the food processor, and made a roux-based stilton sauce with butter, soymilk, kimchi juice, and truffle oil. (By "quickly" I mean not that quickly.) But once I seared the steaks- cooked for an hour sous-vide at 52˚C- in a pat of smoked duck fat, the three sauces did in fact work for eye and tongue alike. This presentation also eliminated "meat fatigue," Christine's name for what happens halfway through a big steak even when it's very good. Each piece offered enough contrast to keep every bite interesting until all was et, though in future I will season each one differently before they go in the water bath so there's a deeper level of both contrast (with neighbor steaks) and harmony (with sauces.) For wine, a pleasant wild card in the form of a gift bottle of 1996 Marqués de la Concordia Rioja, which is a nice compromise between old and new winemaking styles; once decanted it got better with each glass and- while not a world-rocker- was an excellent match for this welter-to-middleweight food. I'll be on a residency next week, and not cooking or posting much, so I wanted to finish the week in fine summer style.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I'm Melting! I'm Melting!

For the last few days it has been hot here. Really, really hot, and humid. The weather is supposed to break tonight, but for the moment it's safe to say that if crotch sweat were crude oil, George Bush would be invading my shorts. Last night, I made good hot-weather food: Vietnamese Summer rolls with tofu and a zingy peanut sauce, plus sautéed escarole with copious garlic and a little BBQ chicken broth. Tonight, though, a couple of things at one of the local stores inspired me so I ended up sweating over the proverbial hot stove. It was worth it.

First, I got some wild Alaskan salmon- always an excellent place to start. Then, they had real, fat, perfect bolete mushrooms from nearby woods. Local porcini. And also more local heirloom tomatoes (ours are flowering, but still at least a month off.) The garden did the rest.

So dinner ended up being the following: seared salmon with a fennel-seed crust, plus radicchio mashed with olives to make quenelles, mushrooms sautéed with garlic and deglazed with wine, tomato, peas, and zucchini. Really simple, but the purity and freshness of the ingredients helped elevate the dish. I will play more with the bitter greens and olives mix; it's got a lot of potential. Also possessing potential is a 2005 Bourgogne "Cuvée les deux papis" by Alex Gambal that I swore I wouldn't open and yet the salmon demanded it. Since I obviously do not possess the willpower to resist the 05s until they're ready, I will at least decant them from now on to give them a chance to open up a little.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hells Yeah

We had some friends over for dinner who live close by but for some reason we don't manage to see often enough- even though the kids all get along so well and we always have a great time together. I had an idea recently, spurred by the bacon, so I wrapped scallops in bacon, glued with activa, and vacuum-sealed them into tiny muffin tins to help them keep their shape. After about 8 hours I opened the bag, popped them out, and dropped them into a shrieking hot pan for about 30 seconds on a side, then cut the heat and added a glug of flat old champagne from the fridge to deglaze, and covered them. Meanwhile, more champagne reduced with kimchi juice and then finished with a pat of butter became the sauce for these luscious morsels, and I garnished them with rosemary and chioggia beet slices. Not the worst appetizer ever made.

And while all this was going on, two chickens smoked merrily on our own apple wood, and potatoes boiled for salad. Now I know that there are loyalties and traditions when it comes to potato salad. I also know that they're reduced to mere nonsense in the glare of genius that once again my Grandmother's version brings to the subject. Dress cut, still-hot potatoes with good vinegar(s), olive oil, pickles, scallions, garlic, salt, pepper, and copious herbs from the garden and you will bask in the reverent gratitude your guests/hosts/random sycophants radiate towards you as they wordlessly wolf it down. As far as the chickens are concerned, green mash is the best companion a cooked animal ever shared a plate with, and a salad should go without saying. Notice the skin of the chicken- like Catwoman's rubber suit, and twice as tasty.

We drank, in order, a "Triple Zéro" sparkler followed by a Clos de Brettonière- both by Jacky Blot (see last night's post; I'm loving the Loire right now for summer quaffers as well as world-class ageable reds) and moved on to a 2005 Spinetta nebbiolo and a 1999 Lisini Brunello- both decanted, they ramped up the Earth and funk to a pretty sublime level in a perfect way as I hoped they would, and handled the food admirably. We finished with a shot each of our friend's illegal applejack (eau de W. vie, as he calls it, since it's made from WV apples) that gives Calvados a run for its Euros.

Rolls With Punch

I went to a couple of stores, looking first for fish and second for other things to give me ideas; if I don't have a clear idea in mind, the sight of good-looking ingredients gives me focus. So I found some excellent marlin, and decided I'd make hand rolls since we had some brown rice in the fridge. The hand rolls would need sriracha mayo (duh) so I got eggs and oil. I also broke my "don't buy vegetables between May and October" rule because there were some beautiful local garlic scapes and ours haven't scaped yet.

In addition, there were finally local hothouse tomatoes, so I loaded up on those. Thus, predictably:

And then the rolls. Sriracha-lime mayonnaise, avocado, red onion, sylvetta arugula, and chervil joined the panko-togarashi crusted marlin that I quickly dropped in some hot oil before slicing. It was a pretty insane combination, and kept me busy rolling seconds and thirds (though, as the photo shows, speed-rolling sushi is not my best event.) I also chopped the scapes and sautéed them hot with a zucchini until there was some good brown on them, then squeezed in some lime juice and dumped the mixture in a bowl. They were as good as it is possible for a side of veggies to be. We drank a 2006 Jacky Blot Vouvray- "Les Caburoches" this time; soon I hope to have an excuse to compare this one with the one we got from Mary.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Pot Piety

Probably the single best thing about a garden in summer is that if there are even a couple of pantry staples in the house the question "what's for dinner?" becomes a reason to smile rather than worry. In this case, with some leftover lentil soup and half a recipe of pie crust in the fridge, a sumptuous and exalted pot pie was brought into being on short notice. I took a little hunk of salt pork- just to give the bacon a break, you understand; I can stop any time I want to- and sizzled it, then added garlic, then oil and flour for a roux, then more of the BBQ chicken broth, and then a host of gardeny goodness: turnips, golden beets, baby red onions, zucchini, pak choi, peas, carrots (in three colors) and a panoply of herbs.

Now if I had simply reworked the lentil soup with the extra veggies and broth, I could have expected a reaction from wife and child not unlike a that which a bucket of grilled weasels hoisted (grinning, if in a strained way) from the trunk of a stolen Chevy Nova would have elicited. But this is where the crust comes in. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: my Grandmother's pie crust is the best in the business, period. Ask anybody who has eaten of my tarts (sweet or savory) and they will attest to the sublime, buttery, ne plus ultra perfection of this crust. I could stamp coins out of it and they would be worth more than money. Drape this crust over your half-assed leftover vegetable soup, throw it in the oven for 40 minutes, and all of a sudden you're the MAN. Throw in a bottle of pink, girly, Raffault Chinon rosé- with its gorgeous balance of the red fruit and delicate grip against tart acid and reasonable alcohol (12.5%) and all of a sudden you're not so much a man as a sensitive yet still masculine person who everyone can agree is worth having around, and also really really desirable.


It's been raining a lot, and while not exactly cold, the weather did afford the opportunity to make soup. I began by making broth with the BBQ chicken bones from last week, then crisped up a thick slice's worth of lardons from the sadly diminishing slab of bacon (the dwindlement seems to be a side effect of using it in every damn thing.) And then, into the fragrant fat, carrots, turnips, baby red onions, and garlic to caramelize. I deglazed with random wine from the fridge door, dumped in the lentils and a fistful of herbs, and covered all with the strained chicken broth.

Once the lentils were just tender, I added peas, minced onion greens, and hunks of our first zucchini. At brightest green, they signaled doneness, so into bowls soup went. And on top of the soup, parsley, pepper, and a dribble of truffle oil. I originally was thinking lentil salad, but the bones and the weather pushed me this way. The broth and bacon- due to already cookedness of bones and one-sliceness of bacon- imparted a transparent smoky richness, while the earthy-sweet turnips got along really well with the lentils and the peas offered a nice fresh leguminous contrast. It was like a sharp summer suit: all the proper elegance but without the heavy structure, and a treat on a cooler day. I found more of the 2003 Jaboulet Vacqueyras at the store- they had a case in back- so it was with much happiness that I opened one to go with this dinner.