Monday, September 29, 2008

A Drowsy Numbness Pains My Sense

One of the great joys of parenting is that it's like having a VIP preview to all of the season's latest must-have microbes. Milo got a cold on Friday, and of course inevitably I got it a couple of days later. Since it was just the two of us this weekend, I made a big vat of minestrone with a chicken carcass, lots of roots and herbs from the garden, alphabet pasta, and heirloom cranberry beans. He's been zealously working his way through it for the last four days.

For myself, after I put him to bed (when one of us is away, he gets to stay in our bed, which is a treat for both of us) I made a meal of utmost simplicity and luxury. A big local ribeye, seared à point in a little bacon fat and served on a big pile of the latest batch of kimchi. I washed it down with a 2001 Serpico, which is softening enough to drink well, but needs more time to get where it wants to be. Having said that, I'm cooling some on these big Italian bruisers; Piedmont is really where the action is, though the prices and the required aging time make it a long-term relationship.

The next day- I think; I feel ever so crappy- I made something that popped into my head a while back when I was trying to think of what to do with the hard end of a piece of our duck prosciutto. As it has aged and continued to dry, it moved through the firmness spectrum from prosciutto to bresaola, and now it's bonito-hard. So that inspired me to treat it like bonito; I made "oshitashi" with swiss chard and a blood orange ponzu, then grated some of the duck on top. On the side, quick-pickled chard stems from the same plants. It worked really well, and next time I cure duck I will smoke it and set some aside for longer aging in order to have "duck dashi" as a pantry staple.

Then, to celebrate the last jar of last year's yellow tomato purée- which is as sweet and velvety as tomato sauce knows how to get- I made a semi-deconstructed version of my Mother-in-Law's sausage pasta. The problem with her version is that the sausage, as it simmers in the tomato sauce, tightens up into dense little pucks so that although the flavor is good, texturally the wonderful juicy snap of sausage is lost. So I cooked some locally-made hot and sweet sausage in a pan until they were just shy of done, and took them out. Into all the rendered fat and brown goodness I dumped minced onion and garlic, then deglazed with a splash of white wine from the fridge. I removed the top couple inches of clarified tomato water from the quart jar (the solids sink down, so this helped thicken the result as well as giving me about a cup of clear yellow tomato nectar for another use) and poured it in. As it simmered and reduced, I cooked penne, and tossed it into the sauce when it was nearly done along with a handful of peas. Meanwhile, I reheated the sausages to sizzling and sliced them into the pasta, adding their juice. It was a success; the creamy sweet tomato sauce (well-infused with the pan drippings) was the ideal pedestal for the crispy, juicy, spicy sausages, and the sweet peas added another dimension.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Urbane Urban Urbanity

Another week in the city got me across the goal line; I won't be back for much more than schmoozing and food-related activities for a while. It's ironic, because all of a sudden our old neighborhood is hipster central, with an embarassment of culinary and commercial riches that we could not have imagined only a few years ago when we lived there. So it's sad to return, but the pangs of regret are mitigated some by the size of the rent checks I now get, plus the fact that I love our life here in the sticks, particularly as it relates to our garden and the first-rate meats, birds, and grains we have direct access to now. Also, the boy is ecstatic and spends most of his life outside, as is proper.

As a respite from my toils preparing the ground floor apartment, I was able to go out for some meals- two of which were excellent. Monday night, Mary and I took a friend who was paralyzed in a hit-and-run last winter out to Dressler (his choice) in Williamsburg, which has a pretty reasonable corkage fee, so she and I planned ahead and came well prepared with a Burgundy-themed evening. I left my notes in Brooklyn, but the food was good to very good- pretty straightforward, but well-executed, and with quality ingredients- and a couple (the two that Mary brought) of wines were superior. In my defense, I bought mine the day before and the worse of the two was solely on the rec of the guy in the store. The better one was from a domaine that has since ben bought by Camille Giroud, for whom Mary's beau makes the wine.

Thursday was John's bachelor party lunch at Nobu Fifty Seven; the guys in the band have known Shin for many years-since he was at Hatsuhana, I think- and have followed him as he moved around to different restaurants. He hooked us up with an omikase extravaganza that lasted for three hours. Nine guys, 12+ courses, and semingly bottomless daiginjo sake. Most amazing, by the end of it all we were neither stuffed nor drunk. Perfection. I took a crap phone picture of the mammoth platter of sushi he sent us to conclude the meal (but before the bananas foster with rum ice cream and the molten chocolate cakes with intense matcha ice cream served in a bento box) that I will spare you.

Now I'm home, and it's just me and Milo for a few days, so I'm playing with kid food permutations involving healthier and fancier ingredients.

Friday, September 19, 2008

There Will Be Food

About 14 years ago my Mom took me scuba diving in Belize. The national dish there- as I remember it- is rice and beans cooked in coconut milk, garnished with onions and habañero peppers pickled in vinegar. It's a great combination; the rice and beans are rich, creamy, and thick, and the pickles are crunchy, sharp, and fiercely hot. Since we still have an excess of habañeros, I made 2 quarts of the hot onion pickle today with our red onions (as well as a whole mess of basil-nasturtium-sorrel pesto for the freezer, but that's another post.)

For the "rice" I took a cup of the local 10-grain mixture we love so well and put it into my new pressure cooker with a can of coconut milk, soaked kidney beans, herbs, spices, a little lemon juice, and a few chopped cloves of garlic. After about 20 minutes it was a lovely thick porridge studded with plump beans and perfumed with the garlic and powders (chile, cumin, paprika, plus mustard seeds.) I salted it and it was done. A grope of neon onions on top and a little chervil completed the ultimate post-tropical peasant dish; the grains are so nutty and creamy and wonderful, and the crunchy onions have that long, beautiful fruity habañero afterburn. To quench the heat, a lovely 2005 Trimbach Gewürztraminer that rained peaches and lychees onto the bright pink-and-orange fire, and whet the ferrous edge of the blood-red beans.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hey, Puddy

For tonight's dinner the pork shoulder steak I bought at the farmers' market yesterday gave me something to focus on, and I had it pretty well figured out by dinner time; a few last details inspired by fridge and garden rounded it out into an excellent season-spanning meal. I brined the meat in kimchi juice, then cooked it sous-vide at 65˚ C for two hours. Meanwhile, I took a jar of the most recent kimchi, (which is actually sauerkraut, since it's only cabbage and carrot) and braised it in a pan in which I had rendered and crisped lardons of the penultimate slice of homemade bacon. In addition, I put a cup of whole triticale into the rice cooker and made a reduction sauce of cherry juice, balsamic vinegar, and brown rice syrup. While all of this was going on, I made mash with thinnings of the galia endive that we love best in this form, and which is growing in well for fall and winter.

All was ready pretty much at once, which is nice, and the various intense flavors made for a compelling variety of different bite combinations. I seared the meat up in a pan with a little of the rendered bacon fat in it, and used the crispy filaments of fat that remained as a garnish for the plates. The bacon added a nice supporting porkiness that helped the meat find extra favor with the cabbage, and the sweet/tangy sauce, nutty grains and bitter, garlicky mash provided a full spectrum of flavors and textures on the plate. As with so many other meals, a Pleiades XVI was absolutely perfect with this; I'm still in mourning that it will never be made again. If you see any in a store (for about $25) BUY IT. (This goes for any Pleiades, but earlier vintages are scarce as hen's teeth these days) You will thank me later. I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it until I run out- it is, for the money, hands down the Best Wine in America.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Like Cheney, But Without The Dick

OK, I'm still using the old camera, so the picture is not exactly flattering. The ancient beast is near-useless in subpar light, and loves the flash like Sarah Palin loves a meth-dusted mooseburger. (Or like the ancient beast loves Sarah Palin.) But the salad, the salad- my Mom used to eat like this most of the time- perfect greens tossed with a few choice proteins, or pasta tossed with a panoply of vegetables was her dinner more often than not.

Since our fall lettuces are finally getting up to speed, and I hit our weekly farmers' market for a whole wheat baguette and some goat cheese (and a nice, juicy piece of pork- see tomorrow) it seemed logical, nay imperative, that I comprise it all into one gorgeousness of a meal that would immaculately convey the fleeting warmth of summer in such a powerful way that not only would we would feel it as we ate but also that you, gentle readers, would vicariously partake of some portion of reflected waning sunlight simply by reading and be the better for it.

Thus lettuces and herbs- positively squeaky with just-picked freshness- tossed with the nudest of vinaigrettes became the luxe featherbed for roasted potatoes with garlic and rosemary (all picked minutes before) boiled local eggs, and the aforementioned baguette and herb-rolled chèvre that I toasted up real nice. To accompany, like a retinue of lascivious yet courtly ladies sauntering down our curtsying gullets, a Jacky Blot Vouvray "Clos de la Bretonnière" that is as resplendent a courtesan as ever a peasant repast like this could imagine in its most lavish fantasies.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hotness Cubed

Yesterday was Milo's fourth birthday, so we let him choose dinner. "Pizza" was the verdict. So I made pizza dough and tomato sauce, and pulled other ingredients from the fridge. The pizzas were well received. True story.

Today, in between trying to keep an eye on him while he tear-assed around the driveway on his new bike ($10 from the used bike guy in town, and the best ratio of glee to expense I have ever seen) I tried to get on top of the garden by weeding, thinning, and picking the things that needed to be weeded, thinned, and picked. From the picked things, I made a variety of first-rate condiments. First, some sambal. As you can see, there are many kinds (including the ancestor sauce to Ketchup) but here I was trying to duplicate some that friends brought us from Holland last winter- it was hot, but with ginger, kaffir lime, and sugar to balance it out. We went through two pint jars of it in no time- honestly, my wife would have injected it straight into her veins if she could have. Since our hot peppers are going off like fireworks right now, I tried to use a bunch of them up in a few different ways.

For the sambal, I chopped the cayenne peppers with Thai and lime basil, red onion, garlic, dried shrimp, and ginger, then mashed it all into a paste in the suribachi with some lime juice and a little sugar and agave syrup. It turned out pretty great, and is within sight of the intended goal; lime basil is nowhere near as potent as kaffir lime leaf, but has the advantage of growing in my garden. This version was also raw, and in future I will try cooking it to help it thicken and develop flavors. In any case, our first half-pint is already in rotation and I made a dent in the cayenne crop.

Next up, more kimchi; the last batch was just cabbage and carrot, and this time I wanted spicy. So I went back to the classic mixture of cabbage, carrot, green onion, ginger, and garlic plus Thai basil, chervil and six chopped red serranos with their seeds and membranes. In two weeks it should be perfect.

Last, the hottest of all our peppers- the habañeros. We are lousy with them, and so I tried an idea I had earlier to try to use up a lot of them. The garden has a lot of pink things in it right now, so I used that color as my guide and pulled out the juicer. Red and white carrots, chioggia beets, watermelon, red onion, and radishes all went into the juicer, along with about half our ripe habañero crop (seeded, but with some membrane left in) and four limes. I dissolved some salt in a little cider vinegar on the stove and mixed it in. The foam from the top of the bowl that the juicer drained into was nuclear and delicious. The juice blend was a little less nuclear- there was a lot of membrane in the foam- and bursting with all the pink flavors harmonizing together. The photo gives an idea, but it's really pink- not at all orange or red like regular hot sauce.

Monday, September 15, 2008

About Freakin' Time

Finally, after much schlepping, I get to be home for a week. Then, after about 5 days back in the city, I'll be home for a good long chunk of time and get to return to the normal pace of life. I can't wait. Meanwhile, this week will be taken up with much canning and pickling since everything's finishing up for the season. I have three or four beds planted with winter crops, ready for their plastic covers once the temperature starts to drop at night. If all succeeds, we'll have greens, salad, herbs, and a good variety of roots to last us deep into winter.

There wasn't a ton of time to make this, but it's hard to beat garden stew in any form. This version had chicken thighs, which simmered with potatoes, carrots, radishes, onions, garlic, radish greens, yellow beets and a nice mix of herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, sage, and chervil) for about an hour until all was tender and the jus was golden and unctuous. And that was it; another one-pot wonder brought to you by the plants outside our back door. Because I left the camera's USB cable in Brooklyn, you will have to go on with your life without having gazed upon a bowl of vegetables and chicken with chopped parsley scattered insouciantly on top of it.

Blogger Dinner

After a few tries over the last several months, Brooklynguy and I were finally able to meet for dinner in Park Slope. We went to Al Di La's wine bar, where you can eat their food without having to wait in the inevitable line for the restaurant part. We wandered vinously through Italy, the Loire valley, and Champagne while enjoying seafood soup, octopus & chick pea salad, and two different pastas- a beet and ricotta ravioli and some lovely fat yet delicate malfatti with chard and ricotta. We got grilled chard stems on the side.

The great thing about the blogosphere- apart from the stupid, stupid name- is that it's the ultimate meritocracy; we read and return based on the quality, originality, and frequency of the content. I tend to prefer reading passionate amateurs with good grammar and wide-ranging knowledge who do not agressively (or at all) monetize their sites. A sense of humor is important, too. I thus have a pretty good idea that those people whose blogs I enjoy (and who don't get offended by my comments, especially since I cannot bring myself to use smiley punctuation or exclamation points to signify sarcasm or enthusiasm) would be people whose company I would enjoy in real life.

Thusfar that seems to be the case; we began with a working knowledge of each other's tastes and backgrounds so we didn't have to deal with all the formalities that normally attend a first meeting. And by the end of the night we had covered a lot of ground. I will be attending a wine-people shindig next week chez Brooklyncouple, and have to figure out what to bring, given that he's even pickier than I am. Who knew the interweb was good for meeting people who share your interests? Have dinner with your favorite local bloggers this fall- you'll be glad you did. Or you'll end up having to get a restraining order. Could go either way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tasting Dinner

I'm still in the city, and it's OK, but I miss family and garden with increasing intensity each day. The other night I was invited to Kris and Ken's place for dinner, and Mary came straight from the airport to join us; she's back from France to gather her stuff before moving back there for good. Kris made a simple yet elegant dinner, and we had superlative wines to accompany each course.

First, his crab cakes- covered in roasted corn and served with a spicy mayonnaise. After beginning with a 2002 M. Grünhäuser Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett for an aperitif, we had a 2003 Colin-Deleger Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru "La Truffière" with the crab cakes. It was outstanding, with layers of fruit and minerals that intertwined hypnotically.

Next, a perfectly roasted chicken with potatoes and green beans. Archetypal, and super-traditional, but immaculately prepared. Mary opened the 1989 Camille Giroud Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru "Les Cazetiers" and though on its way out, it rallied after a few minutes open and gave us all of its remaining fruit and perufme.

With the cheese, we had the bottle of 1999 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello I brought and decanted upon arriving. These guys being who they are, they immediately pegged it as a 1999 Brunello, but I didn't give it away. Mary remembered that she had stashed some Brunello in their fridge, so she dug out a bottle of 2001 The Ciacci Riserva to compare. 2001 was an epic vintage, and the contrast was amazing; mine was perfect, and absolutely at its drinkable best, while hers was super-concentrated and needs another 5-10 years to calm down a little. Best of all, it was a complete coincidence that she pulled it out, because I still hadn't told them what we were drinking. Wines are always best drunk with other wines, and with company like this.

The only sad note was the fact that the magnum of 1993 Giroud Vosne-Romanée Chaumes she brought back for me- a gift for John's wedding- shattered in her luggage. We were all pretty upset that such a thing of beauty had been lost.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Fistful Of Basil

I'm off to the city tomorrow, for an unknown period of time (probably a week) so this will be the last post for a bit since the laptop is kaput. I do have a couple of nice things scheduled, so if I can I'll post them while I'm there. Tonight's dinner is unremarkable to look at, for sure- but to taste, well, that was another matter. It began with some ground (local, organic) turkey. Now this is a bland meat, made all the more so by the inexplicable absence of fat. It makes a passable burger, or meatball, or even part of a sausage, but not without copious flavoring and usually heroic doses of duck fat.

In this case, however, such is the bounty that is pouring forth from the garden every day that all I had to do was throw it in the mix- though it definitely got an assist from the lobster broth we brought back from Vermont. So turkey, white carrot, white beet, yukon gold potato, onion, beet greens, green beans, Roma tomatoes, zucchini and herbs all went in a big pot along with a pint of the broth (after the meat and roots browned a bit) and simmered or about 30 minutes I thickened the liquid with a little flour about halfway through. The result was a one-pot meal that spanned sweet and hearty, and had astonishing freshness and depth for what was essentially a pot pie without the crust on top. Ingredients are almost everything.

I kept this simple and confined to one pot because the rest of the stove was covered with our two biggest: the huge stock pot and the far bigger speckleware canning bath (which, on our crap-ass stove, takes about a week to boil, even when filled with piping hot water from the tap.) Into the big stock pot went a ton of our sauce tomatoes, supplemented with about ten pounds more I picked up at the farmers' market yesterday, plus a mound of basil, parsley, and garlic. After about an hour of gentle simmering, I ran it all through my Grandmother's food mill that we retrieved from a drawer in VT and canned it all.

We ended up with 14 pints total- a good start, but I want to make more; these worked out to about $2.50 per pint as compared to around $3.50 for the big organic cans which come from California or Italy. Now those contain more, but one jar of this has more flavor and would handsomely cover a full box of pasta, so these win hands down. The people I bought the paste tomatoes from have some beautiful yellow ones that I'll buy and sauce when I'm back. I opened a 1998 Turley Moore "Earthquake" Vineyard zinfandel, which at 10 years old is an eloquent rebuttal to those who find zin cloying and lacking in complexity. Yes, it's fruity and rich (like Elton John) and nobody's going to confuse it with a Côte-Rôtie, but it's elegant, graceful, and just plain beautiful. But that's why Helen Turley is famous.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Harmonic Convergence

I was talking to a friend last week- who teaches fish at the Culinary Institute- and I mentioned that we tried some organically farmed salmon from New Zealand recently and that it was excellent. He said that when they can't get the Alaskan king salmon, that's what they use. I'm still trying to decide how I feel about farmed fish, and there are certainly degrees of difference between how varying companies do it. I need to do more reading.

In the meantime, here is some of that fish, made into nigiri sushi with the last of the fennel risotto from Vermont. I also turned a zucchini in the saladacco, then marinated the "noodles" in a mixture of salt, soy sauce, cider vinegar, nam pla, and yuzu juice for about half an hour. I squeezed them dry and served them in a little ball- they acquired a lovely silky texture and a nice balance between the flavors of the squash and sauce. Playing the role of tsukemono this evening were more of the honeydew pickles. I also "made" a big plate of black krim tomatoes with salt and oil. Very clean, fresh, and satisfying- a seamless fit with this gorgeous weather we've been reveling in.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Add More Balls

Just as we brought some excellent raw and cooked materials to Vermont, we also returned home with leftovers that have been enriching the meals back here. In this case, I used the fennel risotto, the end of the seared duck breast, and some local blue cheese that I can't remember the name of to make supplì- or arancini- to go with a little of the first batch of sauce from our plum tomatoes that I made to can for winter.

Rolled in egg, cornmeal flavored with paprika, and then fried, there's not much more to say. Everyone loves rice balls. Everyone also loves Pleiades XIV, and even though Sean won't be making any more I can't stop drinking them. We also had wilted chard and cucumber salad with red onion and parsley. Another treasure we brought back from VT were a couple of jars of my Grandmother's freezer jam (strawberry and raspberry) which, considering that she died in 2000, are far more finite and precious. It was hard to be there and see all the apples and blackberries ripening perfectly and not being made into jam, jelly, and pies. We did the family tradition of near-constant high-quality eating proud, but it made me sad to drop the ball on all the bountiful fruit.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Laborless Days

We spent the long weekend in Vermont, and Sirkka and Nissa joined us for a couple of nights. Though the last two days were crystalline late-summer perfection, the beginning of our stay was gray and a little muggy- though it didn't actually rain more than a few drops. So we let the kids do their thing, and between what we brought from home and what we picked up at the farmers' market, we did all right for ourselves on the culinary front.

Friday night, we had pretty straight-up surf and turf: a couple of big lobsters (dispatched in the humane fashion; thanks to Linsey for the link) steamed with local corn and served inelegantly beside local grilled organic ribeyes. The steaks got a nice morel-wine-coffee-chicken broth reduction to play with and the lobsters got that little white pitcher full of melted butter. And there was rice and kale. I had made a quart of chicken broth before we came, and bringing it along- plus all the gardeny goodness- gave us one of those little extras that make deliberate home cooking so good.

For wine, Sirkka brought us a 2005 David Bruce petite sirah, so I went down to the cellar and pulled out a 2000 Carver Sutro petite to compare. Initially, the C-S seemed bigger and richer, but by the end of the meal the Bruce had developed some wonderful lean leather that brought it back into the lead. We'll call it a tie, but only because we ran out of both and couldn't see how they evolved further.

We came back from the farmers' market laden with mostly meat and cheese- since we have gardens- including some local ground beef because I got it into my head that spaghetti and meatballs would be just the ticket for a cloudy afternoon. So upon return home, I took the container of our own roasted tomatoes we brought and puréed them with garlic, herbs, chicken broth, and wine to make what was easily one of the top three tomato sauces any of us had ever eaten. To do justice to the sauce, I mixed the meat with garlic, wine, minced morels left from the steak sauce, and basil, parsley, and fennel fronds. Browned in oil, then simmered in sauce, they had real depth and richness, and since there was no egg involved they weren't too heavy. The combination was one for the ages; it hit all the classic comfort food notes, but also had a freshness and subtle complexity that made it sublime and contemporary.

It also, remarkably, wasn't the coma-inducing gut bomb lunch we expected it to be. Did I mention we had wine as well? A 2003 Patricia Green pinot noir. But we did control the portion size, and limited ourselves to one glass of wine.

That night, I took all the lobster shells and corn cobs from the night before and made broth, which in time lent its gorgeous flavor to a fennel risotto. When I do things like this, I like to cook the vegetable a few different ways to accentuate the flavor and offer different takes on taste and texture possibilities. Sliced bulbs went in the soffrito at the beginning of the process, and minced fronds went in to finish (along with Mimi's washed-rind gouda that we picked up from Taylor farm) and since I cooked a duck breast to go with the rice, I crisped up a bunch of chopped fennel stalks in the fat for a garnish. To complete, another wonderful brought-from-home ingredient: the second jar of honeydew pickles, this one in kimchi juice with a small amount of olive brine added for color and variety. The extra few days in the brine really added something; they were insane, and as good a companion as seared duck ever shared a plate with.

We did another New World wine comparison; the rest of the Patty Green pinot from lunch up against a 2003 Beaux Frères pinot. Now this wasn't a fair fight; it wasn't one of her single-vineyard wines, and thus only cost about a third of the B.F. But it was still interesting to try two Oregon pinots from adjacent years and see how different they could be. Having said that, for all the ecstatic (female- note to self) eye-rolling over the Beaux Frères, it went straight to that cherry-and-licorice place that is so common among better New World pinots- which is not a bad place, but is not even a tiny little bit like the place that pinot goes to in better (or even lesser) Burgundies.

And last, after they left, I took a pound of lamb stew meat we brought and made it into a hearty stew that bridged the seasons admirably; it was hot and beautiful during the day, so we walked and swam, but the nights cooled to the point where a lamb stew seemed appropriate. with sweet potatoes, zucchini, onion, garlic, chard, herbs, cumin, cinnamon, a bottle of local porter, and ample time for the meat to relax and the flavors to meld together, we had ourselves a refined bowl of pleasant peasant goodness. I drank another bottle of the porter with the stew.

It's A Series Of Tubes

We were in Vermont for the long weekend, and I'll get that post together soon. In the meantime, a dinner Milo and I had last week that was remarkable only for the incredible tomatoes we used throughout. To start, two kinds of heirlooms dressed only with Maldon salt and good olive oil. Perfection.

Then, penne tossed with sautéed guanciale (just because it's not dry yet doesn't mean I can't start using it) plus a highlight reel of the late-summer garden: plum tomatoes, chard, fennel, onion, garlic, and five different herbs. It takes the very simplest of starchitecture to let these gorgeous ingredients show off their surpassing sweetness and complex depth of flavor. Lacking rosé, I popped a 1998 Gros Noré Bandol, which at ten years is just terrific- if a little heavy for this kind of food- and made all the better for the fact that I paid around 16 bucks for these when I bought them back in 2002.