Monday, December 29, 2008

Broth-er Of Invention

The duck pho gave us one more meal before being used up (not counting the quart in the freezer.) I kept it simple tonight, because I was working to finish a new piece and didn't have a ton of time to cook. So I made sushi-rice risotto with a sort of Greek slant: a little lemon juice, lots of woody herbs, spinach and dandelion pestos, and crumbled feta. The underlying hearty, deep, and slightly exotic aroma of the broth was an interesting counterweight to the brash mediterranean flavors on top, and it all melded nicely. On the side, I steamed cauliflower and tossed the florets in minced garlic and a little whipped cream that Christine had made for Milo to dip his banana in (since I rudely used all the rest of the peanut butter powder for dessert at the party on Saturday.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pho Sho'

As always- slave to peasant efficiency that I am- with the carcass of a roasted bird in the fridge, I wanted to make a brothocentric meal based on the remains of our Christmas duck. Heather made turkey pho after Thanksgiving, and then Hank, inspired by her post, made wild duck pho, so it was only a matter of time before I caught the faux-Vietnamese virus (get it?) and did the same. The interweb: it's like herpes, but in a good way.

I simmered the duck remains on low heat with ginger, garlic, star anise, lemongrass, a couple of cloves, and a bunch of pink peppercorns for about three hours, then strained it. That night we had the broth with some udon and a few garnishes- basically blanched pea shoots and some leftover sautéed collard greens. And it was good. Then, last night we went to a potluck, where I pressure cooked fat slices of black radish with more of the duck broth, and made more of the chocolate mousse, served with the same three garnishes as on Xmas. Nothing says "holidays" like the fawning (bordering on leg-humping) adulation of a room full of people.

And tonight, because this broth is just that good as a foundation for almost anything (I spent far too long anguishing about whether to go the risotto route, or soup, or braise another meat in it) I used it twice in as many dishes. There was some ground pork in the freezer, so I divided it and used some for the base of stir-fried broccoli finished with a flour-thickened sauce of mandarin orange juice, ginger, garlic, broth, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. The rest I mixed well with more garlic and ginger, plus 5-spice, curry powder, and scallions, then tucked into wontons and placed in the steamer. Note to self- and all of you- use the bamboo steamer with parchment circles; the dumplings, they stick to the metal steamer like Zell Miller does to Rush Limbaugh's medicine cabinet.

With a simple supplement of some tosa soy sauce and a couple of drops of sesame oil, the broth proved a worthy medium for the pungent dumplings, and a garnish of cilantro and chervil that I picked because today was freakishly balmy and melted most of the snow, so getting the plastic off the beds was easy. It's not pretty in the garden right now, but there's still a lot of food growing there, and with careful editing it's well worth the effort. To drink, a NY chard that I will be reviewing in the very near future.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Chappy Chanukkah, Xappy Xmas

We kept it very simple this year, with no travel and no guests. It's a pretty nice way to do it, actually, especially given the weather-related mayhem all over the place. Yesterday Milo and I walked into town to see Santa arrive, and then came home in time for me to finish dinner. Sous-vide is genius for this, because I was able to leave the meat in the bath while we were out with no possibility of overcooking it. We had a flat iron steak (around 90 minutes at 52˚ C, then seared quickly in a little duck fat) with rutabaga-celery root purée on baked acorn squash rounds and a dandelion pesto. Very basic, and very good.

Today was a little more involved, yet still totally traditional- mostly for my wife, who lets me do absurdly complicated things on Thanksgiving yet really digs the old favorites. So today it was all the best versions of those touchstones that I could manage.

So I roasted a duck. I made stuffing with good whole wheat bread, the duck liver and some fat, shiitake, copious celery, onion, carrot, and the chicken giblet broth from the other day. I put the rest of the acorn squash in the oven too, next to the duck. I made cranberry sauce with half a tangerine, ginger, decent wine, maple syrup, and black pepper. I glazed the duck towards the end with some strained cranberry sauce and braised collards with leeks, and used some of the duck fat and drippings to make gravy, into which I stirred a fat spoon of the dandelion pesto. While the roast chicken from the other night was perfect for what it was, the added richness of the duck and the extra care in the accompanying dishes made this equally good but on a more intense and decadent level. And it hit the living shit out of every holiday food spot there is, at least in the poultry neighborhood. I floated the idea of a roast, but with just the three of us, a bird made more sense. And we don't love the ham (unless it's prosciutto.)

And though we've been inundated with cookies, both received and of our own making, I was moved to make a dessert because I had the urge to mess with the mousse from Thanksgiving some more. Not the actual mousse, mind you, which I repeated almost verbatim, but the context. I seared bananas in a pan, then deglazed and flamed with rum, followed by a little maple syrup. There was more of the peanut butter powder that we've been playing with, so I mixed it with kinako and a little unswetened cacao, and I steeped some super-strong green tea and blended it with a little spirulina, some agave, and enough Ultratex 8 to give it a little body. Chocolate and banana, chocolate and peanut butter, chocolate and green tea- they all worked wonderfully together. The triple powder was particulary great with the barely-sweet mousse.

And that was it. I hope yours was also tasty, safe, and with happy ending.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In America, First You Get The Money, Then You Get The Cheeken

There's honestly not much to say about this meal. A perfectly roasted free-range organic chicken on roasted (mostly) roots- carrot, parsnip, turnip, onion, garlic (an entire head) and fennel, with gravy made from giblet broth with turnip and celery plus a duck/chicken fat roux and a perfect winter mesclun salad. I tried a 2004 Andromeda, and while it's pretty much unrecognizable as pinot noir, it's pretty wonderful with this kind of bad-ass home cooking. Milo said "Dad, I want you to roast a chicken every time you make dinner." And then he ate all the garlic cloves and chicken skin he could get his greasy hands on, followed by everything else. This dinner didn't stand a chance.

Monday, December 22, 2008

12 Inches Of Snow

Liz had her annual holiday party on Saturday, and there was a good turnout despite the recent heavy snow and slick roads. I spent most of the day making components of what I hoped would be a great appetizer: duck prosciutto on lotus root chips with butternut gel, green tea pudding, and peanut butter powder. It turned out all right, but needs tinkering to balance the flavors. All of the individual components were really good, though, and the other thing I made- parmigiano tuiles with peach-habañero chutney- were very tasty indeed. And a nice side-effect to having these various bits of molecular geekery around is that some of them make for excellent kid treats. Here's Milo's afternoon snack, post ecstatic snow-romping: bananas with peanut butter powder and cubes of butternut gel.

At the party, John gave me two more hunks of dried bonito- I have tried and failed to find it in the US, and he was back in Japan last week- touring with Jack Bruce and Vernon Reid(?!)- so, being John, he did some research and found me the best, old-school artisanal bonito from Kyushu where it's still dried out in the sun. He got me two different cuts; each fish produces four pieces and he brought a belly and a loin just to be safe. He also brought some wonderful vinous treats for the party: a 1993 Orion, a 1989 Sociando-Mallet, a 1997 Jaboulet Côte-Rôtie "Jumelles" and the wine of the night- a magnum of 1998 Gangloff Côte-Rôtie that tasted like a smoky cabin where people have been having sex with delicious farm animals.

Now most of you know that a "shank" is what Martha Stewart advises sticking into a recalcitrant cell-mate who won't agree to do a cover shoot for Prison Bride magazine. You may not know that "shank" also refers to the lower leg bones of delicious farm animals, including lambs. I just so happened to have two of these latter kinds in the freezer, and the weather yesterday was just right for braised, lamby goodness. I simmered them low for a couple of hours with mirepoix, wine, herbs, tomato paste, olive paste, cumin, and preserved lemon, added some frozen peas, and served them on polenta with the parmigiano tuiles (there were some left over.) I had been rummaging around in some wine boxes, looking for something, and discovered 6 Pleiades XVs which I had completely forgotten. It's like my own personal Hanukkah miracle. Now after the XVIs, these are a little fat and jammy, but they're still delicious and perfect with a strongly-flavored stew like this.

Today, with ample leftovers, and a good amount of meat still on the bones (they could have stood another hour of braising) I made a remix that was closer in flavor and structure to the first take than I usually like to stay. But I knew it would be good, and Christine is sick so she didn't care. I made a good pot of broth with the lamb bones plus fennel and broccoli stalks, onion, carrot, turnip, peppercorns, and oregano and let it simmer super-low for about three hours. I strained it, put some in the freezer, and added the rest to the lamb braising liquid from yesterday. I also soaked and then simmered (also for about three hours) a handful of scarlet runner beans and then added them in. Served on leftover polenta with a single lamb rib chop seared with herbes de Provençe (I had these in the freezer too, a gift from the butcher who just had the two left) and wilted spinach, it made for a much tastier version with the added bonus of a tender chop for texture and flavor contrast. I finished the Pleiades.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Savory Collations

We learned something interesting about the relative freshness of fish this evening. The black cod we've been enjoying was off-the-boat fresh on Monday. I picked it up on Tuesday, and cured most of it yesterday for smoking. But the was part of a side that I forgot to make last night, so I pulled it out tonight. It was clean, firm, and had no bad smell. With a simple broil, it was flaky and perfect, and tasted wonderful. If I had bought it this morning we would have been pleased with the quality, and surely bought more. Knowing when the clock actually started on this fish gave me a new appreciation for its durability (properly stored.)

The rest was pure simplicity. Turnip caramelized with a little onion, leftover shiitake from fancy Sunday dinner, leftover triticale from last night, and a few broccoli florets browned with garlic and then steamed with a little water. I took the small amount of duck ham-lemongrass sauce and warmed it up with a little soy sauce, some beer, and a drip of agave nectar, and then glazed the fish with it on the plate.

This was just plain old home cookin' and it disappeared off all three plates in short order (even Milo, who seems to like oilier fish best, and those broiled.) I opened an Ommegang Hennepin- it's a Belgian-style saison ale from the esteemed traditional Brewery in Cooperstown, NY. They make a mean beer, even if my preference is for a thinner, more bitter IPA kind of thing. The best beer I ever had was a hand-pulled Abbot Ale in a pub outside a tiny town in East Anglia (in the UK) back in the winter of 1991-92. Barely carbonated, and about 2 degrees cooler than the room. Heaven. These are so thick and foamy, a glass is about all I can take before getting a little cloyed. But, in order to be fair to the ersatz Belgians, I should make moules frites and get back to you after more research.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Milo has been getting hungry earlier lately, which puts some tension between our respective ideal dinner times. I've been trying to adapt by making multiple courses so that there's something for him to nosh on a little earlier but we still get to eat at a reasonable hour. There's still some work to be done, but I refuse to make separate meals; I think it's important for kids to eat the same food as the adults.

Tonight that food was a little rushed, again, but turned out all right in the end. To start, yesterday Zen Chef posted Morimoto's foie gras chawanmushi, which rang a bell for me since I love them and Christine wasn't feeling great today. Ours were simply eggs blended with a little dashi, mirin, yuzu juice, and agave nectar, with a sprinkle of shichimi on top. I steamed them for about 10 minutes, and they puffed up a little, which is OK, because they settle right down again. To get the glassy, smooth top like in restaurants I like to put the egg mixture in one of the Foodsaver containers and vacuum out all the air bubbles, but tonight I did not feel the need.

To follow was a simple "risotto" of triticale made with dashi for broth and some of the collard-yogurt purée from last night. I had a little of the egg mixture left, so I added grated parmigiano, tempered it with dashi, and then whisked it in at the end to help thicken the grain since it's not starchy like arborio. I put a little bit of some leftover garlicky steamed kale on top and finished it off with a grating of more parm- partly for flavor and partly to echo the snow falling outside. See how it looks kinda like a Christmas tree? I'm festive like that.

I opened a 2003 Barbaresco "Valeirano" by Ada Nada, bought from Mary and which I just brought up from the city. It's warm, with gently insistent tannins and a big musty horse blanket of funk thrown over some elegant roses and berries. I look forward to working our way through the others over the next few years (if I can keep myself away from them for that long.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Embarrassment Of Fishes

I had planned to make the black cod with miso tonight, with some rice and greens probably, when I get a call and before you know it I've got three sides of beautiful fresh black cod to work with. Most of it will get a smoke for the party on Saturday, but I cut off two nice pieces and upgraded my dinner plans to compensate. Milo is going through a not-loving-the-fish phase, just in time for us to be getting all this perfect free fish, but what can you do? I grabbed some marrow bones from the freezer, which he loves. Roasted, and served on collards steamed and puréed with fenugreek seeds and yogurt, they made for a good beginning.

Next, I rolled the fresh cod pieces (get it?) seasoned with shichimi, salt, and pepper in blanched whole collard leaves that I brushed with a little tamarind sauce. I rolled 'em up good and gave them a sizzle in some leftover bratwurst fat that I had saved in a pan from earlier. Yep. I do that. After the fish packets were done, I served them on top of the last two butternut rounds in the fridge. To finish, a strained pan reduction made with some good local beer, and a crisp yet super-delicate chip made from gently baking the octopus sauce from last night on some parchment, then peeling it off. Some of those fancy starches make paper-thin crisps when dehydrated, and these worked pretty well. They had the intense flavor of the original sauce, and melted nicely into the new one when broken up.

A little rushed, but the two contrasting treatments of the fish was a nice follow-up to yesterday's mackerel study. Both had lots of personality, but they shared a plate well; the miso and brat-beer sauces in particular got very friendly. The tastes were not as precise as last night, but then neither was my approach. Re-using so many ingredients in different ways is a good study in close harmony, helping me understand certain flavors better- and also, just as importantly, keeping the leftover parade chugging along efficiently.

Monday, December 15, 2008

All Kinds Of Crazy

I was in the city for the weekend, doing a bunch of errandy things, and having a nice dinner with Kris & Ken. They very kindly gave me the Alinea cookbook as a late birthday present, and I was overjoyed. Other weekend highlights included picking up a whole lot of wine- details to follow shortly- dropping off my La Pavoni to get fixed, and, best of all, finally getting the bug Milo had last week and doing a 3 AM impression of a Swedish TV host.

On my way out of town, I stopped at Mitsuwa and loaded up on goodies. It's a great place, and it was hard to keep myself from buying many, many more things than we needed. They've got sashimi-grade fish as well, so I grabbed mackerel, octopus, black cod, and a small piece of o-toro in addition to the noodles, miso, mirin, fresh yuzu(!) and several other treats. I wish it were a little closer to us, but in a way it's good that it isn't.

The combination of the Alinea book and all these ingredients got me all fired up with ideas, so dinner ended up being kind of special. I may well make the things in the book, but for now it just did what a great cookbook does and got me excited. I think Achatz's genius is above all for keeping the mad science perpetually in the service of flavor, texture, and presentation; it's never there for its own sake (I have not eaten there, but have talked to some of the lucky ones who have.) So, in my own haphazard way, I tried to combine things into dishes that would be highly tasty, pretty, and original. I used some of the fancy powders I bought for Thanksgiving, but tried to do so in a way where they wouldn't be too noticeable.

O-toro was easiest; it's such a gorgeous ingredient that it needs little tinkering. I served it Nobu-style with jalapeño and homemade ponzu (though he does this with yellowtail.) A perfect first course, it's decadent yet clean, and gets the mouth's attention.

Next up was the octopus. I'm not sure I've ever cooked it before, and I know it can be tough, so I tried poaching it, cut in pieces, in olive oil on very low heat for about an hour while I prepared the other components. I love the Spanish Pulpo a la Gallega, but I had Japan on the brain- so I tried to make a dish that split the difference. I caramelized sliced shiitake with garlic and deglazed with sherry (flamed) and then tosa soy sauce, and I baked halved blue potatoes in their skins, peeled them, and cut them into thick rounds. Then I made a sauce which I hoped would tie everything together. It was basically a vinaigrette of yuzu juice, olive oil, saffron, paprika, and shichimi with a little sake and mirin (alcohol burned off) plus a dribble of agave syrup. I emulsified it with a little lecithin, then thickened it to a mayonnaise-like consistency with Ultratex 8. An immersion blender in a wide-mouth mason jar is my device of choice for the small amounts of these sauces that I make.

Just before serving, I sizzled the potatoes in a little of the octopus poaching oil and then fried the end of the tentacle for a garnish. I have to say, this one was pretty good. The oil-poaching did exactly what I had hoped; the octopus was firm, yet tender, and not at all rubbery. The sauce was a winner, and the potatoes and mushrooms added some heft and umami respectively. The wife loved this one, and grabbed the crunchy tentacle tip from me after I took the picture. Then she ate all the rest of the octopus pieces out of the bowl by the stove.

Last up, the mackerel. I wanted to do it two ways- raw and cooked- and thought for a while about what kinds of things would go with each treatment. I've been wanting to make a duck prosciutto broth for a while, and figured it would match well with the oily, sweet raw mackerel. So I simmered some older, stiffer bits of our duck ham with a few slices of fresh lemongrass in water for about half an hour, then strained it and let it cool. I added a little salt, and gave it a blast with .1% xanthan to give it a little body. I grated a black radish from the garden (above freezing today!) and fried little lotus root chips cut from a fresh root from yesterday's splurge. The raw half was thin slices of fish, garnished with radish and topped with crisp little chips, in the prosciutto-lemongrass sauce.

Then, the cooked part. I had simmered some candied ginger to soften it for use in the last course; originally I had planned to finish this meal with black cod and miso- another Nobu specialty- but after course three we decided to let it marinate until tomorrow (since the marinade is mostly sake, it's not going to spoil.) I had saved the ginger water, though, and it came in handy for this. We had some baked butternut rounds left from the other night, and half a can of coconut milk, and I puréed them with the ginger water in which I had dissolved some agar. This mixture, strained into a pyrex baking dish, went in the fridge to set. The fish got cooked very simply: a gentle sizzle in some of the octopus oil, followed by a splash of mirin and then steaming under a lid until just cooked through. I put the cooked fish on a rectangle of coconut-squash gel, dressed it with a little of the pan juice, and garnished it with cacao nibs.

This one was really good. I had a feeling it was all going to work, but it exceeded my expectations. The raw one needs one more little kick- truffle oil in the radish, and a little soy in the sauce would do it- but the cooked part was amazingly good. Everything harmonized and played off the strong qualities of the fish in fascinating ways. A green element would be nice, though, and next time I'm going to add a dusting of spirulina to finish it. I almost opened a beer to go with this meal, but decided to give myself one more day to recover from the weekend. Pairing wines with these would be good fun. All in the name of science, of course.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Ice Storm

I have to say at the outset that we are lucky; despite our recent travails with the heat (and the panic, the vomit) we got off easy with this last storm. While people all over the Northeast have no power, I'm basking in the glow of the internets. We ended up just South of the freeze for most of it, and the ice turned to plain old rain, though in Biblical quantity.

Last night, because we needed it, I made another veal-dashi lasagna; it'a keeper, and I may just put one of those recipe things up here sometime soon, on account of how good it is. But, as they say, don't wait under water.

Tonight, pursuant to a trip to our fabulous butcher (whence the veal) I took a (free) faux hanger steak- I asked him for a hanger (onglet) but he suggested this instead. It's the flap of the sirloin, instead of being from the belly like a hanger. That's hangER, by the way, since we aren't talking about airplane food (remember that? What will bad comedians talk about now?) This turned out meltingly tender after a light rub and vacuum-seal with some salt and spices and a dip in the water bath at 52˚ C for about an hour. To finish, I seared it in a little duck fat and then let it rest while I dealt with the other components.

Which included some leftover roasted cauliflower simmered in a little miso soup from breakfast, then stick-blended with yogurt and a little beef demi-glace into a thick purée, and rounds from the neck of a butternut squash, peeled and baked with olive oil until tender. I also took the rest of the oyster mushrooms and caramelized them with garlic, then finished with tosa soy sauce, red wine, and more demi-glace. I also deglazed the steak pan with the same combination, plus a pat of butter to make a little sauce. The creamy purée, tender squash, and buttery meat all melded seamlessly with the mushrooms and sauce into a lusciously elegant yet still-homey meal.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Enough, Already

So our water heater decided not to die, but to continue producing hot water per normal while quietly leaking for an unknown length of time so that we wouldn't notice anything until the heat stopped working, by which time all the water had done some unknown amount of damage to the subfloor and the downstairs heat crapped out entirely. I only discovered it because the plumber didn't fix the heat, so I went down into the crawlspace to explore and saw all the water dripping through the floor. So this meal was made with me being able to see my breath the whole time, boiling a big pot of water to try and heat the kitchen up a little.

I also ran the oven, but at least there was food in there. Sweet potatoes and Japanese yams, cut into "fries" and baking in a little olive oil. OK, more than a little. These were to accompany burgers, as was some wilted kale with garlic and lemon, and a whole bunch of extant embellishments like kimchi, red onion-habañero pickle, aioli, and Dijon-garlic scape pesto. Sound good? They were freaking fantastic. I stubbed my stomach on these big time. The satisfaction was only heightened by the fact that we wore hats to eat. Milo, bless him, gave me half his burger and just ate the kimchi right out of the bowl.

As an additional salve- though strictly for educational purposes, mind you- I opened a 2000 Gros Noré Bandol to see how it matched up against its older sibling. It was pretty cold, so conditions weren't perfect; I like red wine a little cool, but this was fully chilled. And this is a burly bear of a wine, so differences were on the subtler side. The main takeaway is that I am very glad to have bought both of these cases when I did, since they are drinking beautifully, and am equally sad that I haven't bought any more.

Today, we got a new hot water heater, and I got to help pull the old one out, mop the mess, rip up some of the soaking plywood, and cut new plywood for the thing to sit on. In a 25˚ woodshop. With a still-unheated downstairs, and no hot water to warm my hands in. And some time-sensitive writing to do. Then, after he left, it quickly became clear that we still had no heat downstairs, so I groped pipes and followed them around to figure out where and why the hotness was notness. And I called the plumber (did I mention that he's named Joe?) again, and eventually he came back and confirmed my diagnosis. For another $225, he replaced the circulator, bringing our total to just shy of a delightful two grand, right in time for not buying anybody any presents. Ever. I'm going to go with ever.

You know what makes shitty days which follow other shitty days better? OK, yes, heat, that's a good place to start. Go clean the erasers or something. Kiss-ass. No, the answer I was looking for was DUCK FAT. We hurt ourselves so good on them burgers, I knew something similarly fatly saturated was in order. So on my way back from the post office (yep, I had errands to run, too, and I haven't even mentioned cancelling my trip to the city) I bought a duck breast and some oyster mushrooms.

How's that grab you? Nice? Want some more?

THAT'S what I'm talking about. This calorific gorgeousness got all Barry White on the leftover parsnip-celeriac-vanilla purée and a sauce of beef demi-glace, shichimi, apple cider, and clementine juice. I forgot to cook the damned mushrooms, so that's why the plate is a little empty.

It tasted pretty good nonetheless. We finished off the last of the 2000 Bandol, which was still going strong. And then, celebrating the simple yet profound luxury that is a warm house, we went to bed.

And that's when Milo started throwing up.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Still A Day Behind

Another two-meal post here, since on weekends I like to spend a little time making lunch. Yesterday it was minestrone, and hoo boy if it wasn't a good one. The key, as always, was the ingredients, and a little deliberate care in the making. To begin, a broth made from the chicken bones; they had a bit of tomato sauce on them, which added a nice component. I tossed in a carrot and a quarter onion and let them simmer while I did everything else.

Which included sweating onion, garlic, and guanciale, then pressure-cooking chick peas and borlotti beans in that mixture with water, cutting up some more roots, and toasting croutons in the iron pan with garlic, salt, and and pepper. Once the beans were mostly tender, I strained the broth, added the roots (carrot and parsnip) and the beans plus a scoop of acini di pepe- a tiny whole wheat pasta much like couscous. After more simmering, this was as hearty and homey a Sunday lunch as we could have hoped for.

Sirkka had left us some local lamb sausages the other night, so over the course of the day I went through possible ways to cook them. I knew they were middle Eastern in flavor, but wasn't sure exactly what was in them, so I kept it simple, toning down some of my more elaborate ideas in favor of simple flavors and techniques.

While the sausages cooked in the pan, I pressure-cooked our last cabbage with some seeds: cumin, fennel, caraway, mustard, and coriander, plus a little water and cider vinegar. Meanwhile I steamed a bunch of parsnips with celery root and then puréed them with soymilk, yogurt, and a drop of vanilla. For a little spicy kick, a mixture of Dijon mustard and garlic scape pesto. The other flavors were good, but the sausages were disappointing: too smooth, and with no particular character, they just didn't deliver. To compensate, a 1998 Gros Noré Bandol more than delivered- it almost made up for it. Really, I don't understand how it's possible to make bland sausage- especially with lamb.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bada Bing

Weekend lunches are usually a treat, because I get to apply myself to them a little more than during the week. Trying as always to be efficient with leftovers, I got all bistro-y for lunch yesterday. Since we had fish and potatoes, I puréed them with a little milk, and egg, and some garlic and baked it all into a nice panko-crusted brandade. While it was in the oven I trudged out and picked a bunch of frisée and curly endive for a salad.

I was playing with ideas for some chicken thighs in the fridge, and settled upon chicken parmigiana- somewhat inexplicably, because I'm not sure I've ever made it before. Surprisingly, it's not very complicated, and both adults and kids love it, which is good, because we had one of each joining us for dinner. I browned the thighs to render some fat, then put them in a baking dish with a sauce I simmered for about an hour or so made from our canned sauce, tomato paste, wine, garlic, onion, olives, capers, and a dribble of agave to balance the wine. On top I crumbled feta and fresh mozzarella, and grated some parmigiano. We ate it on brown rice, and on the side had some winterbor kale I wilted with garlic and a little clementine juice. None remained.

We also put away a 2003 Jaboulet Vacqueyras and a Pleiades XVI. We're down to the last case, and I will try to be more parsimonious with these 12- though it's going to be difficult.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fish On Friday

Continuing in my quest to use all the fish in an interesting and efficient way, I began by making a simple sashimi of the wild salmon and dressing it with a little ponzu. Just beautiful, and so delicious; making your own ponzu is the quickest way to appreciate perfect fish like this.

Next up, I took the rest of the pie crust from pot pie night and rolled and stamped it into 4" circles. These I filled with a mixture of sweet potato, onion, peas, leftover roasted cauliflower, garam masala, and the last of the creamy root soup from Thanksgiving. I crimped them up (not well enough to keep them together, as you can see) and baked them while I made a sauce to go with them. There was watercress purée left from the night before, so I reheated it with fenugreek, mustard, cumin, and coriander seeds and a little of the soup. We ate these with some of our peach-habañero chutney, and the combinations were just wonderful.

Last, I cut all the various fish (cod, pollock, hake, haddock) into chunks and simmered them with cubes of pumpkin (also left from Thanksgiving) in coconut milk, tomato paste, a dab of green curry, and a little five-spice. The result was an intense chowdery goodness that made us smile warmly on a cold night. The lemon thyme on top was one of those garnishes that really adds a tangible note to a dish and enhances the flavor.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Three: That's The Magic Number

Another hook-up from the free fish gods provided us with an amazing variety of things to play with. I had wild Alaskan salmon sashimi with ponzu and minced jalapeño for lunch. For dinner, I actually meant to make the rest of the salmon into tartare, but I'll do it tomorow instead. I forgot because I had haddock, pollock, and cod to deal with.

I began by slicing blue, red, and sweet potatoes into thin rounds and arraying them in such a way as to be Visually Pleasant within the confines of an enameled iron gratin dish. Into this tricolor starch-fest I did pour some Whole Milk, some Spices, good Butter, and Herbs of the exalted Provençal varieties. And I set it to bake in an oven of Moderate Heat, covered with the Efficacious Convenience which is the Foil made from purest Aluminium.

The fishies got a thorough tumble in flour seasoned with a panoply of exotic seed-powders and did fry in an iron pan until such time as they had repented of their sins and were well-cooked. Meantime did watercress steam with garlic, and lemon, and, upon reaching a bright green countenance did undergo the ferocious vortex of a Blender until well-smoothed.

At this juncture did I pull the metal foil from atop the bubbling gratin, and besprinkle the top with panko, and switch the oven to broil, and stand there adjacent so that the top would not brown overmuch. And then I removed the gratin from the oven, and placed it upon a board of finest bamboo so that it would cool a bit, and thus remove less of the flesh from the roofs of our mouths when we ate of it.

To the fish pan I did add some Wine, and some mysterious Oriental sauce made from fermented soya beans, and stirred to release the Brown Bits. And they were released, and rejoiced in their freedom. Thence to the plate went all, beginning with the watercress, and then the fish, and gratin- one kind of potato for each of the three fishes- and last the pan sauce.

And we ate it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More Cowbell

The guys are back in the studio this week, recording the third of their Radiolarian records, and Billy asked if I could come shoot some more video this afternoon. I could. And like before, I brought some snacks. Chris also brought one of the legs of duck confit I gave him yesterday for his belated birthday (it's his all-time favorite) along with a kumquat-cranberry-cabernet chutney and the rest of the apricot-chanterelle sauce from Thanksgiving.

From left to right, the last of our gravlax with sudachi-caper emulsion and powdered mustard green oil, duck prosciutto and pear, and guanciale and still more pear. On my way over, I stopped off to get some pepperoncini and crackers, and we had ourselves a quality break between takes. If I had had enough time, or if their studio had better kitchen facilities, I would have made them something more ambitious using all the Japanese bounty they brought me for my birthday, but the nice thing about charcuterie is that it travels well and requires only a knife for serving.

And I totally didn't kick over any mic stands while shooting the session. It went late, so my lovely wife made her bad-ass penne all'arrabiata and I had some of that waiting for me when I got home. Life is good.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Squaring The Circle

So yesterday was busy, and exciting. I'll get into the new developments later on. And today was a continuation of the busy, if a little less exciting. By midafternoon, when I had a minute to breathe, it occurred to me that whipping up some pizza dough would provide us with a good substrate for whatever was in the fridge come dinner time. And I knew there was some good mozzarella in there, which kind of prompted the whole operation.

I use the Silver Spoon pizza crust recipe when time doesn't allow for doing a pre-ferment overnight, though I use 50% whole wheat flour and adjust the hydration accordingly. Our laundry/furnace room is perfect for rising dough, since this time of year it's a cozy 75˚ or so. Three hours is usually sufficient. And the Boy Wonder is getting pretty good at rolling out the dough.

Since I double the recipe, we get two pies; one I kept pretty traditional with tomato sauce, green mash, and mozzarella; the other was a custom job- roasted balsamic-glazed pumpkin, guanciale, and feta. The first one was good, and hit all the requisite pizza flavor notes enhanced by the additional spank of the bitter greens. The second one? Was INSANE. I knew as soon as I thought of it that the combination would be one of those seamless, sweet-savory, umami-licious home runs, and I was right.

And because pizza is not always the healthiest choice, I made sure that this had green and orange veggies as well as the whole grain, with not so much cheese on the feta one and paper-thin guanciale slices all over the pumpkin. A little of the jowl goes a long way. And, for the fifth food group, because I can't stay away from them, another Pleiades XVI. Don't say I didn't warn you; there will not be any more of this wine made, and you will die a poorer person if you don't taste it while you can.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Three Meals

It probably goes without saying that I was pretty tired of cooking, so after ordering pizza for Friday night it was a great treat to join a whole bunch of friends at Swami Bruce's place for a giant meal prepared by Lillian, an editor at Gourmet. She threw down some serious fried chicken with a million delicious sides (among which, roasted cauliflower, braised cabbage, chip-addictive romaine salad) and we made it all disappear. What a pleasure it was to be cooked for for a change. So come Sunday, I had regained a little energy and we made a couple of good meals while outside we got our first dusting of snow. Which soon enough turned to rain, sparing me from having to go cover the garden.

For lunch, since we had not shopped since the middle of last week, I busted out some uncharacteristically unflavored fettucine with the help of my now-useful kitchen sidekick, Milo. He's a champ with the hand-crank, and made it almost all the way through the flat-rolling and the noodle-cutting before he got tired. He's so excited to help cook whenever he can now, and has the motor and listening skills to do it properly. When I put the water on to boil, I also put a pint of our home grown-and-canned tomato sauce to simmer with the last glug of Thanksgiving's heavy cream. Think cream of tomato soup, but reduced to a sweet thickness that causes one to require a change of undies, topped with a healthy bump of black pepper and truffle-oil lube.

For dinner, I defrosted a rabbit, broke it down, browned the bits, caramelized mirepoix, deglazed with wine, and set to simmer very low for three hours with fennel, carrots, parsnips, herbs, and quartered dried figs. And that's what we ate, over reheated brown rice, with a side of kale and Brussels sprout leaves braised with leeks and a little lemon juice.

It was good, but not great; I was still seriously kitchened out and did not give this the extra seasonings and attention that would have elevated and unified the flavors to something special. But it did the job, and furnished us with ample leftovers for tonight. I'm always looking for ways to combine as many of the strays and orphans in the fridge as possible into one of these remnants-themed dinners, so tonight the rabbit stew became the foundation for the meal, along with meat pulled from bones and chopped (I was surprised and delighted to find the offal still there) plus a duck fat roux, fresh turnip, parsnip, and carrot, white wine, some roasted roots and garlic from last week and enough water to get the consistency right. I added some of our frozen peas to the mixture just before capping it with a slump of Grandma Trude's best-in-the-world pie crust.

While last night was a little lean and discombobulated flavor-wise, tonight's remix was fully combobulated. Like, it had massive, thunderous sawtooth sub-bass and a totally addicitve dubstep hook that wouldn't let us go. Freakin' fantastic. Stews shold never be eaten on the first day if at all possible. And adding garlic-heavy roasted roots to a stew? Unbelievable. Still another Bret Bros. Pouilly Fuissé (I have GOT to buy some more white before I polish these off) was a brilliant match on every level.