Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hit Return

We made it back from Chicago in much less time than it took us to get there; all told we could nearly have driven the 800 miles in the 11-ish hours we spent on Thursday getting from here to there. Winter holiday travel can be such a treat. I'll put up a post about Xmas dinner, and I have a couple others which predate the trip, but for now we'll just have a look at what I made (after a quick grocery stop) this evening.

There's nothing not to love about having packages of thinly-sliced domestic Wagyu beef in the freezer, and this meal just further underscored that fact. All it took was some sweet potato and kale from the store to begin the long journey back from sugar-heavy holiday excesses in fine style. I steamed rounds of the spuds, and when soft, dressed them with a mixture of reduced carrot-orange juice (also from the store) and gorgeous near-locally made white miso which I strained to keep the lumps out of the final product. I made oshitashi with the kale, and the stems littering the cutting board got me thinking; I browned them in a little smoked duck fat, then deglazed and steamed them with sake until just al dente. I rolled little bundles of these up in the beef, pinned them with little skewers, and quickly sautéed them. In the same pan I whipped up a little sauce of the juices, ponzu, mirin, spicy pickled onion juice, and an egg yolk whisked in to give it some body, and I sprinkled a little togarashi over the finished plates. They worked very well, and offered a good way to showcase the considerable character of one of the humblest of kitchen scraps.

I dressed the kale with soy sauce, yuzu juice, and ume vinegar. It really is a delightful way to serve any dark greens.

There were a few beers left in the fridge by the people who stayed here while we were gone, so I drank a couple. There's a not-inconsiderable pleasure to cold beer on a cold night, provided the food is warm enough to make it all work out all right. Given that it's in the single digits out there right now, it looks like this will be a pleasure I can afford myself a great deal in the coming months.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Snifter On The Piano

I got a comment recently from a subscriber inquiring about a comment I left on her blog suggesting a possible use for the lavish surplus of salmon that they're burdened with up in Alaska. I elaborated a little bit, but then the idea was in my head so I needed to make it. It's different every time, but basically it's just a salmon curry with lots of lemon rind. Often there are potatoes, and it's usually tomato or coconut-based.

Normally I mince lemon peel (fresh or preserved) and add it to the onion and spices at the beginning, and that's what I did. But then it got all kinds of special behind some of the leftovers in the fridge. To wit: a baked sweet potato and some buttermilk. I puréed the sautéed onion/seed mixture (lemon peel, fenugreek, cumin, ginger, mustard, coriander, cardamom) with half the potato and all the buttermilk, then salted it. In this ridiculous goodness I simmered seared cubes of salmon and broccoli florets until the latter were just tender. I served it on whole wheat couscous with lemon juice, garam masala, and peas mixed in.

The extra step of puréeing the mixture really brought this to that deeply satisfying place that Indian food is so expert at reaching. Tangy buttermilk married to sweet tuber, all interwoven with spices and fragrant lemon- a salmon couldn't ask for a more elegant vehicle to transport it into the afterlife. And there was a nice Willm Gewürtztraminer that started out with a champagney kind of thing happening- just the slightest fizz and yeasty aroma, which is not normally a desirable quality in still wine- but it got over it in short order and made for a pleasant match with this food.

So I put up this post- though lacking, as always, any measurements- in the hope that it would help prevent her from quitting halfway through (which, you know, is something of a problem up there). And that got me thinking. So I make this offer to subscribers: ask me to make something, and if it's not completely nuts (in a bad way) I'll get to it as soon as I can. Initially I'm setting the rough goal of one per month, but being that erratic is my middle name, it is likely to veer between much more and much less than that. But you have to subscribe if you want to call the tune.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thorough Bread

Growing up, there was a time before my Mother had to go to work when she gardened and baked bread all the time. Helping her weed and pick and knead and mix formed some of my earliest memories, and no doubt have much to do with how important those same rituals are to me now- and why I'm so pleased to pass them along to Milo.

The smell of bread baking has to be one of the great human sensual touchstones- maybe even the defining smell of civilization. And this delicious incense got me thinking about the other, subtler ways in which baking bread gratifies all the senses. Apart from the smell of baking, there's the captivatingly tangy and alive smell of sourdough starter colonizing a ball of dough, developing gluten and creating a matrix of bubbly goodness. There's the satisfying hollow thump of a properly baked loaf, and the little ticks of of a cooling loaf as tiny pieces of the crust spall onto the counter. And then the crackling of the crust when it is cut and bitten. There's the heat of the loaf right out of the oven, and the warmth in the hands as it's admired, and the contrast between crusty crunch and crumby chew. Obviously it's beautiful to look at, and to eat, but those are hardly unique to bread. All food appeals to all the senses to varying degrees, but there seems to be more of a five-way tie with bread. Or maybe I'm just biased by the here-and-nowness of it all.

It makes a dreary winter Sunday better, that much is for sure. And it's not even quite winter yet.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Tale Of Two Meals

Lateness often confounds my grand schemes and forces me to scramble, resulting in dinners that are far from my original intention but serviceable nonetheless. As always, freezer, pantry, and leftovers provide the difference between decent and awful.

In this instance, I grabbed some boudin noir from the freezer. While they were thawing, I threw some scarlet runner beans in the pressure cooker with leeks, onions, garlic, burdock, carrot, herbs, and some smoked chicken stock. Once that got all hissy, I cubed and caramelized some parsnip in a pan with just oil, adding a bit of salt when the pieces were nice and brown on the outside and soft in the middle. I cooked the sausages in a pan until they were done- the deep purple gone a lovely mahogany- and then sautéed bok choy with garlic in the sausage pan, deglazing with white wine. Last I toasted stale chunks of homemade bread with some oil and spices to make croutons, thereby shoehorning some grain into this pretty nutritious cacophony.

The key really was in taking the time to treat the ingredients differently; had I thrown it all together it would have been OK, but having the various things each done à point made for much more pleasurable eating. My original plan involved breaking this down into even more component parts, and giving them a wider variety of treatments, but I had an hour and so this was it. One of these days I'm going to do a better job of time management, especially as it pertains to dinner. Probably next year. Yeah, that's it.

A couple of nights later, similarly beset with haste, I grabbed the two uncooked boudins that remained and cut them up into small pieces, giving those a sautée with diced bacon from the end of a hunk. I just can't say enough good things about having slab after slab of homemade bacon in the freezer. To the meaty goodness I added some leftover sweet potato purée, leftover brown rice, and leftover collards cooked with grated turnips and bonito flakes that Chris had made when they came over on the intervening evening. (We made chicken-fried quail with biscuits and gravy and cranberry sauce).

I seasoned the hot mess and rolled it up in blanched collard leaves that I had stripped the stems off so they'd roll up nicely. And thus, stuffed cabbage remixed with the available. I baked them in a roughly 50/50 mixture of pork stock and buttermilk, using a few extra collard leaves as a lid.

That liquid reduced wonderfully, absorbing all sorts of complex leafy, meaty flavors and adding richness and acidity in equal measure. This was the very essence of peasant food- a complete meal, made from bits and pieces- but with all of those pieces being of the highest possible quality.

I can't remember what I opened with this- I think it was an '03 Jaboulet Vacqueyras- but we had an instructive wine duo with the Southern meal the night before. Chris brought a 2000 Sean Thackrey Aquila Sangiovese, and I pulled out a 1999 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello so we could study the differences between old and new world Sangiovese. Starting off with the Aquila, it was a big glass of smiles; once his wines get to this age, the fruit and the funk are kind of tied in intensity, so there's a nice balance. But moving on the Brunello was a revelation- it was like a fine cigar dipped in pussy and black cherries and tar and smoked postcoitally in a magnificent horse barn with a view of the vineyards. Returning, the Aquila was a little like Cherry Coke. Not necessarily in a bad way, but it just showed the degree to which Italy is and will always be California's unattainable wet dream. And I say this as an avowed lover of Thackrey's wines.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Plates

At long last, the kiln fired. I began these pieces back in the spring, I think, so there's a bit of a learning curve at work, but I'm happy with most of them. For the next batch, whenever that happens, I have many more ideas. I may bring my Mother's wheel up from Brooklyn and start practicing. I've also got some ideas for non-ceramic serving pieces that I may get to in the near future, but there's a big project looming in the new year that needs my attention first (unless I procrastinate by doing little things, which may happen). In the meantime, these will give me some inspiration to cook more multi-course meals, which is how I like to eat.

I made 8 each of most things- didn't see that these would fit together until I took the picture.

I had six of these bowls already. I made six more, with different glazes.

Little amuse tripods, about 3" across.

More espresso cups.

Geodesic bowls, about 6" across.

Rough bowls about 6" in diameter

Plates about 4" square

Another view

Rustic oval footed plates

Squares- I made one before and gave it away; these are a little bigger.

I'm going to make more of these with some refinements; they're too thick and the glaze needs work. But they'll do.

Last, a teapot. I made 8 matching little cups, but they didn't make it into the kiln.

The lid stuck during firing, and I broke it knocking it off, but epoxy made it all better. Now I can't give it away. Shucks.

There are other pieces, and they'll show up in future posts laden with various fare.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yes We Can! As Long As Joe Lieberman Says It's OK!

So dinner yesterday was not soup, actually. It was steak. The roads improved a bit, so the family set off to buy a Christmas tree. And returned with strip steaks. (And a tree, sure, but let's concentrate on the important stuff). There were also maitake and brown birch mushrooms. Instead of just making sweet potato fries, I busted out the saladacco and spun a tuber into lovely thin strips which I then double-fried into appealing tangles of sweet, crunchy orange joy. To the steaks I gave what is by now standard procedure when there's no time for sous vide: brown them in butter and then grate homemade lardo over them while they rest. Then I gave the mushrooms a quick sautée in the steak skillet and deglazed with a little wine. That little grey mound next to meathenge is a mixture of grated daikon and black radish mixed with salt, pepper, truffle oil, and kimchi brine.

I should have taken the picture a minute later, after I added homemade red onion-habañero pickles and a fat dab of mustard to the plate. Lest anybody reach for their pearls at the dearth of greenery- that little thyme sprig only highlights it, really- there was a big bowl of lovely winter mesclun also in attendance. These fries need a tetch of tweaking to attain perfection, but they're close. And I should have made a post-mushroom pan sauce since they bogarted most of the wine I poured in. To make up for it, I poured some wine into myself- a 2003 Ada Nada Barbaresco "Valeirano"- that ably tarted up this barely glorified pub fare.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Snow Day

We got 8.5" of snow last night, so school was cancelled. I still had to schlep over to the garage and have the power steering belt replaced, but at least everyone else with an appointment that morning was still at home shoveling out so the guys got it done very quickly. I love all-wheel drive.

So with a kid to entertain, and after making a couple of snowmen (one had a homegrown carrot nose and a wine funnel for a hat) we retreated inside for lunch. I had made some saffron-pimentón pasta dough in the morning, figuring a hearty and labor-intensive meal was in order, so we rolled it out into fettucine. I steamed a couple of snow crab legs in sake, then cut them open and pulled all the meat out. I reduced the sake, added a pat of butter, a sprig of thyme, and some peas, then tossed in the just-cooked noodles. A few twists of pepper and a pinch of crunchy salt, and we were in business. A glass of wine would have been nice, but might have resulted in a painful postprandial face-plant. I've got no idea what to make for dinner. Soup, in all likelihood.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Season's Tweetings

We went to Boston for the weekend, and managed to cram a ton of socializing into a very narrow window of time. We managed to invite ourselves over to a couple of different houses for dinner, making for a much more enjoyable time since Milo is good for about 20 minutes in a restaurant before he starts to get bored. Friday Andrew made us celery root salad with preserved lemon persillade followed by polenta with sugo and then some excellent local ice cream. The next day we got treated to sammiches at a nice café in Somerville before heading off to the Museum of Science, which is every bit as great as it was when I was a kid, and eerily features many of the same exhibits that it did back then, in immaculate condition. I worked as a museum preparator for a time, and I'm astonished at the pristine condition of many of those mechanical things in vitrines where you push a button to make them go. They must have replaced a lot of motors over the years.

Yesterday was a long drive, but we went more or less straight to Duncan's birthday party, where once again other people made our dinner. And a wonderful dinner it was, too. John made a roasted beef tenderloin, rubbed with herbs and cooked to a perfect rare. He also made braised daikon with a rustic version of gin-an sauce that was pretty spectacular. Pressed for time, I just sliced up a bunch of bresaola and duck prosciutto and made a platter of each.

I had a bunch of ideas for this meal, but they quickly collapsed under the weight of the available time- morphing quickly from an elegant, playful ode to late fall root vegetables into just another adequate dinner. The main culprit was the lack of four hours in which to hydrate methocel- don't you just hate that? I wanted to make parsnip-yogurt gnocchi but was foiled by the bell. I did have time to roast some of our beets- I'm pulling the rest out today, since we're getting a snow storm tonight- with olive oil and salt until they got all sweet, shriveled, and a little crisp at the thin ends.

So the main dish was just a pale imitation of the original idea: I caramelized onions and leeks with bacon, then added cubed parsnip, then beet greens, then hard cider and let it all get together. Then I tossed in cha-soba, seasoned one more time, and that was it. Perfectly OK, but annoyingly far from what I wanted. More and more lately I've been fantasizing about how great it would be to have all day every day in which to make dinner.

Friday, December 04, 2009

See How They Break Both Ways?

What to do when you're conflicted between broiling and tartare: both. Especially in the case of some gorgeous salmon. I minced it and mixed in sesame oil, yuzu juice, scallions, soy sauce, and pink pepper, then cooked it inside a ring mold on pretty high heat to get a good sear on one side. I made crispy crackers with the skin, and served them all on brown rice and diced garden roots (carrot, rutabaga, daikon) simmered in goose stock and then tossed with miso at the end to thicken.

A delightful continuum from crunchy, hot salmonburger to cool, velvety tartare. I deglazed the pan with some white wine and dribbled it around for a little extra something. Next time it might be fun to make little meatballs with this, browning the outside and leaving the inside raw, and serving them in miso gravy for like a Swedish/Japanese kind of thing.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pendulous, Salty Meat

So I got a deli slicer for my birthday. Which I sort of asked for, in that not-exactly-asking-but-making-it-pretty-obvious-way that my expert wife has figured out over the years. It was a tough call, since I really want a new juicer (the old one suffered a child-related mishap, rendering it useless) but the one I want is three times more money than the slicer. So I got a slicer. It was win/win, really, since she knew that the minute I opened it I'd rush out and buy hunks of meat to cure, hang, and then slice into glistening tissues of salty splendor for us all to enjoy.

And that is pretty much exactly what happened.

I made duck prosciutto and bresaola. The duck is something I've had down for a while now, and it's just obscenely good. My first few tries at the beef ended up too salty, but I've arrived at the right curing time and this batch is the first one that's ready for prime time. Four days on the cure. No more, no less. It's ever so tasty, and makes a toe-curling carpaccio. I sliced both of the turgid, fleshy obelisks into silky slices, and arranged them on a platter. Over the top, a hand-picked selection of our finest winter greens: arugula, red mustard, mizuna, and some little sprouty things that taste wonderful but I forget what they are (they were part of a spicy mesclun mix and the packet is long gone).

Good unfiltered olive oil, a drip of balsamic, and a couple of grinds of pepper later, we were face-deep in the best damn appetizer known to humankind. Honestly, when you can make food this good at home, there's no point in ever leaving the house- especially to pay too much for mediocre restaurant fare. I ended up heaping many more greens on the plate after I took the picture, so it really was a salad. I just didn't want to obscure your view of the proud, pink, glowing glory of my meat.

To finish, a straight-up penne alla puttanesca. This was elevated above normality (which is pretty damn good) by the use of some of the cured duck prosciutto fat that I trimmed off after cutting it down from over the sink. If there's a tastier lubricant for a skillet on the planet, I haven't found it yet. Good anchovies, good olives, good capers, and homegrown parsley made it perfect. A couple of tiny little pepperoncini gave it the requisite zing. When forced to use canned tomatoes- as we are, since this summer was not so productive- I find that puttanesca is much better than arrabiata (our other standard) since it masks the canned flavor of the tomatoes so much better.

Still fuming about the Burgundy for the previous night, I opened a 2003 Jaboulet Vacqueyras. I've praised it before and it is every bit as good as ever, if not more so with more age on it. Having said that, though, at this writing I did finish off the last glass of said Givry and it may yet reward further patience; it's softening to a point where the mouth starts to live up to the nose. Another year or five (or at least a vigorous decanting several hours before dinner) and I'd be willing to try it again. Burgundy is such a fickle, frustrating thing- and as rabbit holes go, on the pricey side. But when it's good, it's better than anything- except homemade charcuterie.

Or a good dick joke. Right, Claudia?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

There Goes My Légion d'Honneur

First, some things cassoulet is not.

Fussy. Difficult. Complicated. Intimidating. Very good for you.

Some things it is? Very good to eat. Peasant food. Food for people who really should have spent most of the day chopping wood with their bare hands in order to work up a need for the caloriffic ordnance that this dish also happily happens to be.

Cassoulet- notwithstanding the sputtering, indignant protestations of traditionalists- is beans slow-cooked with a shitload of decadent meat. Period. The beans should be white, yes, and duck or goose confit is pretty standard, true, and garlic sausage is always welcome in a pot of legumes- duh- but lacking one or more of those things is no reason not to make and stand proudly behind a big, bubbling, name-brand cast iron Dutch oven full of awesome and call it whatever you like. Including cassoulet. Anyone who has a problem with that can feel free to get the hell out and not eat any.

In this case, we had us some leftovers that were hankering hard to be transubstantiated into just such a dish: half a gallon of goose pho, two legs of duck confit, bacon skin, and newly-cured bresaola. I like making skin-on bacon, because the skin allows for tossing it into pots of beans to add smokiness and extra unction- even after the bacon is all gone. So I soaked about a pound of local, organic pinto beans and then simmered them in goose pho with bacon skin and a few slices of the cured beef for a couple of hours until tender.

Next, I heated up the duck and shredded it into chunks. I browned diced carrot, celery, and rutabaga in the duck fat along with herbs and a lot of garlic, then deglazed with white wine. To this I added two spoons from the quivering jar of goose gravy left from Thanksgiving, a couple of crushed canned tomatoes, and then all of the beans. Once bubbling gently, I dusted the top with panko rubbed with goose fat and moved it into a 225˚ oven. A couple more hours, and this:

The genius of this dish is really in the second cooking; there was very little liquid in the pot, but since the beans were cooked they didn't need much. They just got super-tender and harmonious with all the meaty goodness. The finished product had no remaining liquid, just perfectly cooked beans and shreddy meat all the way down.

I did make sure to sauté some spinach with garlic while this was cooling down so there'd be something green on the table. And that was dinner. It almost made me wish that it had been 15˚ below outside, with a howling gale- just so I could have gone out after dinner (barefoot, in shorts) and had a good laugh at the feeble elements. The only bad part about this meal was the wine- a 2005 Choffelet-Valdenaire Givry. I've been waiting for the '05 Burgundies to come around- my first forays were not happy ones- but this wine just plain sucks. Tight, sour, thin- it was hard to see how it will ever amount to anything good to drink. Re-tasting today with lunch (a cassoulet burrito with homemade red onion-habañero pickles and smoked salsa) confirmed it.

Btw, cassoulet burritos are full of win. And cassoulet.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Day Before Black Friday

For the last two Thanksgivings I have thrown down 11-course extravaganzas (links here and here; menu for second link here) which took days to make and hours to eat. This time around, we were to have the meal in Vermont, and I just couldn't deal with having to bring lots of components and more than a few tools, gadgets, and plates to do it there. So I just did a straight-up all-on-the-plate at once dinner, using traditional flavors but swapping in a much tastier goose for the bland, annoying turkey. Taking a cue from myself, I cut the goose apart a couple of days beforehand and made confit with the legs. The breasts I dropped in a marinade of wine, salt, maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, and herbs, and then let them sit in the fridge for a day or so. The carcass became 6 quarts of goose phở, from which I removed the fat after it chilled overnight. A lot of fat. A lot of goose fat.

So we are now well stocked with a big container of one of the world's great cooking vehicles. My grandfather used to talk fondly of goose fat; growing up in a shtetl in Poland at the beginning of the last century, calories were in short supply. Slathered on bread with salt was how he liked it. Made into a roux and then gravy with goose phở and local hard cider is how we had it.

I scored and seared the breasts until they were just rare, then popped them in the warm oven while I got everything else together. The confit, crisped and heated through, went on my now-trademark cream-baked sweet potato rounds with some kale wilted in the skillet with the crispy confit remnants. The sliced breasts I fanned over cider-braised napa cabbage with homemade bacon on a dollop of celery root purée from the garden. Some cranberry sauce in the middle because it goes with everything.

We had kir royales for aperitifs- with sparkling wine and blackcurrant cordial both made in the Hudson Valley- and then moved on to a couple of great Thanksgiving wines, both California Petite Sirahs. The first was a 2002 Carver Sutro, and the second was a 2001 Sirius. For dessert, pumpkin pie; I had made the filling here at home, along with the crust, so when we got to Vermont I rolled them out, filled them, and baked them. I made whipped cream flavored with local apple brandy, and the combination was well received.

It worked pretty well; I was particularly happy with the contrast between the rare meat and the confit. More interesting than turkey, that's for damn sure. Next year I think I want to do it again my way, though.

As an addendum, it's definitely worth noting that the next night we had burgers. There was some of the goose breast left, and a lump of the bacon, so I minced them both finely and mixed them into ground bison along with chopped scallions, salt, and pepper. Cooked in the fireplace over hot coals, these were pretty damn extraordinary. If I ever open something, the bison-goose-bacon burger will surely be on the menu. And it will be served with something very like the 1997 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet we opened to go with them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Freebird! Freebird!

The wife is afflicted with a seasonally induced craving for cranberry sauce, and she's been buying bags of berries on a regular basis. Yesterday, she made a big pot of sauce, and then asked me "what do we have in the freezer that goes with cranberry sauce?" The answer: "Quail." In this way was dinner determined.

I had various pieces of a goose undergoing various operations in fridge, stove, and oven, so I figured I'd take advantage of the large amounts of fat and stock which were being generated. Fat and stock pretty much equals gravy, so I figured I'd go all Southern-fried on their tiny asses. I soaked the four little semi-boneless birds in buttermilk for a couple of hours, then dredged them in flour seasoned with smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and 5-spice. While they fried, I made a pot of polenta, and whisked up some gravy with goose fat and goose phở. And steamed some kale.

This was every bit as good as it sounds. Kinda Thanksgiving-y, too, which is good, because I won't be posting again until next week. Happy overeating and fighting with your obnoxious relatives to all.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Positively 6th Street

I've been getting earnest requests lately for authentic Chinese and Indian food; up here in the sticks the choices are pretty slim, especially after a decade in the Best Ethnic Takeout City in the whole world™. I tried some Chinese the other night, but got lazy and basically combined two dishes' worth of food into one and made a muddy (if decent-tasting) mess. The key there is to feature each ingredient in its own dish, or paired strategically. Otherwise you get into "your former roomate's pretty awful stir-fry" territory. Which is territory I loathe as much as my former roomate.

So last night I got serious about making some Indian food that someone drunk or with their eyes closed might think was actually from, you know, an Indian restaurant. And that road always begins with grinding spices. So I threw peppercorns, fenugreek, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cloves, and mustard seeds into the little suribachi and ground them to a coarse powder. I took some lovely local lamb stew meat and browned it in ghee, then added the spices and minced onions to soften. And boom- just like that, it started smelling a whole bunch of authentic up in this piece.

To follow, carrot, parsnip, daikon, and chioggia beet (the observant among you will notice that every meal these days is basically a different take on the same damn roots from the garden) plus half a can of coconut milk and some water. Then a low simmer for about an hour, though two would have been better. Meanwhile, I took all of the greens from the roots- plus chard and kale- and simmered them in garam masala (store-bought) with onion, chopped cashews, and some more of the coconut milk. Once tender, I blended it all smooth and adjusted seasonings. Cashews are pretty sweet, so some cider vinegar was required along with the salt. I used leftover brown rice from the Great Leap Backward to complete the meal, adding saffron, peas, scallions, salt, and water to turn it into a pullau kind of a type of a sort of a thing.

If I had thought of it, I would have made pappadums for an appetizer. But even without, it did the job; tastebuds were fooled, and contented sighs issued forth. The meat was a little dry; I need to remember to cut it into smaller chunks if there's not going to be enough braise time. But overall, success- and a jar of lime pickle didn't hurt in the condimentary department.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Less Is More, More Or Less

Local 10-grain mix pressure-cooked with beets.

Lentils simmered with onions, herbs, homemade bacon and smoked chicken broth.

Green mash made with curly endive, pan di zucchero, ume plum, pumpkin seeds, and olive oil.

All kinds of awesome.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Five For Five

OK, I skipped a day, but it's not too shabby considering how much work I have to do. (And considering how half-assed most bloggers are). Even with all the many tasks at hand, I found time to make some decent dinners and write about them. (Last night we ordered pizza, because I had an article due, and I dug up a photo from the recent archives to fill in another wee lacuna). And the pizza was the first time we've ordered anything in months. You may reward me with lavish praise in the comments.

Tonight, article finished, I allowed myself a bit more time, beginning with a foray in the garden. There aren't any surprises, but the hardy stuff continues to delight with its plenitude; everything but the meat and sauce was homegrown. I gathered chioggia beets, carrots, celery root, leeks, scallion, Chinese cabbage, celery, and daikon.

The center of the meal was a lovely moulard duck breast, scored, seasoned, browned, and then covered on low heat to finish cooking. I removed it from the iron pan post-searing to finish in a little skillet so I could use the luscious renderings to cook a finely chopped mixture of all the greens (beet, celery, leek, cabbage, radish, scallion). I deglazed the greens- once wilted and beginning to brown- with a splash of smoked chicken stock sitting in the fridge. The celery root I just steamed until soft, and then blasted into a purée with yogurt and some of the steaming water. For the sauce, some red wine, cranberries, black pepper, and maple syrup cooked, strained, and then reduced to a thickness. The carrot, beet, and daikon I kneaded with salt, then rinsed and dressed with soy sauce, yuzu juice, rice and balsamic vinegars, and olive oil.

Oh, the joy. Fall offers so many pleasures, especially when it's mild like this one; the other night we had a hard frost, but last night it rained and today was bright and soft. It even smelled a little like spring. So far it's been wonderful, and things have actually grown a bit since October. It's almost making up for the shit June and July. Food like this helps too. And wine, which I've been drinking less of lately (to help reduce the fat fuck factor going into winter) can really add an exclamation point. In this case, a 2000 Thackrey Aquila Sangiovese. Brunello it ain't, but sexy, rich, and glorious it ai.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Man's Got To Have A Bowl Of Soup

This soup bears a resemblance to the soup I linked to in yesterday's post- it's wontons, broth, and some vegetables. But the flavors were completely different. To start with, the broth was made from a smoked chicken carcass I saved from my birthday party on Sunday, just simmered with a little carrot, onion, and celery for about two hours. The wontons (round wrappers this time) were filled with ground local veal seasoned with grated ginger and garlic, yuzu juice, shichimi, and pepper. After straining the stock, I simmered slices of lotus root in it while I cooked the dumplings in batches, and then ladled it all together with a chiffonade of radish leaves (dakon, red, and black) beet greens and arugula with a big heap of kimchi and some jalapeños to finish.

As Omar might say, "This here be a muhfuckin' bowla SOUP, feelme?" The yuzu in the meat and the tart kimchi juice did a thing, as did the slippery pasta and the crunchy lotus root, and the heat from kimchi and peppers, all enveloped in the smoky seduction of the stock. I sorely wanted more when it was all gone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kilim Me Softly

This is from a while ago, actually- back around the time I made merguez wontons in turkey phở. The leftover merguez mixture- after a day or two in the fridge to get extra sausagey- was the base for a pasta sauce with the last of the local heirloom tomatoes, garlic, onion, herbs, and white wine. I reduced it to a rich thickness, and tossed in a bunch of Israeli couscous.

Just ridiculous. If Chef Boy-ar-dee had a Moroccan cousin named Chef Boy-al-Medina, this would be the dish that made him famous. It had all the softsaltymeatysweet qualities that made that canned garbage so pupil-dilating back when you were 8 (full disclosure: I only had it a few times, at other people's houses, but the memory stuck) but with all the complex Mahgreb spices and lamby funk intertwining warplike through the weft of toothsome starch. And the sweet was all tomato.

It made me miss Marrakesh. 20 years is a long time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Round And Firm And Fully Packed

We continue to have an incredibly mild and beautiful November, and in-between food- not too heavy, not too light- is working famously. I came across a decent-looking garlic sausage (with pistachios) recently at a store while looking for something else. My first thought was cassoulet, but since we're out of duck confit that had to wait. And since I've been in a bistroey mood of late, the lentils in the pantry took care of the rest. What made this particularly good, though, was additional pork in two forms: bacon and trotter gear.

To begin, I defrosted a quart of unctuous potential and set the sausage to simmer in it along with half an onion, a carrot, a leek, and some celery. The stock is already flavored with these things, but I figured it wouldn't suck if I added more this time around. It didn't. After about an hour of gentle poaching, I removed the meat, strained the stock (which was now polyvalently porky) and got to work on the lentils. A hunk of our bacon, cut into lardons went in first to render. Then diced carrot, onion, leek, celery, and parsley, then the lentils, then the stock. It all simmered until the lentils were just al dente. Then I sliced the sausage- still warm on a back burner- over the top and dinner was served.

In Bouchon Thomas Keller does his version of this classic. And I have no doubt that it's wonderful. I might even try it someday. But he does call for questionable things to be done- like discarding the bacon after cooking, and for poaching the sausage in plain water with some aromatics thrown in. Far be it from me to question his judgment, but I have to say that it's difficult to imagine how this could have tasted any better. I should probably make it before I get too smug about the awesomeness of this, though, because his does include garlic confit and it might well be a revelation. I'll probably just re-read it and tweak this a bit closer next time, since that's usually how it goes around here. I think I opened something nice with this, but I honestly can't remember what it was.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's Like A Meal, But Made In Just 30 Minutes

There is no greater resource than a well-stocked freezer. (Except maybe a well-stocked freezer working in harmony with an equally well-stocked pantry.) There are still a couple of quarts of frozen fish stock that I made a while back from a halibut skeleton, and the presence of a big bag of snow crab legs just above the stock containers got the wheels turning.

There was also a bag of a rice blend- long, short, and wild, about five varieties- left from I'm not sure what, but the amount was just right for the three of us. So I thawed the stock and made risotto. As the grains neared doneness, I steamed the legs in a little of the stock to thaw them, then poured that crabtastic goodness into the rice while I cut open the legs and cut the meat into small pieces. These I added just at the end, along with some frozen peas and a splash of yuzu juice. Parsley and scallions to finish.

Sweet, gently oceany, with a nice nutty bite from the rices- just the thing for a rainy November evening. Can I have a TV show now?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bart Stupak Can Kiss My Ass

We're still having the most gorgeous warm weather, and it has been energizing me in and out of the kitchen. I found a couple of lamb steaks in the freezer, and while they were thawing I pulled some roots. Thinking old-school bistro, and with enough time to do it properly, I made mayonnaise with mustard and yuzu juice, then used that along with yogurt, capers, cornichons, kimchi juice, and herbs to make rémoulade. I tossed little batons of the celeriac in it and put the bowl in the fridge to marinate while I continued to cook.

A bag of fresh edamame (which I opened for the soup from two posts ago) simmered in dashi and then puréed with the liquid to become a silky pastel green- very '57 Chevy or formica diner table- with a nice harmony of flavor between the two components. Carrots and potatoes roasted with woody herbs and garlic. I rubbed the meat with salt, pepper, and thyme, then seared it in a little butter.

While all this was going on, my wife made it clear that she would no longer be denied the cranberry sauce she has been clamoring for lo the many days since she bought two bags of berries. Now being me, my first instinct was to make cranberry tapenade (we had olives in the fridge too) since it's positively wicked with lamb. But I was shot down. Emphatically. This was to be a straight-up traditional sauce. And so it was. I love cranberry sauce with an abiding passion. I just love it for dessert, or better still for breakfast eaten directly out of the serving bowl until it's gone. It's a little too sweet for me when mixed with regular dinner-type dinners like this. So I took a dollop of it and stirred it into a pan sauce of sake, soy sauce, and goat butter.

I put a little bit of pure sauce on my plate, too, but that was strictly for aesthetic reasons.

Poking around the wine fridge, my hand kept settling on a 2000 Gros Noré Bandol. So I pulled it out, and it was as good as ever. Sturdy yet graceful, it's a worthy companion for haute peasant fare such as this. Sometimes I wish fall would last all year.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Bread In The Bone

Returning with the cooler weather (though the last few days have been utterly resplendent Indian summer, flirting with low 70's) has been my desire to bake bread. I kind of fell out of the habit this summer, but now I'm fully back into it, this time with some slight modifications to the process that fit better with my equipment and the rhythms of my life.

I'm still using the live starter that Andrew gave us, but I've reverted back to more of a no-knead style as opposed to his recipe which calls for several days of refrigeration before baking. Since it's cool now, I find that doing a bit of initial folding and then letting it sit, covered, on the counter overnight gets the dough to the perfect baking point sometime the next day- depending on the ambient temperature and what time I mixed it up the previous evening. When it's about doubled in size and the surface is undulating with lots of bubbles, I dump it onto a floured board and give it a bit of a shape, letting it sit while the oven heats up. Mostly I don't use the banneton any more, since proofing seems less important when the dough has been at room temp the whole time. And fewer steps and fewer tools means easier, and thus more likely to actually get done on a regular basis.

We have an oval Dutch oven that I've been using to bake bread in- it's the single best part of the original no-knead recipe, working brilliantly to get a glossy, crackling crust on any kind of dough you throw in there- but the single recipe wasn't quite enough to get good height on the loaf and a double was too much, bumping into the lid and inhibiting the lovely bubbly crumb. I tried 1.5s for a while, and they worked, but we go through bread pretty fast around here, so recently I've been doing double recipes in our larger round iron oven. A bit of trial and error led me to the right baking times- about 50% more than a single loaf. They're beautiful, and they last several days.

I use roughly 30% whole wheat (or sometimes the local 7-grain mix) and I like to sprinkle flax seeds on top for extra taste and texture. Now that I'm comfortable with the routine, and getting consistent results, I'm starting to think about ways to tweak it with added flavors and such. I also want to get a small round oven (or two) so I can bake flavored single-recipe loaves with a good shape, thus allowing, say, a raisin and nut loaf to coexist alongside a smoked serrano and cheddar loaf- the best of all possible worlds.

I've submitted this to YeastSpotting, and they like a link, so there it is.