Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Malolactic Fermentation

Would you rather drink white wine that exhibits characteristics of a) apples or b) milk? Good God.

Update: This comes on the heels of drinking a 2003 Treana Marsanne/Viognier blend (66%/34%) on the recommendation of someone in a local wine store I like. I loves me a Rhône white, so I asked her how "California" it was. She said "Oh, not at all- lots of minerals." And it was on sale, for around $20, so I bought one. And it tasted like butterscotch pudding. Just awful.

Update #2: Actually, I was just impatient to get to 700 posts. Which this is.

Monday, July 27, 2009

It's Hard To Be Us

On Saturday we piled in the car- along with Oren, who took the bus up from the city- and headed to the Berkshires for Richard's 60th birthday party. It was every bit the party we all knew it would be, and we all brought something since it was a surprise; Susan could not have made anything ahead of time without giving it away. This is a real shame, considering that they have the most unbelievable garden I have ever seen; it's so big, lavish, and prolific that it drives the rest of us "gardeners" into paroxysms of inadequacy.

When we got there, Andrew (the source of our much-loved sourdough starter) was making pizzas, and we busted out the vat of potato salad we brought (German-style, with copious vinegar, alliums, and a zillion herbs from the garden) and stuffed some Chinon rosé into the fridge. I had sliced a cured duck breast and half our new hunk of bresaola before we left, so I arranged them on some plates and my work was done; after that I busied myself taste-testing the four different pizzas, my charcuterie on pesto-slathered bread, and the vast plater of sashimi that Billy brought up from Mitsuwa and which John sliced up into a thing of beauty. Fresh-grated wasabi makes all the difference.

It was a wonderful night; after much food, and some great wine- 1998 Ciacci "Pianrusso" Brunellos and the 1998 Montiano we brought, among others- we all gathered in the living room to hear the guys (and Oren, of course, and Micro too on sintir for the second set) positively raise the roof. Seeing them in such a small room with only 30 or so people was a treat; the intimacy and familiarity of the setting magnified the energy and it was quite simply as badass an evening as was happening anywhere on Planet Earth at that particular time. Period. Asses were shaken.

Upon return home, we were all pretty beat, so we ordered in from the vegan joint. It's close, about 200 yards, and good clean food. Today, after a busy afternoon beginning my deer-prevention project, I came in, showered (it's actually finally hot and summery! At the end of fucking July!) and got to work shucking the dozen oysters I bought this morning when I made the run to get what I needed for the fencing. Since Christine does not love raw oysters, Milo and I ate them all for an appetizer and then I got to dealing with the squid.

Had I not been so late and tired, I would have grilled them, but I was, and so I didn't. We wandered out into the garden to grab some things (herbs, an onion, fennel, green beans, the biggest damn yellow carrot I've ever seen) and I chopped them all up and got them going in a pan so they were fully caramelized and ready for the squid before I threw it in. While they were cooking, I had soaked a bundle of bean threads, and after a minute of tossing the squid with the vegetables I scooped it all out into a bowl and added the noodles and an ice cube of trotter gear to the hot pan for a swab and swirl of all the sticky bits that stayed behind.

I opened a 2007 Château La Noë Muscadet to go with the oysters- a classic combination- and it continued to perform well with the squid. I'm really into Muscadets right now; they're sharply minerally, but with clean slices of citrus wrapped around the rocks to slake the stony austerity. And at around $12 a bottle, it's hard to argue with that- especially now that the sun is out.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Treyf And Sound

So that pork belly from the market? Well it came in roughly 1lb. hunks (skin on, bless them) so I figured I'd try a couple of different cures in the interest of advancing human knowledge in the cutting edge field of Bacon Science™. One got a pretty traditional cure, but with coffee and chili powder, and the other got a goodly slather with a paste made from yellow miso, yuzu miso, mashed ume plum, yuzu juice, and shichimi togarashi. There will be no prizes for guessing the direction I am hoping that one heads in.

Regular cure:

Slatheriffic cure:

In order to get these two hunks to fit in our two loaf pans I had to cut a bit off each one. And so this is what I was looking at as I pondered the subject of our evening meal:

Kismet, right? So those two luscious cubes were our dinner. I bagged them up with a sprinkle of 5-spice, pimentón, salt, and pepper and three ice cubes of the Trotter Gear (if liquids are frozen then the food saver has no problem with them; it just requires planning one's marinades ahead of time.)

While the belly cooked at 65˚ C (for about 6 hours) I did what needed to be done, and arrived back at my station in time to deal with the supporting players. All my visions of two-tone tortellini flew out the window as I seized the beet-colored pasta dough remnant from the freezer and rolled it out into gnocchi. I had a good handful of green beans from the garden, and Milo had pulled up a couple of carrots (yellow, orange) because he just can't help himself; it's magic every time and if I didn't feel the same way I would be annoyed at how fast we're going through the bed. And yet I am annoyed, because our garden isn't big enough.

So with some garlic I made a ragout with carrots, onion, and beans, and added the gnocchi- first boiled, then browned in pâté fat. When I took the pork out of the water bath, I carefully poured the liquid through a strainer into a bowl and added some kimchi juice since our latest batch is ready (and ridiculously good, if I do say so). Using the same pan as I had for the ragout and the gnocchi, I crisped up the skin real nice and then put it all together.

The belly was tender, the broth insanely good, the gnocchi dense and chewy, the vegetables al dente. There are lots of ways in which this could be refined and tightened up, but for a weekday it didn't suck. Also not so much with the sucking was a bottle of 2008 Scalabrone- Guado al Tasso's rosé. I like their red a lot, so upon seeing this at the store today I couldn't resist grabbing one despite the $20 price ($17 with the case discount). A blend of Cab, Merlot, Syrah, and Sangiovese, it's tangy and rich with some good minerality under all the strawberries, and enough grip and acidity to handle, say, a big quivering cube of pork fat.


Every Wednesday we have the Farmers' Market in town, and it's one of the best things to happen here in a while (this is the second year). There's music, and a flea market in the adjacent field, and prepared food as well as the usual produce, cheese, bread, meat, and wine. There are cooking classes for kids, and the weather has actually been pretty good on most of the recent days. It's always fun to see people we know, and it really underscores the positive aspects of living in a small town; where else can you make plans with both a French sommelier and Peruvian shaman while someone weighs you out some pork belly?

I also picked up some chicken for dinner, though I didn't quite have it in me to light the grill. The cat had woken me up at 5, and I was out all day, so by this time culinary ambition was getting its ass fully kicked by efficiency. The last two turnips from our spring crop awaited (the row is reseeded with more for fall) and I had pulled up some selvetica arugula and purslane to make room for extra carrots since we never have enough. Thus did chicken pieces and cubed turnips bake together in the oven with garlic cloves and a sprinkling of spices on the skin. I gave the greens a squeeze of lemon and olive oil, and that was it.

As much as I love the weekly market, it only underscores how shitty our shopping options are when the season is over. (This is a downside of living in a small town). I'm really starting to chafe at the brevity of our growing season, so I'm formulating plans to expand our garden so we can grow enough of the staples to last us through the winter. Our place isn't ideally set up for it, but I can make a few big (yet inexpensive) improvements in the fall and spring that should help me feel a little better. If we only had a basement, this would be a lot easier.

I was going to title this post "Agoraphilia" but it turns out that it means the love of sex outdoors, or getting turned on by being outside- which, sure- but not exactly what I meant.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Left My Life Out In The Rain

We went to Vermont for one night so I could meet with the contractor who's helping keep part of the house from falling off, and invited Chris along as well so the kids could play together. He brought some ready-to-bake bread; they've been using the same sourdough starter we use, though with a different blend of flours. The trip up really gave it a chance to rise, so by the time we arrived it was fully bloated with sour goodness. We baked it in their Dutch oven, which since it's round makes for a nice boule. I think I like it better than our oval, but that may be just because it puffed up like a sumbitch from the extra rise time. Coating it with flax seed was a nice touch, and one I have already stolen for this morning's loaf.

Dinner that night was great: pork chops I marinated in hard cider, maple syrup, soy sauce, and nam pla, then grilled until just pink in the middle. I made a little reduction of more of the hard cider plus trotter gear and pepper, and we had ragout de jardin plus greens and rice. We started off with 1998 Tignanello, which is drinking like a sex dream, and moved on to a 2003 Aquila which had a kind of cloying cherry coke thing happening right after the Tig, but then sort of blossomed into its own kind of decadence pretty quickly. Dessert was a ridiculously good cheese plate for dessert with a half bottle of 2001 Doisy Vedrines Sauternes.

Today I was mucking around, staring out the window in disbelief at yet another bout of incessant rain, when I remembered some beet cooking water I had saved the other day because it was just too pretty to pour out. So I made some fuchsia pasta dough and went on with my day, thinking a bit about what to do with it from time to time in between the thunderclaps. It happens that there was a hunk of fresh mozzarella that wasn't so fresh anymore, and a handful of pine nuts, and of course herbs-a-plenty outside in the sheeting, ceaseless downpour. So I blended all that together until it was nice and smooth, and then Milo and I rolled out the dough.

In my rummagings, I came upon a container of nasturtium butter (flowers blended with a little lemon and salt) in the freezer that positively screamed "sauce" and since it was under the container of frozen trotter gear cubes an idea was born. So I made a beurre blanc (beurre jaune?) of sorts with the butter and the pork reduction and that was that. Pretty to look at, and quite tasty to eat; a little tinkering would make this a real keeper. There's some of the dough left in the freezer for some future variant, though not really enough for all of us. Maybe I'll make another batch of a different color and make two-tone ravioli next time. I had planned to cut these out with some of my fancy new geometric cutters, but time and hunger squashed that idea. Next time.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Unctuous Potential

Sort of a strange thing to make when the weather is finally season-appropriate, but for some reason I had a hankering for a freezer full of wobbly pig reduction. So I betook me to Fleisher's and hit Josh up for whatever lower portions of pig legs he had lying around. The recipe calls for Madeira, but I used a simple white so it would be more neutral in flavor. And the aromatics all came from the garden, which is just far enough along to furnish us with such things, albeit on the small side.

After a quick blanch of the legs and feet, I threw them back in a clean pot with the vegetables and covered them with the wine and some chicken stock I had made the night before from a mixture of leftover bones and fresh wings. The theory of this concoction is basically to double down on the gelatin and end up with a wickedly wiggly substance that adds unctuositivitudinousness to a wide variety of dishes.

I let it go at a bare simmer, skimming a few times, for about six hours. One is supposed to shred the meat and add it back to the strained broth, keeping it all together, but I separated the shreddy meat out and will use it for a terrine in the near future (bound, no doubt, with the gelatinous goodness that sits beside it in the freezer.) I almost remade the thing from Keller's Bouchon that I made for TNS, but I stayed true to the original purpose.

Some I decanted as it was, and some I let reduce by half for extra richness. The result? 6 liters of wobbly wonder, frozen in a variety of sizes; our two ice cube trays add up to a liter, so I filled a bag with cubes to toss in a sauce or for deglazing anything that will want extra lip-smackery. The larger containers will give us surpassing braises in the cooler weather down the road. I don't have any pictures of it, but if you try really hard I bet you can imagine what containers of broth look like.

It's funny, because by complete coincidence the following night I ended up making another of the dishes that made Fergus Henderson famous. Milo had come with me to the butcher, and he loves marrow bones, so when he saw the big ones that Josh had canoed on the bandsaw, well, we had to have them. And since the parsley was going off in the garden, it was all worked out. I messed with the parsley salad a bit, adding extra oil and making it a bit more chimichurri-esque (because we loves us that sauce) and it cut through the rich roasted marrow beautifully.

Though it could have stood with some emulsifying like last time, since the oil leak always bugs me. This, a salad, and a soup thickened with leftover couscous infused with the goat and prune tagine from the night before made a pretty stellar dinner (the soup was made with the goat bones).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fried Food Is Good Food

Tasting, that is, though not something we do very often. Plus, it's annoying to clean up after. But the ingredients spoke, and would not be denied. I made another batch of pimentón mayonnaise and used it as a binder for the leftover halibut which I had flaked apart with forks. I used my brand new hexagonal cookie cutters to shape them, then dipped them in curry-seasoned panko and browned 'em up. While that was happening, I took washed and dried squash flowers (our winter squash are going fully apeshit on the compost pile with all the rain), stuffed them with mozzarella, and dredged them in a made-up batter of egg, flour, baking powder, and wine. All the fried goodness made a pretty circle around another splendid ragout de jardin. Extra mayo may have been used for swabbing of aforementioned fried goodness. There was wine. Over.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Let's Get Ready To Rhombus

We organized an impromptu dinner with Gerard and Alison because we hadn't seen them in ages. They brought a big hunk of beautiful halibut, and I got all geeky with a variety of local mushrooms and some leftovers. The two vivid purées (sweet potato and purple cauliflower) from the other night became- with the addition of some eggs and flour- crêpe batter, and some fresh oyster and shiitake mushrooms made a nice duxelle with some of the dried black trumpets and a few porcini. Sautéed gently with onion, herbs, garlic, and a splash of wine until silky, it was a deep and resplendent shroom paste. After I cooked up the two-toned crêpes in separate batches, I stamped out diamond shapes with one of my new cutters, then layered them all together, alternating, again within the confines of the lozenge.

Et voilà. I gave some thought to making a sort of an emulsified butter-type sauce for these, but people were hungry so we just ate them.

Next up, we had a dozen malpeque oysters from PEI garnished with homemade ponzu and fennel fronds. To go with both these dishes, a Finger Lakes Chardonnay: Red Tail Ridge Nutt Road Vineyard. Not bad at all, and I like their focus on sustainability. If I can find their pinot I will surely try it.

Lastly, the halibut, which Gerard rubbed with salt and pepper and baked until just opaque (occupied as I was with my pretty shapes, I had neglected to get a fire going). I did manage to make some mash with pan di zucchero (a chicory relative) and wilted some chard and kale with garlic. And we added some kimchi or emphasis. Delightful.

Dessert was five local cheeses with a little sticky Australian Muscat I brought back from VT. It's cloying in any but the smallest amount, but a little sip with a pungent blue is a honeyed, walnutty treat. It's telling, though, that we returned straight away to the 2000 Hilberg-Pasquero Barbera which we had opened for the main course. Biodynamic, funky, and with a deep, chewy center, it held our interest all the way to the bottom of the bottle.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ace Of Diamonds

I ordered a bunch of geometric cookie cutters for making the next batch of plates, and when they arrived they got me thinking about all sorts of other possibilities, on account of I'm a sucker for geometry and all. Our neighbor brought us over a trout, and I had broken my no-buying-vegetables-in-summer rule (which is fairly easily broken) at a nearby farmers' market for some purple cauliflower because ours didn't come up this year. And we had sweet potatoes in the pantry.

So I steamed the two vegetables, and puréed them with enough of the steaming water to get them silky. The trout got the customary treatment: wrapped in parchment with butter, garlic, and thyme, then put in the oven. Using the largest triangle cutter, I made a little pedestal for the fish, and used the luscious juices from the parchment as a sauce. I briefly considered thickening it and whisking in some capers, but there really wasn't any point; everything was right in the sweet spot between delicate and substantial.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Painful Itching And Burning

This post is dedicated to Brooke and Brittany. They're sisters. They're both pretty obnoxious, and prone to cheap sexual innuendo, especially when it comes to jokes about hot beef. (Hey, girls- did you know that "innuendo" is Italian for suppository?) They live in Portland, or Seattle, or some other silly pseudo-city out West, where they smoke weed, play hacky sack, and hang out with other negligent reprobates. For a while it was hard to decide which of them was lazier, but now Brittany has clearly won. She's a big huge quitter of Sarah Palin-esque proportions. Click the link to see the last time she posted something. Seriously, it's just shameful. She hardly even bothers to comment on other people's blogs any more, that's how far she has sunk into her morass of appalling torpor. Honestly, the kids today.

So, because they did/specifically did not ask for it respectively, here's a flat iron steak. Sous vide at 52˚ C for an hour or so, then a sear in smoked duck fat. Sweet potato fries. Green mash made from curly endive, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, ume plums, white truffle oil, lemon juice, and a little mustard. More mustard on the side. It's what's for dinner, bitches.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Umami Dearest

Last week, while I was making some new plates at the ceramics studio the owner showed me some of the amazing variety of mushrooms that are growing on her property. I am very, very far from qualified to ID fungi, but black trumpets are an easy spot and she has a couple of big, fat patches growing on the sites of long-ago cut hardwood stumps. In exchange for my eye, and for a follow-up email to a good mycologist friend in Boston, she let me come back with a basket and gather a bunch.

They're delicate, but can handle a gentle rinse; if you pinch off the narrow end the faucet will quickly force any critters and crud through the funnel and leave them ready to cook or dry. I did both, setting aside some nice ones for dinner and putting the rest on a rack over a cookie sheet in a 180˚ oven with the door propped open a bit for a couple of hours. First I let all of them dry off a bit on a towel.

They cook down pretty seriously, losing a lot of volume as they cough up their moisture. But man, are they good. Easily one of the mushroomiest-tasting varieties, and striking in their inky contrast to most colors of food. In this case, I spooned the mushrooms (given a quick sautée with garlic, parsley, and wine) over the top of "risotto" made from the local, organic 10-grain mix we like so much (and which does not include rice, so it's really a dense and toothsome porridge) with a big bowl of freshly-shelled peas stirred in near the end. I made it with the last container of frozen chicken broth, the use of which coincided perfectly with my acquisition of a duck from the farmers' market in town; smoked poultry broth will shortly be back in rotation.

To complete the complete meal, another of the wondrous ragouts de jardin- in this instance the last favas, broccoli florets, baby fennel and celery, garlic, carrots (4 colors) and scallions- quickly sautéed and deglazed with a spoon of the smoked broth and a splash of Mas de Gourgonnier rosé. It was our last bottle, so I'll have to head out and get more for all of the WARM, SUNNY WEATHER that we will totally be having in the coming weeks.

Après Moi, Le Dessert

Complaining about the weather is about as pointless as activities get, I know, but the amount of rain we've been getting is beyond ridiculous. The temperature barely cracked 70˚ all weekend in Vermont- though it didn't actually rain there- and yesterday it pissed down all afternoon. Poor Milo shivered through his first swimming lesson. Today the sun is actually somewhat visible, but it's cold out.

I've lived in England, so I can handle it- I'll just start drinking a lot more to suppress my emotions, and then riot at the occasional soccer match to vent the pent-up aggression. It's just that we have all these tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, and melon plants that are barely growing, let alone setting any fruit. And I was kind of looking forward to the sweet glory that is the second half of the season, as opposed to, say, a big pile of mildew covered in fat, satisfied slugs. It may be that we're due for a break later this week, so stay tuned; I know you're all on the edge of your seats with suspense.

Meanwhile, dinner must still be made. And it can still be mostly vegetables, if not the most sexy ones. So a moulard duck breast (the other is going to become prosciutto) with a good rub of pimentón, salt, pepper, and cinnamon into all the scored fat was the point around which a bunch of other flavors organized themselves. While the duck rendered and crisped in a pan, I blasted escarole in the processor with ume plums, pine nuts, olive oil, and lemon juice to make a heavenly mash. Our new batch of kimchi is ready, and it's a good one- our own scallions, carrots, and green garlic really help- and there was some good slaw made even better by a few days in the fridge. After the duck was cooked, I poured off some of the fat and made fried rice with leftover brown basmati and some beet greens from the other night.

While the sun is actually out, I'm going to go plant some things and continue my delusional belief that there's even a point any more. And then it'll be time to start drinking.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A Good Cellar Rots Labels

We went to Vermont for the weekend, to check on the progress of the repairs being done there and to revel in the perfection that Vermont in high summer exemplifies. The raspberries are coming in, and the wild strawberries carpet the meadow- especially around the tree where my Mom's ashes are buried. Milo loves it there, and we invited a friend and her daughter who is as close to a sibling as he has.

The kids played so well together that we grownups were able to just hang out and cook and drink and read like normal people. It was amazing. The years of mandatory vigilance have paid off; now we get to actually enjoy ourselves. The enormous excavator parked in the driveway may deserve partial credit, but we were pretty happy.

Saturday night we grilled lamb leg steaks and salmon, and made sautéed roots (carrot, turnip, chioggia beet) with fennel plus brown rice, steamed beet greens, and a reduction of wine, vinegar, maple syrup, curry, cumin, sage, and apple juice that worked on meat and fish alike. I perused the cellar, and stumbled upon some forgotten treasures, one of which we opened to celebrate: a 1990 Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf. Oh, the insanity. A dusty, sweet, evanescent tapestry of longing that deepened into a pool of lavender, cherry, and licorice. Poor man's Burgundy indeed.

The next night we made pizzas, using almost entirely local ingredients (the sauce, flour, cheese, toppings, and pepperoni). Various combinations of the leftovers, plus newly purchased garlic scapes from our pals at Taylor farm. The only hitch was that the grill ran out of gas after the first pie so we had to finish cooking them in the oven. Not a catastrophe. We drank a 2000 Thackrey Aquila Sangiovese, which tasted like a new release. His wines defy age better than anything I have ever drunk.

Also, the red clover in the meadow was full of butterflies; Milo had demanded that we bring his net, and boy was he right to think of it. No butterflies were injured during the making of this post- it was strictly catch and release.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Lipstick On A Chicken

You know those precooked chicken sausages that hang out in the freezer section? The organic ones with 1990s-era flavor combinations like sundried tomato and porcini mushroom? Well, because our grocery options up here are limited, occasionally my wife goes a little crazy from the limitations of a couple of small stores and grabs at anything that we don't normally buy. And so it was that these things were in the fridge.

Because they're pre-cooked, and they have the cellulose casings, grilling them is a disaster; they end up as rubbery little logs with no moisture. Chopping them up into a pasta sauce is really the only thing they're good for (beyond just heating and eating on bread with mustard and kimchi while standing over the sink; they do the job, but only just).

So I figured that with some tinkering they might make a decent wonton filling. I had seen some skins in the freezer and the idea of both frying and hiding the sausage seemed to be win/win. I chopped them fine, adding copious ginger, garlic, preserved yuzu, nam pla, cilantro, and a little kimchi juice. Wrapped 'em up. Fryed 'em.

It looks like a delicious little Magdalena Abakanowicz, doesn't it? I made the quick dipping sauce with soy, vinegar, sriracha, and a drib of agave, and served them on spicy baby greens (radish, mustard, mizuna). We also had sautéed crimini mushrooms with wine and garlic, and a heaping salad. And rosé. On the screened porch. The sun actually came out for a minute.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Lay Back And Dream On A(nother) rainy Day

The near-constant rain is impeding the growth of the heat-loving plants, and if it keeps up it's a safe bet that most of our tomatoes and peppers won't ripen and our cucurbits will succumb quickly to a plague of powdery mildew. And the slugs are as big as schnausers. But the greener things are thriving- roots are getting fat, and our salad isn't bolting like it normally does. This month will tell whether we are in for the sweet late-season good stuff or not.

In the meantime, there's enough variety to at least allow for some simple pleasures like the ragout we had the other night. It's a survey of all the non-leafy options available right now: carrot, scallion, green garlic, fennel, pea, fava bean, baby celery, and nasturtium bud. A quick sautée, a splash of wine, and it was freshest al dente bliss. Some broiled coho salmon and fried rice with beet greens completed the plate, but honestly the ragout was the star. The frozen mirepoix got us through the winter very well; every time it hit a pan I grinned at the vivid potency of summer captured in each bag as it wafted up (a mince of guanciale made it positively sublime). But when these prime crops, the non-leafy prizes of summer, have just been picked about 20 minutes before you eat them, it's a whole different experience- one we get to have for maybe five months out of the year if we're lucky.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Good Weed

My latest article is out in the July issue of Chronogram.