Monday, August 31, 2009

Vermont Highlights

We arrived carrying as much garden as we could (this picture doesn't include any of the huge bags of salad and other greens):

My Uncle gave me an old Canon DSLR body, so I messed around with it (using his lens) a little. I ordered a lens of my own, and it was waiting for me when I got home, so the pictures on this blog should now regularly rise above the "execrable" level. Note the sweat on the beet, for example.

One of the first things I made was a micro-local frisée aux lardons (though technically it would be micro-local here and not there) with our frisée, our neighbor's duck eggs, and our own miso-cured bacon.

After my Uncle left, I had to go back to using the crap camera, but the food at least stayed high quality. I made a pretty good oxtail stew, which was fitting for the chilly and wet weather that beset the bulk of our time there. We brought the smoked shrimp shells with us, and I used them to make a broth which ended up being used throughout the week. First up I used the broth to make a thick sauce for stir-fried boar loin with broccoli and summer squash on rice noodles:

The next day I mixed more of it with peanut butter and various Asian-type condiments, and warmed the noodles back up in that to revive them. That night we steamed a couple of lobsters with corn, and I saved the shells. The next day I made lobster broth, adding in the rest of the smoked shrimp stock to double down on the crustaceany goodness. I used this elixir to make a risotto with leftover corn and lobster meat.

The leftover risotto in turn became risotto cakes that I browned in butter and served with cucumber salad for a pretty nice lunch. And the rest of it got rolled up into avocado maki when we returned home to a pretty empty fridge.

Towards the end of our time there, I made a bunch of pizzas on the grill for us, my Brother, his friend, and her Son; pictured are potato/rosemary, pesto/goat cheese/aged gouda, and tomato sauce topped with mizuna, our home-cured gravlax (from that line-caught sockeye) and avocado. There were also pepperoni and smoked gouda and bacon with greens and red onion. All the gouda, as well as all the eggs and raw milk we had all week, came from Taylor Farm, where we went one night for an excellent sushi party.

The local fruit was in full effect, so Milo and I made a couple of tarts: peach/blueberry, and peach/plum/raspberry. They were well received.

I shot this on the nice marble counter insert where three generations of my family have rolled out pastry. The next one was made later the following day, so I had to use the lights on the stove. There's not much better than a fresh fruit tart on a perfect thin crust. They didn't even need glazing.

Last, because of all the rain, amphibians are thriving. Milo caught a bullfrog at our neighbor's pond on one of the sunny days, and then he rescued this toad from a basement window well a couple of days later. He named it Frelzy.

Now we're home, and it's cold and grey. Feels like fall already, and summer barely even got started.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

News Flash

Organic heirloom red fingerling potatoes roasted with lardons of homemade miso-cured maple-smoked bacon, fat cloves of garlic, and branches of rosemary are very, very good.

That is all.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Fishman Cometh

I took delivery of our first seafood order, which had been swimming happily around the North Pacific the day before, and delighted in the very, very happy place that our food is going to. Up until now, the fish selection around here has been pretty bad, and I've had to console myself with the world-class local meat, cheese, and grain and our own produce. But fish is so wonderful, and gets me so inspired to do creative things that I've been sorely missing it. Until now. I ordered a side of sockeye salmon and a pound of side-stripe shrimp (both completely sustainable) figuring that it would be a good way to stretch one weekly delivery into several meals.

The salmon I have cured, and it will be gravlax in a day or two- just in time to take it to VT so my family can eat the whole damn thing; I also smoked 4 pounds of miso-cured bacon and will be bringing ONE pound up with us for that very reason. The shrimp were dinner tonight. I seasoned (garlic, salt, pepper, 5-spice) and skewered them, then put them in the smoker for a few minutes to cook. Why waste a good fire, right? Especially since it was 90˚ and jungle-muggy today. I had intended to do something fancy by agar-clarifying Blanche's bloody Mary mix to make a clear cocktail sauce, but it got late, so I just used the agar to thicken it up from tomato juice texture to sauce texture and left it at that. We murdered them. There was other stuff, too- some leftovers, and a little new potato gratin, but these were the star. The ever-so flattering spotlight was a 2006 Max-Ferd. Richter Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett. As good as it is- especially for under $15- better still was the 06 Graacher Himmelreich we had a couple of days ago with coconut curried chickpeas. Not a very photogenic dish, but tasty, and just ridiculously delightful wine.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another Shitty Meal

I took a quick trip to the city last week, and was lucky enough to line the trip up with a little shindig at Kris' place (Ken is out of town for a big chunk of every summer.) Mary was there, of course, with her guy and another friend. Kris put me in charge of salad, so I brought down a bag of various things and tried to get there a little early so I could prep them into something presentable. The salad was to be the base for some scallops- the second course, so the extra time I had allowed me to add a few steps that helped make it into something more interesting.

First up we had a deeply decadent, creamy corn soup with tender chunks of coconut-crusted lobster. The corn was spiked with a nice variety of pie spices and had a super-silky texture. It met a perfect match in Mary's 2004 Müller Catoir Himmeldinger Mandelgarten Riesling Kabinett (try saying that after a few glasses). Just gorgeous.

The salad included chioggia beet, cucumber, fennel, cherry tomatoes, purslane, nasturtium leaves and flowers, green beans, and anise hyssop. Since I had a bit of time, I made quick pickles out of the thinly-sliced beet and rubbed thin strips of seeded cucumber with salt and let them sit for a few minutes before rinsing them. Once the beets had steeped for a bit, I took them out and added the chopped green beans into the same liquid (sherry vinegar, water, salt, anise hyssop leaves and flowers). Then I plated it all up and made a mustardy vinaigrette to drip around- just a little, since the seared scallops were the main attraction. The extra steps of salting and pickling a few things plus the interesting variety of ingredients made for a pretty wonderful dish. Kris had made a spiced dice of apple as a condiment, so we spooned that on the corner of every plate.

For this, we opened a 2004 Condrieu "La Chambée" by Vins de Vienne- the négociant co-owned by Cuilleron, Gaillard, and Villard. It started off kind of strange, smelling not a little like the purple photo emulsion we used to use in silkscreening, but over time it got pretty sexy- best of all, by the end of the meal everyone else had moved on to cognac so I got to finish it all by myself.

Kris always seems to overcook the lamb when I come over (which he blames me for) but this time around he fully broke that streak- the gorgeous herb-crusted racks came out of the oven perfectly rare, and he served them with roasted potatoes and zucchini stuffed with cheese. For this, we tried the 2000 Cortese Barbaresco Rabaja that I brought- it was a little too warm, but still good, and better after we stuck the decanter in the freezer for a few minutes. Kris, typically, guessed the vineyard correctly on the first try. It's an elegant wine, but it tasted positively slutty in comparison with the last and best wine of the evening- a 2002 Gevrey-Chambertin Villages from Denis Mortet. It's the first over $100 Village-level wine I've had, and worth every penny. Just beautiful. It didn't last long, but the subtlety and definition were breathtaking. And, like all great Burgundy, it got BUSY with the cheese (always the last course chez K&K).

Here's Kris plating the corn soup; in front are the salads waiting to be dressed and adorned with scallops.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Miley Cyrus Makes Out With Lindsay Lohan!

This probably would have been better as part of the previous post, since it's essentially another cucumber and tomato salad. The cucumber salad is by way of a meal I participated in last week in the city, but which post I haven't finished yet. So it'll have to do as an addendum of sorts to the tomato post. When I do post the NYC dinner, you'll see that the message is the same (at least as far as the salad is concerned): a little extra time allows for some pretty profound manipulation of the ingredients, making for a different kind of experience, especially when said salad is low on leafy elements. And I say that as an avowed lover of bowls full of leaves.

The first part was very similar to the tomato-cucumber salad in the first picture of the last post, but with an extra step added for both main components. For the tomatoes- again, our pink brandywines- I cut a little X at their bases and blanched them for 15 seconds in boiling water to loosen the skins. Once peeled, I cut them into eighths radially and then sliced the outer meat from each wedge (saving the rest for soup, sauce, or making tomato water). The resulting slices look an awful lot like expensive tuna. for the cucumber, I seeded, peeled, and thinly sliced a couple, then kneaded the slices with some sea salt until they coughed up some liquid. then I rinsed them and squeezed them dry so they'd soak up a bit of dressing. In this instance, a few drops of sherry vinegar and some black pepper.

Many recipes for pale, delicate things call for white pepper instead, so as not to have black flecks in, say, your béchamel or celery root purée, but too much white pepper tastes like a horse's ass (though a judicious little can be fantastic) so I go with black most of the time. I simply love good cracked black pepper on almost anything, including fruit tarts. I wear my jagged black shards as a badge of honor. So the slippery, salty slices of cuke got a twist. This technique is simply astonishing for its ability to add depth and density to a simple vegetable like a cucumber; try it, and be converted. I added a bit of purslane and nasturtium for color, texture, and varied flavor, and dribbled a bit of good olive oil and Maldon salt over the tomatoes.

Next up, some salmon. The season in Alaska is just getting started, and that means we can once again get sublime, sustainable wild salmon. To celebrate, makizushi and sashimi, keeping it super-simple. The rolls were leftover short-grain brown rice- the only kind that works for this- and the fish. the sashimi, since we got it from a place that mangles the fillets beyond repair when they debone (no longer) got arranged in a pretty circle since the individual slices were shredded and wouldn't do the traditional beautiful, striated, rectangular stack thing and then dribbled with homemade ponzu and garnished with one of our first serrano chilis sliced on the bias.

Clean, simple, and filling; this was enough for both adults (the kid is sick with a stomach thing). Stretching a meal out into two or three courses is the easiest way to feel full on less food. And it's fun to chat while you make the second plate. To drink, a 2005 Huguel Pinot Blanc- a $13 bottle of pure joy, served chilly, fragrantly frolicking with the fat, sweet, hot, and tart alike.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I Say Tomato

I've got some more posts on tap, but I'm tired right now after dealing with our garage sale all day. I hear more and more stories about people losing tomatoes to the blight- including, horrifyingly, our immediate neighbor- but so far ours are soldiering on. To celebrate what might be an all-too-brief luxury, we're diving into our pink brandywines every night for dinner, dressing them with just a bit of crunchy salt, olive oil, basil, and a twist of pepper. Milo and I had a tomato tasting before dinner, trying them with combinations of basil, thyme, soy sauce, with and without salt, etc., and he really got it; like most kids, he loves all things tomato, but the level of complex, decadent richness in perfect just-picked homegrown heirlooms registered with him in a profound way. It's a taste he'll never forget, and will be the baseline for everything else in the future.

Don't let the light color fool you- they're pink, but incredibly tasty. And our cucumbers are also luxuriating in the recent heat, so every day we have some of them to look forward to as well. I actually succession planted them in the hopes of extending pickle season a bit this time around. We'll see if that actually works, but the pickles so far have been very good.

This evening these commingled with BBQ chicken legs, brown rice, pesto made with basil and frisée, and extra BBQ sauce on the side. Plus a 2008 Raffault Chinon rosé, which is on sale at a nearby place and for $12 will totally lap-dance with this kind of food. But, you know, in like a totally classy way.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pork Pudding

It seems kind of meat-centric around here, I know, but that's partly because the camera was out of town and partly because some of the meatless things I've made lately haven't been super photogenic. Despite what it may seem, our life is not all bacon all the time. Sorry to disappoint you. This post, for example, has no bacon in it at all, and will instead feature massive amounts of smoked and simmered non-belly pig parts in two sequential dinners. See? I'm all about the fair and balanced.

First, to celebrate the return of my family from Vermont, I bought, brined and smoked some country pork ribs. To accompany, brown rice, green mash (frisée and endive with umeboshi, garlic, and olive oil) and braised red cabbage. I usually make the cabbage with cumin, coriander, fennel, and mustard seeds plus wine, vinegar, and a little soy sauce, but this time around it benefited from the addition of the roast chicken drippings I saved from the two birds the week before. Since I didn't have the time to make gravy for that meal, I just put the liquid in a container in the fridge and forgot about it. Poking around this time, I found it, and scraped the fat off the top (saving it, of course, and using a dollop to get the cabbage going). The quivering jelly of roasted chicken juices made for the perfect braising liquid after I deglazed the browned cabbagey goodness with white wine. It simmered low for three hours, getting silky and deep. And I made more BBQ sauce, this time based on our homemade applesauce and spicy peach-habañero chutney; I added tomato paste, maple syrup, vinegars, and wine to those and let it all bubble and reduce while the ribs smoked, brushing it on from time to time.

It was perfectly good, and made for a happy homecoming. But I had bigger plans, and bought more ribs than we needed to ensure plenty of leftover meat. The next day, I took the remaining meat- 2 whole cuts, plus a half, plus two big bones- and just covered it with red wine, trotter gear, and water and let it simmer low. I pulled the quart of shredded meat from the making of the trotter gear out of the freezer and defrosted it in a saucepan with the rest of the BBQ sauce and some leftover white wine. Once the whole ribs were tender, I shredded them off the bone and added that meat back into their now-smoky cooking liquid along with the defrosted shredded hock meat and a can of tomato paste to help thicken it all up a bit more. It bubbled together for another hour or so. The addition of the unsmoked hock meat from the freezer was key; it helped cut the heavy smoke flavor and reduce it to a level where it mingled playfully with the other flavors. And doubling down on the unctuous pork broth is always a good idea.

The result? Not at all fancy, but man oh MAN was this a pleasure to eat: sweet, sour, smoky, super-rich from all the reduced stock, and with the soft, falling-apart texture that only comes from cooking low and slow. I put it on the same brown rice and cabbage, so it was literally a remix of the night before. Best of all, that very same quart container is back in the freezer, but this time full of gorgeous, fully-flavored shreddy joy. Whenever it comes back out, I will make cornbread.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Porn On A Bun

Since the family is away for a few days, and this last week has been a trying one, I've been getting a lot of work done and not cleaning up after myself- just like I used to do every single day before I had a family. To celebrate, and also to treat myself to some hedonism as the wretched poison ivy abates under the onslaught of steroids, I constructed a burger that may well be among the very best I or anyone else has ever eaten.

To wit:
  • 2 thick slices of the home-cured, maple-smoked miso bacon, cooked until half-chewy, half-crisp
  • 1/2 lb. of ground Washugyu beef, seared in the rendered bacon fat until just medium, with 2-year-old sharp Vermont cheddar melted on top to fuse the bacon to the meat
  • a big handful of fresh wild black trumpet mushrooms, sautéed with garlic in the bacon/beef fat
  • homemade kimchi
  • a big slice of homegrown Silvery Fir tomato
  • a toasted whole wheat English muffin from a local bakery
  • a small squidge of a homemade ketchup-BBQ sauce hybrid
  • our very first homegrown, raw-fermented dill pickle of the season
Now the family took the camera with them, so you will have to imagine the eye-rolling, table-pounding beauty of this hot mess. Since there's no picture to burn the blessed image into your neurons for all eternity, you might want to print this post out and recite it before bed, perhaps using the convenient bullet points to replace your evening prayers or mantra.

I almost took Brooklynguy's advice from his recent comment and opened something rare and special to enjoy all by myself with this surpassingly exquisite repast. Two things stopped me. One, I am not 100% sure how drinking a whole bottle of wine would interact with these meds, and the possibility that drunken roid rage might find me teabagging at a health care town meeting was too grisly to contemplate. Two, I had some driving to do- there was music to be heard- and though I did bring a bottle (an '02 Sirius Petite Sirah) with me to camp I shared it. Had I stayed home I surely would have gotten into something old and wonderful and followed its evolution all the way to the very last drop. It is what the burger wanted.

Tomorrow I have to clean the house.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Finally, Fish

If you live in my area, you know that our seafood options are limited to say the least. In response to this, our good buddy Gerard has stepped up and become a to-order fishmonger with weekly drop-offs on both sides of the river. Send him an email and start ordering the same quality fish that restaurants get. I am positively vibrating with excitement at being able to order all kinds of über-fresh goodies both common and obscure, since nothing inspires me quite as much as a wide variety of perfect seafood- read all my posts after a trip to Mitsuwa and you'll see what I mean. It just got one big notch less inconvenient to live in the sticks.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Beginningless Summer

More torrential rain, and then more still- it's beyond the bad joke stage, and into full-blown misery here in parts of the Northeast. Micro sent me this link to an article in the Globe about the CSA where he works every week for his share of the bounty; they lost their entire tomato crop to the early blight (same fungus that caused the potato famine). Chris just pulled up all their Roma tomatoes and burned them. We haven't gotten the blight yet- fingers crossed, because the tomato bed is my pride this year- but it'll be a miracle if the peppers and eggplants ripen before the first frost. Seriously- we got 6 inches of rain on Friday, with crazy wind, bringing trees and branches down all over town. Saturday was beautiful, and then it poured all day yesterday. This evening the weaterman cheerfully informed us that "lows later in the week could get down into the 40's- it'll feel more like September in parts of the region." Fucker. I hope his lawn dies.

I bought some beautiful chanterelles yesterday at a place that carries wild mushrooms, and a fat yellow and red heirloom tomato because we only have the cherries at this point. Since bacon is very much in the house, it seemed logical to sautée the mushrooms with the bacon or a pizza topping. There was chicken meat that I had pulled off of the carcases post-stock making, and a tour of the garden yielded basil, red kale, parsley, and radicchio thinnings to make a pesto. There was even fresh mozzarella AND goat cheese in the fridge. Sounds perfect, right? The second half of the bread dough had been languishing unbaked for so long that I figured it was fit only for pizza dough, so the pieces of my evil plan were all falling into place.

Mwahahahahaha. (Cue Bach's toccata and fugue in D minor.)

And yet I laughed deeply, resonantly, and in a vintage horror-movie fashion TOO SOON, for the dough was so over the hill that it was in fact fit only for crackers, or perhaps throwing at a nearby meteorologist. All the yeasties had cacked, leaving a stinky puddle of water on top of an utterly flaccid dough. I poured off the water, and kneaded some flour into the awful mess to try to enliven it- leaving it in a bowl for an hour in the hopes that someone would wake up and metabolize all the fresh new carbs- but to no avail. So I rolled them out and topped them and baked them and we ate them and they would in fact have made pretty good crackers if I had only left all of the yuppie bullshit off of them and just let them be crackers. But no. So now they're soggy and won't even make for a decent cold pizza breakfast.

On top of all this beatific, carefree summer fun, I have a case of poison ivy on my arms that belongs in a medical textbook. What happened was I got scratched up on day 1 of the deer fencing (on account of the ubiquitous wild brambly roses) so on day 2 all the poison ivy oil had lots of access to the inside of my skin. Normally I scrub it all off and there's no problem, but normally my arms aren't perforated all to shit. So a couple days later, it's like tiny Krakatoas erupting all over, tracing the scratch lines up and down my forearms.

So, to reiterate: tomato famine, incessant rain, cold, and an epic case of agonizing, weeping, itchy sores. No wonder Annette Funicello won't return my calls.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Patience Is A Virtue

Remember the bacon? I finally got around to smoking it, only a couple of days later than I intended to. The two cures had made noticeable differences to the meat; the traditional cure (I use the word loosely here, since it had coffee and tons of garlic in it) had firmed it up and darkened it noticeably, while the miso cure had left the meat firm but still supple and only slightly colored. I put them both in a maple smoke for about 90 minutes- since they were under 1 lb. each they got to 150˚ in the center pretty fast.

And then the tasting. For this, the whole family appeared, as if by magic, though they tried to act all nonchalant like they just happened to walk in as soon as the bacon came out of the smoker: "Oh, sure, I guess I'll try a little piece." We were unanimous- the traditional was delicious, but too salty, while the miso cure was simply incredible. I'm pretty sure that henceforth this will be it for me and bacon; it had the magic proportions of sweet, salty, umami, and complex so totally where they needed to be that any tinkering will be gentle and around the edges. The slight hint of sour yuzu that comes through in the aftertaste is a wonder to behold. A tad more togarashi would lend the citrus tang a slight iodine edge and boost the heat a bit, but it's honestly hard to imagine better bacon. It even stayed creamier through the smoking.

To make immediate use of this glory, I threw some of our new favorite local organic navy beans in the pressure cooker and got them going. While they hissed, I picked onion, celery, carrot, parsley, and herbs and made a big pot of chicken broth using the caracasses from the night before- we roasted two big birds for Christine's family who were in town for her performance. And I rendered off some of the saltier bacon with aromatics, deglazed with wine, and then added in al dente beans, covered all with broth, and let it simmer for about a half hour more. We busied ourselves with some corn and cucumber salad while we waited. (Many more cucumbers went into the pickling crock for the year's first batch of pickles).

And then the beans. Milo complained that his were too hot- the temperature impeded the high-speed wolfing that the beans demanded- so I tossed an ice cube of trotter broth into his bowl and told him to stir. And then it got very quiet for a while. Seriously, there's nothing at all fancy about this food, but when all the components are homegown, -made, or locally sourced, it takes it to the place that the great peasant food of the world has always enjoyed: perfection.

Adding a whole other dimenion to this haute-humble repast was a bottle of 2005 Domaine Longval Tavel. Old rosé- excepting López de Heredia- is kind of an oxymoron, but this was mighty. An ever-so-slight whiff of oxidation just added more ways in which it could pair with food, and the resulting depth and complexity of flavor put it in a category altogether separate from most other pink wine, which is fitting, since Tavel has always enjoyed a special place in the world of rosé. Special enough to earn it a place next to our ridiculous bacon, of which there will be much, much more to come.

Blessed Are The Cheesemakers

The August Chronogram is out, and within it another article- this time on our outstanding regional cheeses.