Friday, October 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Recipes Continued

My article in this month's Chronogram mostly consists of a few recipes designed to make the traditional feast a bit less stressful and a bit more tasty. There wasn't room in the piece to cover all the dishes mentioned or photographed, so I'm doing it here. Anybody with a question about any of it should leave a comment and I'll try to help.

First, the poached pears. I bought some local, organic Seckel pears at the farmers' market in addition to the Bartletts and plums that ended up in the tart. These little guys are brilliant for poaching, because they hold their shape well even after quite a bit of cooking. You'll notice the reappearance of some of the spices used to make the turkey stock.

Pears poached in red wine

Local, organic Seckel pears
Decent local red wine
1 cinnamon stick
1 thumb of ginger
2 star anise pods
2 cloves
6-8 cardamom seeds
Local honey or maple syrup

Cut the bottoms off so they'd sit up straight, and cut out the core with a paring knife, making a conical void in the center of each one. Leave the stems on. Arrange the pears in the bottom of a pot or saucepan so they fit fairly snugly. Pour in enough wine to reach the widest part of the pears. Add the spices and pour in the sweetener; the amount is going to depend on the number of pears, the size of the pot (which will govern the volume of wine) and how much you reduce the sauce at the end. I would suggest about 2 tablespoons per cup of wine to start, since it's easy to add more before serving. Bring to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the pears are tender but not mushy. Remove pears to a bowl or container and strain the wine into a smaller pan. Over low heat, reduce the wine to a syrup and adjust sweetness. Put one or more pears in each bowl and pour a little syrup on top. For extra credit, try them snuggled up to a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Plum-pear tart with blue cheese crust

Plums and blue cheeses share a couple of flavor compounds, as I learned here. I meant to make this as an entry, but was too busy to get to it before the deadline passed. Here, belatedly, is a version of what I had in mind.

For the crust:

2 oz. butter (1/2 stick, frozen)
2 oz. Old Chatham Ewe's Blue (local Sheep's milk cheese inoculated with Roquefort bacillus, also frozen or very chilled)
1.5 cup AP flour
pinch salt
Cold water (about 2 tablespoons)

Cut the butter and cheese into pieces about 1/4" thick. Put them into a food processor with the flour and salt. Pulse until the butter and cheese are well-incorporated as small crumbs. Add water a bit at a time while running the machine until the dough just comes together- it should not be sticky. Form into a ball, divide in two (this makes enough for two tarts; the second piece can be frozen for a month or more if wrapped tightly) and refrigerate for half an hour or more.

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Cut plums in half longitudinally and remove pits. Quarter pears longitudinally, cut out cores, then cut quarters in half to make eighths. (Originally this was going to be a straight-up plum tart, but I didn't have enough to fill the crust; feel free to do it either way). Roll the crust out into a circle big enough to fit a 9" tart pan (a shallow one with fluted edges is best). Butter the pan and place the crust inside, gently pressing the crust into the ridges around the edge of the pan.

Blind-bake the crust for about 10 minutes covered with parchment/foil and pie weights, then remove the weights and covering to lightly brown the top for another 5 minutes or so. If the crust starts to bubble or distort, take it out of the oven. (This crust will be thin enough that you can skip the blind-baking if you like, though it may not be quite as crisp underneath). Arrange the fruit in a pleasing manner and sprinkle with about 1/4 cup of white or brown sugar. (I like my tarts on the, well, tart side; feel free to add more if you want). Drip a bit of lemon juice over the top to dissolve the sugar a bit, add a twist or two of black pepper, and put in the oven for about 40 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the crust is a good medium brown.

Remove the tart and let cool. To make a glaze, take 2 tablespoons of apricot jam, apple jelly, or similar and put in a small saucepan with a glug of apple cider, fruit liqueur, or brandy. (I used ginger jam and Calvados because that's what I had). Simmer and stir until the jam is dissolved, then use a brush to lightly coat the all the fruit on the tart. Let the glaze cool and serve either at room temp or rewarmed a bit. Ice cream also does not suck with this one, and a white dessert wine can really sing with the cheese in the crust, or some more of the Ewe's blue could make a wicked ice cream with some sweet wine mixed right in. If demand is sufficient, I'll try to make such a thing and report back with measurements.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brothers From Another Mother

I'll keep this quick, since I have a date with my mattress.

For my November article in Chronogram (out on the first) I did a Thanksgiving recipe piece that sort of remixes the traditional dinner in what I hope is a more interesting and lower-stress way than many people are used to. A central ingredient is phở made from the turkey carcass and used to flavor several other components of the meal. The intensely aromatic pie spices in the broth are ever so compatible with things like squash and sweet potato, and dance intricately with the umami of well-prepared turkey, stuffing, and the like. So I've been thinking about and playing with those spices in a bunch of savory applications lately.

A while back, I wrote a post about the happy overlap between traditional phở seasonings and the spices used in Moroccan cooking- another grand tradition of pairing "sweet" spices with savory meats. And it's a very real and very happy Venn diagram indeed. Our freezer still has a quart or two of the turkey stock left over from the article (recipe-checking and subsequent photoshoot) and said freezer also coughed up a pound of ground lamb which I had wisely bought and socked away a couple of weeks ago for such a busy day as this.

I flavored the lamb fairly strongly with cumin, ras-el-hanout, ground fennel and coriander seeds, minced garlic and preserved lemon, salt, and pepper, then let it sit for about half an hour to approach merguezitude while I got some other things ready. I wrapped morsels of the meat mixture in wonton skins and poached them in batches in the phở until they were cooked through, removing them with a strainer to bowls before adding chiffonaded black kale to the soup (just until it turned bright green) and then ladling kale and soup over the wontons.

And that was the beginning, middle, and end of dinner. Beguilingly simple, and yet so devastatingly tasty. The meat and the broth were as long-lost siblings reconnecting because Facebook suggested that they do so. It was both ends of the silk road/spice route circling around and melding deliciously, Ouroboros-style. This vein of flavor is wide and deep, and consarn it I aims to mine it hard despite the fact that I do not have a shred of a claim to either tradition. There's gold in there, I tells ya.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Slow Food

I placed an order for a pork belly (half, really) and it weighed in at 11 pounds. It's hard to tell in the picture, but it's at least two inches thick- more in places. I cut it into two large pieces that would just fit in the two biggest vessels I could stack in the fridge, and rubbed it well with miso, ume paste, maple syrup, and a bunch of spices. There it sits, slowly absorbing umamitude and gorgeousness. I'll smoke it this weekend, then bag and freeze it in roughly one-pound hunks. It will nurture and protect us all winter.

The was one little piece- maybe 2/3 lb.- from the end that wouldn't fit, so I packed it in salt, sugar, curry and spice powders, and toasted seeds (fennel, coriander, pepper, mustard, fenugreek) and it sat for about 4 days. This morning I rinsed it off and put it in a pot, covering it with a quart of turkey phở left from the Thanksgiving shoot (there are three more quarts in the freezer) and some apple cider. I also threw in a thumb of ginger, smashed garlic, cardamom, raisins, and a kaffir lime leaf. I brought it up to a bare simmer, then put it into an 180˚ F oven for six hours.

Towards the end of that time, I made dal with red lentils, onion, spices, and water. I chopped a nice head of pak choi and gave it a two-part braise with garlic and lemon juice: the white stalks cooked for about 20 minutes until they were nice and soft, and the greens went in just before the end so they'd stay bright. I pulled the meat out and strained the liquid into another pot. I cut the belly into hunks, and seared around the sides of the pieces in a little bit of duck fat until they were brown and crisp. A ladle of lentils, a spoon of broth, a nestled belly cube, and a few raisins. Cilantro for color and treble.

Woah. The similar spices in all the components got all kinds of busy in this bowl. Just the liquid- leaving aside the heavenly fat belly- was amazing. The multiple layers of flavor in there were pretty sublime, and combined with the earthy lentils and (here's a word I hate, but it fits) succulent meat it was ridiculous. Versions of this will henceforth be a standard until spring summer forever. A bottle of good Spätlese Riesling would have really gone beautifully with this, but we didn't have any.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When I Was 21... That Was A Very Good Year

Sunday and Monday I did a heap o' cookin' for the November article, and Jen the photographer was scheduled to come Monday evening to shoot the results. The article will be a Thanksgiving thing, showing some ways to make the preparation easier and flavor richer than the normal version without going completely off the reservation (as it were). And John was around. Like waterboarding Dick Cheney, it was a no-brainer.

Jen came early, and shot four dishes (on the homemade plates) from a million angles, including a bunch of Milo with the plum-pear tart with blue cheese crust. If they don't run them, I may post one here later on. John showed up a little later, toting some serious juice, and we decided to go with an all-1990 evening. We began with the squash soup paired with his Boyer-Martenot Meursault-Perrières, which didn't suck. I love old white Burgundy with food.

Next up were his Chapoutier Côte-Rôtie "La Mordorée" drunk alongside my Vieux Donjon. A Nice North-South comparison, showcasing the amazing structure of the North against the riper, silkier South. Both worked very well with the turkey and various accompaniments (which you can read about on November first). We moved on to my Lynch-Bages (the first great wine I ever had- a 1985 drunk in Provence in 1992- first lit up the Great Wine centers of my brain, and it's one of the best bargains in Bordeaux) which was a leathery, luscious treat and eased us seamlessly into the desserts. That's right, two. Seckel pears poached in red wine and then the tart. The tart was particularly great (and this is where we left the 1990 theme) with a 2001 Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes, but the wine was best of all with our homemade sourdough and Old Chatham's Ewe Blue (inoculated with Roquefort bacillus) A half-bottle was just the right amount.

By this time, Jen had left and Christine had gone to bed, so we were off the leash. We killed the two Rhônes, and since I had thrown the latest piece of bacon on the smoker while I had the turkey breasts going, we developed a powerful, industrial-strength hankering for some of that there belly. So sometime around 2 AM I made some quick bacon and kimchi sandwiches on the bread with a little cultured butter. Trust me, it was necessary. And then we popped a 1998 Gaja Barbaresco, which was really something. His wines are so beautifully made; it was an astonishing thesis on the entire range of flavors and textures of the region but without the precision and depth of a single-vineyard wine.

Tuesday was pretty ugly, but I'd do it again in a second. Life is too short not to get stupid at this high level once in a while.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pharmaceutical Grade

Nobody got very sick, but it was dicey for a minute. And it was very cold this weekend, so soup was in order. I picked up a good chicken, and very unusually decided to make soup from the whole raw bird. Normally I like to roast them and make stock from the carcass later on, but for maximum medicinal impact I thought that doing it this way was the right call. And the soup was pretty great.

To the initial stock I added the usual- an onion, some carrot, parsnip, celery, and parsley. After a couple hour simmer, I strained it, stripped and chopped the meat and added it back in along with diced carrot, onion, celery root, turnip, parsnip, pak choi, garlic, and thyme. While that simmered anew, I made a batch of pâte à choux seasoned pretty heavily with minced tarragon, chives, and rosemary and loaded it into the pastry bag. I cut gnocchi into a pot of boiling water, then served them in the soup. It was well worth the minimal effort- they were so rich and tasty and brought the humble bowl of soup to a much more interesting and satisfying level. And it deftly fended off the microbes.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lies Make The Baby Jesus Cry

So this isn't about the excellent shellfish-kielbasa stew in Vermont. I'll get to it later, though I don't actually have a picture of it. Maybe some fall foliage instead for atmosphere.

This is about a wife coming down with something, and the lack of anything easy to prepare in the house. A quick trip later, we were the happy owners of some lovely short ribs. And since we have a pressure cooker, shreddy, falling-off-the-bone-ness was a mere 40 minutes away. Roots (carrot, celery, parsnip, turnip, burdock) plus onion, garlic, herbs, tomato paste, a little soy sauce and rice vinegar all went in there with the meat.

Perfect. Beefy, with a wonderful sweetness from all the roots, and a slavericious sauce that had us all drinking out of our bowls. The leftovers were even better, providing an excellent lunch on an absurdly chilly day.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hugs Not Drugs

We went to Vermont last weekend, and there was some good eatin'- most interesting was a shellfish stew with local kielbasa that I'll describe in the next post. This afternoon I got busy trying to turn the last of the season's tomatoes- bought at the farmers' market yesterday because ours are done, and now dead from frost- into a couple of kinds of salsa to compensate for the complete lack of home-canned tomato sauce this summer, using our last (and best; they're just coming in now due to ridiculously cold and wet summer, so I have them under plastic to try to prolong their lives) pepper harvest as the other main ingredient.

First, I washed the tomatillos and heirloom green tomatoes I bought, chopped them coarsely, and spun them with cilantro, lime juice, garlic and serranos to make two quarts of super-clean, bright green, pretty damn hot salsa verde. I fridged one quart and froze the other. They are a lovely, near-flourescent green. The rest of the serranos went into the smoker, along with two hunks of bacon I'm sending out as gifts and the pasta for tonight's dinner and a bunch of Amish Paste tomatoes. The rest of those fat red beauties got cut up and cooked with red onion, garlic, coriander and cumin seeds, and more lime juice, then had smoked tomatoes and peppers added in after a quick blast in the processor. The result was two pints of smoky, spicy-ass goodness that will take the sting out of whatever winter throws at us (which may well include several inches of snow on the ground when we wake up. On October 16.)

Taking a cue from Aki and Alex, and not wanting to waste any of the precious smoke, I also put a box of whole wheat shells into a metal colander and popped them in the smoker for about half an hour. Then I soaked them in some of the wonderful, raw Taylor Farm milk we brought back from Vermont until they softened up a bit. I mentioned this last time I made lasagna; pre-soaking pasta- especially for baked applications- is much more effective than boiling. Plus, the soaking liquid can be flavored, and can in turn benefit from the addition of some of the pasta's starch. Say, for example, if you want to then make a liason with some fat, flour, and cheese. Which I did.

To begin, the final little nub of the last batch of bacon, diced, rendered in some butter because I'm crazy like that. I added flour to make a roux, then whisked in the milk which the smoked pasta had soaked in until half-tender. The resulting roux didn't quite have the body I wanted to handle the volume of milk (since I never measure anything) so I mixed a bit of the glorious fat that sits on top of the local yogurt we buy with a bit more flour to make a tangy, yogurty version of beurre manié and used that to thicken the béchamel to the right consistency. Then I added salt, black pepper, fresh thyme, rosemary, chives, and parsley, and then stirred in the shells to coat them thoroughly. Then they went into a pyrex loaf pan with a layer of panko and truffle oil on top.

It looks kind of drab and beige, but rest assured it was orgasmically wonderful to taste. Smoky, creamy, tangy, rich as shit- it was sort of like a Bacon-Cheddar Loaf™ even though there was maybe a teaspoon of bacon actually in it. It was like a neutron gut bomb- it pummeled the stomach, but left the grinning, beatific soul miraculously intact- even fortified. I instantly realized how I am going to turn this into the apotheosis of itself at a future fancy dinner to be named later. Seriously, though- smoked mac and chee? It's a cream dream. And it doesn't even get your bong all greasy and clogged with cheese.

Not wanting to disrespect the vegetable kingdom, as a first course, I took some of the pink heirlooms from the market (I've forgotten their names) and puréed and strained them into a saucepan. Over gentle heat, I added some thyme, pepper, and salt, and then served it. Bright, sweet, tart, and perfect, it was summer's last sweet rosy echo as the rain turned to sticky wet snow outside.

Or, less diplomatically put, an upraised middle finger to the foul weather we've been under for the better part of six months now. Giving said finger an extra stiffening was a bottle of 2000 Hilberg-Pasquero Nebbiolo. I've been a fan of theirs for a long time; their "Vareij" (a Barbera-Brachetto blend) is the wine that first taught me that feet and ass belong in good wine. It tastes like blueberries and night-blooming jasmine strained through a virgin's dirty gym socks. I drank that fateful first bottle in Vermont, actually, when I was up there for Christmas 2002 with my Mother two months before she died. It was a hard winter, needless to say, and I reverently worked my way to the bottom of the bottle after I got her to bed, rotating the flavors in my mind and trying to reconcile the tension between the flowers and the feet. All of their wines are biodynamic, and their single-vineyard Barbaresco is pretty damn good, as is this Nebbiolo. They age nicely; at 9 years they're really roaring right now. Sadly, I have finished my stash. Time to stock up for future bliss.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Oh Fishy Fish

Yesterday was the weekly market, so I went over to poke around- grabbing a couple of huge nappa cabbage for the next batch of kimchi, since ours got either eaten by slugs or are too small- and to pick up some fish. Gerard actually took the week off, but did bring John and me some lovely sardines because John is famous and I am, well, special. So I ran home and put some dinner together.

I steamed half a cauliflower, and when soft I blended it with pimentón, yogurt, salt, and truffle oil. There was some leftover plain quinoa, so I tossed it with olive oil, kimchi juice, and leftover bitter green mash to make a pretty nice pilafy thing. The fish I seared in the iron pan with garlic and thyme, then removed them and made an insta-escabeche by deglazing with sherry vinegar, lemon juice, beer, tomato paste, more herbs, and a little mustard. Normally, of course, one marinates the fish in this overnight, but I just used it as a sauce. It worked decently; the sharp acidity is just what nice oily fish like these cry out for. Marjoram flowers made a pretty and tasty garnish.

Tomorrow will be a busy day of kimchi, stock, and bread-making, plus smoking more bacon if there's time. At the market yesterday I ordered a big-ass hunk of pork belly for next week to make us a winter's worth of bacon.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

It's A Beautiful Day, You Should Be Outside

I've been lax about blogging, obviously, but not about cooking; I just can't find time to do any writing. I even busted out a pretty nice 6-course dinner for a couple of friends up from the city last Friday, but the only picture I took was a repeat of the gravlax with corn-avocado ice cream and pickle sauce. Other courses were grilled chicken-miso soup, a sort of frisée aux lardons- curly endive tossed with a thick egg-yolk vinaigrette and fat lardons of our luscious bacon- mussels steamed over a sauce of tomato, red pepper, fennel, celery, carrot, wine, kaffir lime leaf, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, curry leaf, and lemon thyme that I slow-cooked for an hour before adding the mussels, serving them with crusty baguette slices as soon as they opened, lamb chops with preserved lemon mustard, beet tapenade, and bitter green mash, and a plum-pear tart for dessert.

We drank a bottle of Gaston Chiquet Champagne, then a 2002 Cheze Condrieu, then a 1998 Tignanello which took a while to open up but then delivered mightily. The progression of bottles suited the trajectory of flavors quite nicely, and the conversation was lovely; they're planning to open a restaurant soon and it was good fun to hear their ideas.

We're having a glorious fall, which is helping to make up for the wretched summer. As a result, I've been trying to fit in as much outdoor work as I can in between all the other things I need to do at any given time. Today, for example, I borrowed a friend's truck and drove down to Lee's; I wrote about him in my piece on permaculture, and he had offered to sell me some of his huge and beautiful 20-year-old blueberry bushes. He had root-pruned them ahead of time, so we levered them out with a shovel and got them into the back of the truck. One of them, a Sierra, divided when we lifted it, so I got three for the price of two. He also threw in a couple of currant bushes- a pink champagne and another pink or white variety. Next spring I'm going back to his plant sale to get some new blackcurrant cultivars to fill in the bed. It's an inspirational place, and makes me look at our spot with new eyes; by this time next year I think we'll be at a different level of food production and aesthetic splendor.

Lee writes a blog, too, and it's always worth checking in to see what he's up to. I'm too sore from diggin to type any more, so here's a picture of the blueberries, happily (I hope) ensconced in their new home. Best of all, we now have a use for the leaves we rake every fall: mulch for the acid-loving berry bushes.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

A Good Walk Decomposed

As inevitable as dawn, the beginning of a new month means another comestible-themed missive from yours truly.