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.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

East Of Eatin'

What could have been framed as a giant pain in the ass- taking the bus down to the city, renting a 14' truck, loading it full of crates at the Brooklyn apartment, then driving back up here- was instead pretty painless, and made even pleasant by the scintillating weather, lack of traffic, and a stop at Mitsuwa for a whole basket of goodness.

I didn't take any pictures of the first dinner: sashimi of yellowtail with jalapeño and ponzu, plus half-salted mackerel, and olive oil-poached octopus tossed in a sauce of yogurt, smoked paprika, kimchi brine, and agave syrup. For the main course, tofu stir-fried with carrot and broccoli in a peanut sauce over bean thread noodles.

The next night, I made dashi and big fat fresh udon, adding edamame and matsutake mushrooms- both raw and caramelized- to show off the wonderful flavors of the royal mushrooms. Piney, subtle, rich- they're really best just warmed in the broth without any messing. Next time I may broil them quickly with a few pine needles to give them a smoky, resinous edge, but they were pretty happy floating on good dashi with fat-ass noodles and raw Berkshire pork that reached the perfect rosy hue after a minute of loving submersion. A pinch of shichimi togarashi added a nice heat and iodine tang. I bought sake and shochu, too, and was forced by Science to try them both with this.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Chew With Your Mouth Closed

Lately I've been commiserating with other gardeners about the crap "summer" we had this year, and about how various species underperformed or didn't at all, and about how hard it is to be us. And I've been grouchy and glum about how little I canned or pickled. We've begun buying some vegetables much earlier than in previous years, which I take personally as a sign of failure.

The last few days have been wonderfully mild, so I've been out pulling up dead things for compost and giving the living a little weeding and tidying up. Though frosts are regular now, the hardy stuff is thriving. And there is still a great deal of very good food in our garden. It's funny, really, that the act of saying something makes it seem real- even if it's not really true. And as it gets repeated, it supplants reality and settles in as a facet of a worldview. This is why there are Republicans. It's a trait well worth resisting, and exposure to actual reality is the best (only, really) cure. Hence my recent time in the garden has wiped away all my only partially-founded griping and replaced it with an earnest desire to wring as many worthy meals as I can from our piece of soil until more serious weather reduces it to a couple of meager beds cowering under plastic.

Our fall plantings of roots did not fare very well; the lack of sun impeded their growth so that the rutabagas and black radishes and the like are about thumb-sized. Still, though, there are a decent number of them, and a few of the daikon are not bad at all. A couple of days ago I took a little tour, pulling one or two nice specimens of each (also including chioggia beet, red radish, yellow and orange beets, and three colors of carrot). I also picked some kale, chard, and mustard to add to the root greens.

To begin, I had saved the water from pressure-cooking some of our dark beets a few days earlier. I warmed it, and whisked in some very good white miso. And that was it. Nothing else except a few scallion slices. Ridiculously sweet , savory, and comforting.

The roots I washed, cut, and simmered in dashi until they were al dente. I tossed them with tahini, miso, dashi, and kimchi brine plus about half a cup of leftover pinto beans in a nice thick sauce that I don't remember much about. The result was a rich, earthy, satisfying salad.

I had also pulled some leeks, which I caramelized with button mushrooms, then deglazed with white wine and soy sauce. Lots of fresh parsley. Good.

And all those root and other greens got a blanch, drain, and twist in a towel to make oshitashi. I sauced the rolls pretty hard with homemade ponzu. More interesting than just spinach.

Here's an example of another meal, from tonight:

This one centered around a nice hunk of monkfish, but began with another tour of the garden. Potatoes, this time, and a celery root, and lots of carrots. More leeks. I simmered potatoes, leeks, celery root, onion, and yellow carrot in turkey phở from the freezer and then blended it all silky smooth. I neglected to strain it, since we were hungry, but the leftovers I probably will. A good fall soup, and endlessly variable.

More carrots, sliced on a mandoline and then kneaded with salt until tender made a salad. After rinsing and squeezing them, I added ponzu, good unfiltered olive oil, scallions, and pepper. Very addicitve, but like totally good for you.

One of the many joys of a garden is the random little bits and pieces that do not by themselves constitute enough to make a dish, but can be inspiring garnishes. I like to wrap monkfish, since half a fillet is a nice cylindrical shape, so I used a sheet of kombu I simmered in with the roots for a minute. Then I gently cooked the rolls in a little bacon fat until the fish was firm throughout. For a sauce, just a spoon of phở and a little of the smoked salsa I made last weekend. I finished them with flowers and seed pods from some bolted Asian cabbage, which had a nice fresh mustardy note and were much too pretty to throw on the compost.

Lots of deeply flavored, super clean small dishes. This is what you can eat if you shut up and let the garden talk for a change.