Sunday, January 31, 2010
I spent much of the class extolling the virtues of whey as an ingredient, specifically as a sous-vide vehicle for meat. Since I didn't have time to cook sous-vide tonight (and the water bath is half taken apart for maintenance) I made do with marinating a lamb leg steak in whey, salt, rosemary, garlic, and 5-spice for an hour or so while I got other things together. We had some nice sweet potato purée from Friday, so I whisked in some already hydrated Methocel F50 from the fridge and sort of knocked spoonfuls of it into simmering water to make free-form gnocchi that ended up being pretty appealing contemporary teardrop shapes by complete accident. I left them in the hot water until it was time to serve.
In another pan, I melted some pâté fat that sits in a little jar in the fridge next to similar jars of goose, duck, smoked duck, and random mixed fats. Yes, it takes up some space, but we have a big shiny new fridge and there's nothing like having your very own Lipid Museum™ to call upon at times like this. Into this complex orange goodness (pimentón played a part in the pâté seasoning) I threw leek, onion, and garlic, followed by burdock, turnip, and daikon. After a bit of a sizzle, I poured in the remainder of a bottle of white wine and a good glug more of whey, then covered the pan and let it all simmer.
Next up, the lamb: I whisked it from its milky bath, seasoned it with salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence, and tossed it in a hot-ass iron skillet (lubed with more pâté fat) to get a thorough brown on both sides while I reduced the whey marinade, skimming and then straining it to remove the unsightly protein clots. Once the roots were soft, I threw in a handful of frozen peas, and removed the meat from the skillet. I deglazed said skillet with the whey reduction, and then whisked in a good dollop of last summer's basil/sorrel/nasturtium leaf pesto from the freezer to make a sauce.
The result was pretty good. Meat and whey have such a sympatico; it's like a cheeseburger where the cheese is inside the meat. And the gamey lamb flavor melded with the cowiness of the whey to form a sort of hybrid half-goat cheese hologram that floated over the plate while we ate. The veggies liked it too, and it unified all the various components– including the sauce– into facets of the same gem. A pro would have added a smidge of agar or gelatin to the gnocchi so that as they cooled they would have stayed together, since methylcellulose un-gels at room temperatures. But in this case it was fun to see how the formerly firm gnocchi slowly reverted to simple, artful daubs of purée over time.
Friday, January 29, 2010
The steaks–seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence–got the now-standard sear in butter and finish with grated lardo. Whether or not I have the time or inclination to sous-vide a steak, this treatment is hard to beat. When the new stove arrives, I'm anticipating a whole new world of searing; losing this easy-bake™ piece of shit cooktop will be among the highlights of my life. In the meantime, we make do. The little extra care with each component really made this into a satisfying plate of food. To drink, a 2007 Domaine des Vallettes Borgueil. Not expensive, and a delightful Cab Franc after about an hour in the decanter.
Posting is going to be erratic for the next few weeks as I wrestle with the kitchen, but I'll get to it when I can. (I'll take lots of pictures of the takeout food I eat while the family is in Florida and I have no functioning appliances.)
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
But man, these little birds. They're so freaking tasty. And lazy man that I am, I love buying them semi-boneless; they're like little chicken-fried lollipops. And best of all, unlike a chicken, you can't gorge on them because they're too tiny. One quail = one serving. Unless you make more of them in the first place, but that would be wrong. My next dinner party is going to feature these tiny dinosaurs as well as I can possibly make them, including a condiment that flirts with danger and intrigue. Stay tuned.
Monday, January 25, 2010
It's amazing to me how much nostalgia can be triggered by shifts in the weather; spring and fall continue to be astonishing in their evocative power. Having a child also cues all sorts of long-dormant memories, so the result can be kind of overwhelming. Watching torrents of water rush over the field and pond in the yard brought back all sorts of highly specific sensations from the distant past. There's something about the sight of water flowing on top of ice and snow that takes me back to those woods of my childhood that I explored so completely over the seasons and years.
An accidental sort of dinner fell together while I pondered such things as time, and mortality, and why I even bother buying Burgundies that cost less than $50 any more. I had soaked some triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid, grown locally and organically) with an eye towards doing something with it, but then did something else entirely, so it soaked for 24 hours. Inspired by the bowl of wet grain, I took the bones from a couple of ribeyes (post to follow soon) which I had broken down prior to cooking, so they were raw, and made a stock with them using carrot, onion, parsley, star anise, leek, and cloves. It simmered for a couple of hours, since I thought to get it going in the afternoon. Once ready, I strained it and used it for the grain cooking liquid, adding in diced carrot, leek, and fennel to add more flavor and texture. And let it go. These grains are tough to cook; they need a ton of time to soften up and it was a close call–having soaked them made all the difference.
Once they approached done (though still with a pleasingly gut-scouring firmness to their outer layer) I got some duck sausages going in a pan. Once browned all around and cooked through, I removed them and deglazed the pan with white wine, pouring the result into the grain pot to add extra fondtastic depth of flavor. And that was pretty much it, with parsley to finish. The little things made big differences here: the quality of the sausage and stock, the freshness of the grain (and the soaking) helped a bowl of very simple food get some complex work done in the flavor department. I like this grain, but next time I'll use the pressure cooker to get a quicker result; it has lots of nutty character and can hold up to a ton of abuse, making it a good candidate for all sorts of braise-type things.
As for the Burgundy, another 1er cru Givry (though this time a 2006) well, all I can say is that I should open these two days before I drink them. It's the only way to tell of they're any good. I'm going to save money by cooking peasant food and then spend it on real wine. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
The mussels–a perennial favorite, with a baguette purchased specially for soppage–got a brief, hard schwitz over a bed of onion, leeks, fennel, garlic, real Palacios chorizo, herbs, and white wine, then a dusting of parsley. Not exactly plump, and a bunch had to be thrown out on account of their being, uh, DEAD (in itself an improvement over the last bag purchased at a different local market last summer, in which EVERY SINGLE FUCKING MUSSEL was dead) but they tasted pretty good. And the resulting juice? Was really really good. So good, in fact, that I changed seahorses in midcurrent and used it for a sauce for the tuna.
Now normally the leftover mussel-cooking liquid is the kind of culinary casualty that you either accept as a given or do your damnedest to thwart, waving your damp toast menacingly at the server who strays too close to the bowl with an eye towards clearing it. But then you're too full of bread to finish your main course, and end up bringing home a soggy burger or chops in the kind of plastic container that you can't recycle. And at that point, it's hard to see why you even bothered to go out to dinner in the first place, outside of some misplaced liberal guilt about providing employment for the ex-cons and meth-heads in your town.
So I took the mussel liquid, along with all of its attendant chunks of stuff, and poured it over the tuna. I'm pretty sure there was some polenta under there, or something similar. Memory fails. By looking at the picture below, observant readers will be able to discern the following:
1. My knives need sharpening.
2. I couldn't even be bothered to throw some greenery at this.
3. The tuna is pretty well cooked, though I didn't trim it very thoroughly before cooking.
All of these are in fact true. Having said that, though, I may just have stumbled on a truly sublime use for leftover shellfish liquor, because this was extremely good to eat. There's a refined version of this now waiting in the wings for the chance to strut and fret its hour upon the blog, but it will have to keep waiting until I have some guests worth the effort.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
So when I dropped him off, running late to get home for dinner, they hooked me up not only with elderberry jam and a steaming container of just-made venison stew but also with frozen backstrap and ground meat to boot. Soon enough–last night, to be exact–the latter found itself pressed into service as chili. Particularly good chili at that, due to some prescient stock-making by yours truly the night before. We had a bunch of beef bones and trimmings in the freezer, and noodle soup was in order, so I roasted the bones and then simmered them with the trimmings, charred onion, carrot, peppercorns, and parsley stalks for three hours or so. I removed the edible meat and strained the stock to make some nice soba soup with beef, caramelized oyster mushrooms, kimchi, and shredded kale.
The remainder of the stock got reduced for about six more hours and then stored in the fridge. When it came time to make the chili, said stock provided a much-needed foundation; I added it to the venison, spices, and minced onion after a bit of a sautée and let it simmer while the white kidney beans pressure-cooked to al dentitude. Some tomato paste, more herbs and spices (including 5-spice, pimentón, piment d'Espelette, cumin, and ancho powder) and another hour or so of simmering bought it to a happy place of harmony and depth but without too much heat. (The child precludes spicy dishes; we add capsaicin after the fact with a variety of condiments, some homemade). In this case, it was from a small jar of Yammi (¡con aji!) brand chili paste brought especially for us from Peru by another friend last fall.
But not too much; as good as this hot sauce is, I didn't want to cock-block the wine- a 2008 Cerghino/Smith Cabernet Franc. It's 90% Cab Franc from the NY Finger Lakes bolstered by 10% Cali Petite Sirah, so the tangy, low-alcohol tartness is fattened up a bit with their almost cartoonishly purple Petite juice and its attendant white peach/apricot-scented jammy win. Smooth tannins wrapped right around the chili; this is a meat-lover's wine. I think it might be better still with a lower percentage of Petite–the disparity in influence is kind of shocking–but I trust their judgement. 90% local is OK by me. Full disclosure: they gave me this bottle, so it matched the gifted theme in a couple of ways.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
This is what was in the fridge/freezer:
some chicken stock (made from pressure-cooked wings)
1/2 can coconut milk
I love making risotto from leftover brown rice; the second cooking, best done with good stock, gets it to an appealingly gooey place that still has some integrity. I threw a minced kaffir lime leaf in along with a few spices at the beginning while sweating the onion. Ten minutes later, we had dinner, more room in the fridge, and some empty containers for the next bunch of leftovers.
Monday, January 18, 2010
In China, it's sometimes referred to as the "five layers of heaven" for its alternating striations of muscle and fat. And then skin. I made a pretty badass dinner with a hunk a while back– a hunk I cured as if for bacon (but with all sorts of Indian inflection) and then braised for six hours in the oven with stock and such, and it was ridonkulosity incarnate on a bed of dal with some of the braising liquid.
This time aound, I didn't have any cured, but I did have a particularly meaty hunk of Berkshire belly in the freezer. So I thawed it in chicken stock with a pile of aromatics and set it in a 190˚ oven for about 6 hours. Meanwhile, I pressure-cooked navy beans with parsnips, leeks, minced duck prosciutto, and herbs, and caramelized brussels sprouts with lardons of our bacon and then steamed with a bit more of the chicken stock. And whisked up some polenta. Once out of the oven, I strained the braising liquid and reduced it a tetch while I put a righteous sear on the skin of the belly and then cut it into portions.
It probably would have tasted better if I had been wearing a too-small Thom Browne suit and listening to Arctic Monkeys on a Zune while I ate it, but as it was it did just fine for, you know, people eating dinner.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Originally it was just going to be parsnip gnocchi, but then I noticed the variety of brightly colored winter produce we had on hand, so it got more ambitious. I steamed the parsnips and blended them with salt and a few drops of vanilla. I roasted a kabocha squash and puréed it with nutmeg. I roasted some beets and whizzed them with a bit of Banyuls vinegar, and lastly I pulled the rest of the purple potato purée out of the fridge. To each of these smoothnesses I added hydrated methylcellulose, doing little quenelle tests as I went to determine the right amount. Once I had (or thought I had) each mixture right, I put them all into individual bags and let them sit while I did some other stuff.
Each vegetable needed a different percentage based on its texture and water content, and for some reason I under-added a lot to the beet and potato mixtures. So when it came time to cook them (piped from a cut corner of the bag into simmering water) and then spoon them into the waiting roast chicken dashi, those two fell apart. So it looked like a clown threw up, but it tasted very good; the whole point of this is that the gnocchi are made almost entirely out of the vegetable, without any egg or flour to change the taste. They dissolve on the tongue like magic flavor pillows. And in my defense, the parsnip and squash ones can clearly be seen to be admirably holding their shapes.
The rest of the meal was better; Gerard brought a ton of fish in various forms. We started with his Basque-style salt cod, which was superb, and then moved on to salmon I broiled with a custom spice mixture and then napped with a blood orange gastrique. To follow, weakfish with the leftover Basque sauce- not far from Vizcaína- and hake in green sauce to complete the Basque themed fish portion of the program. The green sauce was not so traditional; I blended parsley, chives, kale, garlic, and sourdough bread crumbs with olive oil and white wine.
Here's a pic of the salmon, accompanied by John's miso butter-roasted maitake:
Dessert was dueling apple pies from Duncan and Sirkka. The beverage theme for the evening was all Sine Qua Non. We started with our "Whisperin' E," the (I think) 2002 white blend that's usually Chard and Roussanne: just a great bottle of wine, plain and simple. Their whites continue to be my favorites, especially with age. Next up was the 2005 "Over and Out" pinot, the last one they made, followed by a Grenache- one of the newer ones, in the ridiculous bottles (2007?)- and then "The 17th Nail in My Forehead" Syrah which is also pretty brand new. With dessert we had a half bottle of Mr. K Viognier, which I think was 2005. I didn't write any of this down, and John took most of the bottles home for his archive. For all the hype, the reds didn't do anything for us; John's going to sell the rest of his, a decision I support. They're just not that special; I can think of much better ways to get an expensive hangover.
Friday, January 08, 2010
While this had its rendezvous with destiny, I sautéed some king oyster and maitake mushrooms (first the one, then the other, later) with lardo and garlic until well-inflected with mahogany, and then added scallion, ponzu, white wine and some of the stock to reduce and sap the last resistance from the oyster stems. I removed them to a bowl and besprinkled of the minced cilantro.
In the selfsame pan went a chiffonade of black kale, with more stock to finish. I simmered the noodles for a minute, then ladled them into bowls. Topped with stock, our own kimchi, kale, then fanned slices of our new duck prosciutto, it began to resemble good food. A glug of shoyu and a dollop of homemade sambal oelek for extra bass and treble helped it along. (These two added after the picture).
First of all, these mushrooms. The umamitude was off the freaking charts; they had all the pupil-dilating, glutamatious whallop of a bag of BBQ-flavored potato chips. Impossible to stop wolfing. The cured, salty duck against the tangy, salty kimchi and heavily redolent sambal, with a chickeny-noodley foundation? Very nice. The crunch, and slurp, and chew, and heat, and tang, and depth, and bright garnishes. Handsome indeed, and more fetching still against the diaphanous yellow backdrop of a 2004 Bernhard Eifel Schweicher Annaberg Riesling "Alte Reben Vom Roten Schiefen." (Which means "You can see Poland from my house!")
It was kind of a lovely, snowy day today, after four days of beautiful, cold sunshine; winter is not without its beauty and soups like this do their part to make it even better. Having said that, I'm counting the days until it's over.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
A trip to the market made for some good fixins: ground beef, romanesco, blue potatoes, a leek. The sky, ostensibly, was the limit, though ironically was itself limited by the hour flat I had to make something happen. Iron Chef maybe not, but zinc for sure.
First up, I seasoned the meat with a blend that will get its own post in the near to come. I quartered the romanesco and put it to bake with oil and water, covered, then briefly to broil, uncovered. The spuds I peeled and steamed until yielding to a fork, then puréed with yogurt, olive oil, salt, pepper, and their steaming water. I formed the meat into balls and browned them all over, then removed them to a warm spot while I put a ferocious caramelize on thinly shredded strips of leek.
The meaty, leeky fat in the pan positively brayed for wine, so I obliged. "Another broken sauce!" I hear you whisper, accusingly. And well you should. I am a lazy man. I didn't even strain that shit. But it lubed the balls plenty, and gave the fractalicious brassicas something to titter about. The spuds, well, there's a blue balls joke in there somewhere, but they were creamy goodness, and crispy leeks became a Tired Trope Of The Nineties for a damn good reason.
The other night, with an otherwise unremarkable dinner, we popped a 2001 Guigal Châteauneuf because I haven't bought any everyday wine so we're out. And it was a good thing I did(n't). Just gorgeous. At its peak, it's a mix of leather, licorice, and lavender, all wrapped around a core of black cherries on hot rocks. Tonight, since I still haven't gone out to get a case of the regulars, a 2003 Ada Nada Barbaresco. Not yet peaking, it's still a luscious mouthful of tarry violets and tannic tobacco. The meatballs should have thanked me.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
As good as it was, though, the breads, toasted lightly, brushed with butter, and dusted with salt and piment d'Espelette were sublime just by themselves. And it's worth noting that even though NYE dinner was lackluster, those bones and mashed spuds made for a superlative soup- without which these chick peas would have lacked their amazing depth of flavor. The next day I cut up the two leftover chops and added them into this chick pea stew with minced kale, cubed potatoes, and water to make an even better remix. I love the evolving winter soups; that version 3.0 is still in the fridge- about a pint of it- and will serve as the substrate for something tasty in the next couple of days. It's been the happy last resting place of most of our random leftovers for almost a week now.
Monday, January 04, 2010
I gave the rack a rub of garlic mashed with herbs, pimentón, cumin, salt, and pepper and let it sit for a couple of hours. Then I browned it hard all over in the iron skillet. I steamed some Yukon Golds with kale, then puréed them all together with yogurt, preserved lemon, basil pesto, and olive oil. Then I cut the chops apart- still completely rare in the middle- and kissed each side of them with the hot pan before plating. I deglazed the pan with wine and left the sauce broken for visual effect (and because it was less work). And that was dinner, along with mesclun: a suitably half-assed conclusion to a year of epic fail.
But now the sun is out, and prospects loom on the horizon, and it looks like I might be able to get the kitchen done for roughly what the wine sold for, so there's reason to feel better- even excited- about what's around the corner.
Friday, January 01, 2010
Jen and Chris had a holiday gathering at their lovely home here in town and chef Dave went all-out making us a glorious feast.
Here's the menu, with pictures by Jen:
coconut chicken satay on banana bread muffin
macaroni and kunik goat cheese bites
catskill venison carppacio local baby arugula roasted shallot and grape relish garlic crostini
carrot pea raisin cilantro lime raw kale lemon garlic grilled vegetable caponata
pigs in a bacon blanket inside out s'more
swiss chard gratin local baby arugula walnut black olive pesto
pan seared cape diver scallop apple nut salad peanut vinaigrette
smoked salmon chowder smoked trout lox rainbow trout caviar
mixed game burger applewood smoked bacon Vermont cheddar polenta cookie Moroccan chutney
baby back riblets asian cole slaw maple ginger bourbon sauce
garlic studded leg of lamb root vegetable latke grilled apple sauce cider reduction herb crème
brie and red grape rum pudding with saffron crème anglaise and rosemary