Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thunder Thighs

Chicken thighs kind of make me sad. Whole legs, I love; they're big, and classically proportioned, and can be arranged all artfully akimbo on a plate, but thighs by themselves just sort of shrink into unappealing little lumps that are very hard to make beautiful without shredding all of the meat off to make something entirely other. And that has often been a problem, since the closest store only carries (organic, semi-local) thighs. Until now. Today I figured out that if I just treat them like wings, they work just fine; subsumed in sauce they become part of a whole, rather than the featured protein. So this evening, presented with two frozen four-packs of said thighs, I attempted to combine my parallel desires for hot wings and escabeche into one low monthly payment.

To begin, I rolled the thighs in seasoned flour. Not doing this means that the skin pretty much entirely gets stuck to the pan (we are a Teflon™-free household) and further ruins what little aesthetic charm the meat possesses to begin with. I added salt, pepper, herbs, cumin, and smoked paprika to the flour. After they were a goodly brown all over, I added a head's worth of cauliflower florets to brown as well, and a bit more flour to roux-ify the oil in the skillet. Then I poured in a mixture of tomato paste, sherry, pork stock, balsamic, sherry, and cider vinegars along with a handful of minced garlic and herbs, covered the pan, and let it all simmer low for a while.

While it bubbled, I steamed some butternut squash, reheated some fried rice from the other day, and made mash with a sampling of the wonderful greens that are rebounding after a long dormancy in the garden: pan di zucchero, radicchio (palla rossa and treviso), mizuna, parsley, chervil, some dandelions, and best of all our ramps. They've just come up, so I'm trying to go easy on them by just cutting the greens; I forgot to order more bulbs this year so I want to dig up as few as possible. Both patches I established are doing well, though, so in a few years I hope to have a huge supply.

Here's the link to a previous post on mash that I wrote back when I had about two readers; now that I'm well into the double digits, I figure I should include it. I puréed all of the above leaves with good olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I kept it simple to honor the quality of the brand-new greens, which taste so very magical after a long winter. Right next to the ramps, the nettles are really coming up fast so I'll be hitting them pretty hard in the near future.

I blended the squash with some of the steaming water, a bit of passion fruit juice, and salt, and I sautéed some organic, free-range maitake mushrooms with a clove of garlic and deglazed them with sherry. All together, it made for a heart yet optimistic plate of food, looking eagerly forward to the rain's departure and the arrival of at least four warm, sunny days.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Do A Little Dance That's Called The "Bacon Fat"

Today I taught the first of what I hope is many cooking classes in our lovely new kitchen; we covered tsukemono, fermented pickles (kraut and kimchi) and vinegar pickles (in this case, beets because they're ostensibly in season). It was a great group, and I think everyone had the subject demystified to the point where they can now comfortably, confidently do it at home. After they left, I got busy with some other culinary projects before the family returned (they went to a movie). Ten pounds of local pork belly had spent two weeks absorbing my super-secret miso-based cure and were ready for the smoker, so I fired it up and brought them up to an internal temp of 150˚F over the course of about two hours. Milo and I vacuum-sealed them all and put them into the freezer.

Since I hadn't made any plans for dinner, before smoking all the belly I put a small piece aside to use as the focal point for a hearty Sunday dinner that matched well with the chilly gray rain outside. I mixed some kimchi brine, tomato purée, pork stock, herbs, garlic, papaya juice and shochu together, brought them to a simmer, added the belly, covered the dish with foil, and put them in a 200˚ oven for about two hours while the bacon did its thing outside. With about an hour to go before dinner, I raised the oven temp to 375˚ and added diced butternut squash, fennel, and turnip to the belly, uncovering it after about half an hour to help the liquid evaporate and thicken and brown the skin. Meanwhile, there was a big bowl of shredded cabbage left from the class, so I braised it in kimchi brine, cider vinegar, and pork stock with little lardons of the new bacon (added as soon as it came in) and mustard seeds until it was super-silky and succulent.

And I made a pot of brown rice.

Dinner, thusly, was pork on stewed vegetables (with copious juices) on cabbage on rice. It was remarkably subtle and Eastern European-tasting; root vegetables, cabbage and pork made for a very Slavic flavor. I countermanded this Aryan cant with Espelette pepper and a bottle of 2000 Barbaresco "Rabaja" by Giuseppe Cortese, which really only hit its elegant stride in the last glass. I was hoping that it would be at peak, but it's not quite there yet. I do believe that there are a few more left in storage, but I'm not completely sure. Handsome juice in any case.

Friday, March 26, 2010


We ordered a luscious fuchsia yellowfin steak for our weekly fish delivery, and I tried to make a dinner that did justice to the beauty of the flesh of this fish. With sashimi-grade gorgeousness, especially a big hunk like this, my normal policy is to break it apart and do different things with it to avoid plate fatigue. Even melt-in-your-mouth fish or Wagyu beef can get lose its heavenly edge after five or six bites, so turning one ingredient into a mini-tasting menu usually makes for a more pleasurable experience. And pleasure is what delicacies are all about.

To begin, because a hungry family is a cranky family, I busted out some hand rolls. I made some caramelized maitake mushrooms and leeks for an appetizer, but since we were already at defcon four I decided at the last minute to just fold the browned, mushroomy goodness into the (leftover) brown rice and use that as the sushi substrate. Tuna, rice, wild garlic chives and/or scallions, and the mayonnaise-sriracha blend that is the bête noire for so many traditionalists made some pretty damn fine spicy tuna rolls.

Once these tasty treats had quieted the horde, I moved on to the main course. There was some salad, too, but it was not alas recorded for posterity. Normally I like to take all the fish trimmings and make them into a lovely tartare, which lately I've been searing on one side to make for a more complex and satisfying flavor profile, but this time around I just sorta punted and made tuna maki, tuna sashimi, and more hand rolls (by request, and that is real wasabi in the background, which helped). It was not the meal that it could have been, but it was plenty good all the same. It's hard, but I have no choice but to accept that the food I want to make is mostly out of my reach; however desperately I may want to, real life demands too much time for me to spend half the day making dinner.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Circle Of Leftovers

So here's a story of another (mostly) meatless meal, and how it ended up being part of three different dinners and a couple of lunches as well. To begin, early this week I made a stock from the chicken carcass and T-bone bones left from two recent meals (both posted already). Once made, I used some of it to make a very simple puréed kabocha squash soup using some steamed squash from the night before. Very simple, very easy. The following night, since there was a good amount of it, I used it as the base for a chickpea curry with leftover kale and parsnips added in. Here's a shot of the soup and the curry, just prior to my saying "fuck it" and dumping the rest of the soup in. Things reduce and thicken very quickly on this beast of a stove.

The result had a lovely density, yet was uncharacteristically light for such fare, owing to the soup taking the place of the traditional coconut milk or yogurt/cream/ghee. You can really see the silky, squashy shine. Best of all, it tasted like something completely different–not at all like leftovers, despite being made almost entirely thereof. And it made a lot of room in the fridge; I think I emptied four containers to make this.

Two days later, I defrosted some pie crust (every time I make it, I make a double batch) and rolled it out, using the wine funnel to stamp circles since it's a good size. The crust was nice and thin. I put a dollop of curry on each one, folded them up into samosas, and put them in the oven.

While they baked, I rustled up some sauce. Using mango juice, tamarind paste, mustard oil, tomato paste, agave syrup, and sudachi juice, I managed to make a pretty decent equivalent for the tamarind sauce that always comes with the fried appetizers at Indian restaurants. After we polished these off, we had a nice soup of puréed kale and leeks that I sweated and then simmered in more of the chicken/steak stock. We were out of yogurt, which is what I wanted to use, so I tossed in a knob of butter while blending it for a bit of richness. And now we have leftover puréed soup in the fridge, and the cycle starts over again.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

One Pot, Five Minutes

I know that it looks like we eat a lot of meat around here, but it's misleading. Very often I just make pasta or some sort of curried vegetable thing or some variation on rice and beans. But they're not very innovative and/or photogenic, or they're something that I've covered before, so I don't write about them. The next few weeks are going to be pretty hectic, so it's likely that posts will be on the thinner side. I've got some good pictures saved up to help fill in the gaps, so maybe it will work out.

But I wanted to put in a few non-meatcentric things to more accurately reflect the way we really eat. First up, something I mentioned last week in the bread post: pappa al pomodoro. Tuscan bread soup. This is the very essence of peasant cooking, in that it actually requires a heel of stale bread to work properly. We had such a heel, actually of the loaf in the picture in that post, slowly fossilizing on the counter. And half a jar of tomato purée (an aside here–we don't buy canned tomatoes anymore, just the ones in jars; read Eve's post for more info). And that's all you need, besides the usual. Barely brown some garlic, add bread, let toast a bit, add tomatoes, herbs, salt, and let it marry for a few minutes. Serve topped with unfiltered olive oil and minced parsley or basil. I used oil, Espelette pepper and wild garlic chives. The reason that the bread should be hard–I used our big Chinese cleaver to take it apart–is that it gives it the integrity to not go all squishy as soon as the tomatoes hit the pot. After about five minutes of simmering, these roughly 1" cubes of bread had a lovely textural gradient from pudding-soft on the outside to dense and chewy in the center. And it goes without saying that good homemade multi-grain sourdough makes for a superior result.

Obviously in tomato season this would be better, or with home-canned tomatoes, but it can approach profundity just like this, especially on a cold, rainy day that's waving a daunting to do list in your face. (I had this for breakfast, but it's even better for lunch).

I ordered this last time I was in Florence, and they served it puréed into a brick-colored gruel, like gazpacho's dimwitted Italian cousin. It was very disappointing. Leave it chunky.

Monday, March 22, 2010

There's No Gift Like The Present

This here salad is made entirely from things that survived the winter and are now roaring back. Some stuff–I'm talking to you, Asian cabbage–is just bolting and bitter, but the mizuna, pan di zucchero, and radicchio are lovely. There's a bit of chervil, too, and parsley, and I cut all the tatsoi too since it was thinking about flowering.

Now I love a good bowl of greens; there's nothing quite so soul-polishing as a perfect salad. But the difference between just-picked and even the good, local, organic mesclun? Is night and day. Bitter, sweet, chewy, yielding, a little spicy, and with all of those qualities echoed and amplified by quality oil and vinegar, and heightened still further by the joy of spring's timely arrival–I ate the living shit out of this salad.

In keeping with the gardeny theme, the rest of the meal was a roast chicken with sautéed kale and freshly-dug carrots and parsnips roasted with oil and herbs. I resist digging parsnips in the fall so we have something sweet and wonderful to enjoy as soon as the ground thaws. And last year my second planting of carrots actually grew quite well, so we have a lot of those, too, which I'm pulling up to make room for new things.

The only other noteworthy thing about this is the gravy; I used kimchi brine along with some of the pork stock to make it, and it was pretty great. I'm finding more and more ways to use it in place of citrus, often with superior results: gravy, mayonnaise, vinaigrettes, ceviche, tuna salad. So now every time I put a fresh batch into jars, I make sure to fill a quart jar with just brine so there's plenty on hand. It's more nutritious, it's free, and it doesn't go bad.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nobody Rides For Free

Pursuant to the grueling research that attends yet another article, I've gotten hip to numerous first-rate local sources for the very best meat one could hope to eat. Or, in the case of people with actual hearts and souls, the only sort of meat one would agree to eat: from animals raised humanely and fed things like grass and/or kitchen scraps and which live the best possible life evolution and domestication have combined to construct for them.

In this case, it was 100% grass-fed Black Angus T-bones from Cedar Ridge Farm over on the Connecticut line. Feeling lazy, I pulled a couple out of the freezer and dunked them in tepid water to thaw (they're vacuum-packed) while I figured out what to adorn them with. We happened to have leftover brown rice and whole wheat couscous, neither in sufficient quantity to make much of anything. Combined, though, they added up to something, so I made a pilaf of sorts by tossing them with olive oil, cider vinegar, scallion, cilantro, and a bit of kimchi brine. I let the mixture sit to harmonize while I blanched lovely big collard leaves after pretty expertly stripping off the extra stem with my very best knife.

Having at least one high-quality knife that is kept very sharp makes almost every task easier.

Once blanched, and thus a pliable and resplendent British racing green, I rolled up each leaf with a generous dollop of the pilaf and then simmered them gently for a few more minutes in some of the lusciously gelatinous pork stock from the last post. I cooked the steaks in butter, flipping them often to get a good sear–their thickness (1") precluded a gorgeous, dark crust–and then removed them to rest on a plate, covered. While they reposed, I deglazed the pan with kimchi brine and dijon mustard, whisking it into the steaky fond to make a thick sauce.

Grass-fed meat, because it's much healthier and less fatty (and with entirely different kinds of fat) needs a bit of care in the cooking. Fat tends to allow wiggle room to clumsier cooks, making for a wider zone of acceptable doneness and tenderness. This kind of beef wants to be rare to medium rare. It's so beefy and wonderful that it's a sin to cook it past 130 degrees. And with a tangy, mustardy sauce and some bright green grain wraps, life is good indeed.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happy Feet

I ordered a chest freezer, which hasn't come yet, but in anticipation I made six liters of trotter stock (it's like Fergus Henderson's Trotter Gear, but I separate the meat and strain the liquid. I also don't use Madeira). It's such a jiggly joy to have on hand, and I always freeze most of it in ice cube trays for convenience; even one cube adds superlative lip-smackery to anything from simple sautéed greens on up.

This batch I made particularly neutral in flavor, since it's so easy to add custom aromatics on the other end. Carrot, onion, a bit of celery root, and a couple of fennel stalks were it. Oh, and a shake of herbes de Provence, because I think a pinch of dried woody herbs gives such a wonderful note to stock. And it's hard not to add lavender to pretty much everything. This pot simmered low, with the surface of the liquid undulating gently, for about five hours. The house smelled porky.

Now it's all socked away in the freezer, waiting to be put into a bag. The new, big freezer will be here soon, I hope; in doing research for an upcoming article I've found a bunch of excellent sources for humanely raised, pastured meat in our area and my inner survivalist wants provisions for when the rapture happens.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I have a bunch of posts to get to, but I hurt my back making bread–yep, disregard everything I said about it before, it's DANGEROUS and should be avoided at all costs–and then managed to get a flu-ish thing at the same time, so it's been a pretty lame week. Today I felt halfway normal. Last night I did make dinner, and it turned out remarkably well, probably because I wanted so badly for it to be the kind of hotspicysavorysatisfying ordnance that would crush malevolent microbes into dust.

I took some super-wiggly pork stock and mixed it with some leftover chicken and mussel stock and simmered it all together with cubed tofu and shredded kale. Boiled some soba. Caramelized some oyster mushrooms. Soup, noodles, mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, kimchi for salt and crunch, and a big fat squirt of sriracha to make it very hot indeed. This shitty few days did teach me one thing, though: good Nicaraguan rum is excellent for both sore throats and sore backs.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fish And Chips

How's THAT for a snappy title? I know, I know. Some days, the inspirado just rushes through me like a Prius doing 80 with somebody's Grandmother inside, frantically and fruitlessly stomping on the brake pedal. I'm just happy to share the wealth. It's been raining for days now, which is a good thing, and all the better for not being snow. We've had some serious wind, too, but thus far our power has stayed on. Once this breaks and the sun returns, a whole lot of brown ground is going to turn green in a hurry. The chilly, raw weather has bestirred a hankering for food of a less healthy sort, so I've been trying to cater to the urge without indulging too wretchedly in totally abject junk food.

A case in point are these chunky Yukon gold fries which I toss in olive oil, and some version of the spice blend that still needs a catchy name, and then put in the oven, giving them a shake from time to time. Fries they ain't, but they're not far off in goodness. I made them for the Devil Burgers™ last week, and made them again with some super-fresh halibut that Gerard brought over. (Though the night he was here, we had mussels, hake in green sauce, and paella-flavored risotto; this was a bonus gift). I cut the fish into chunks, dipped them in beaten egg diluted with water, and then dredged them in fine polenta seasoned with pretty much the same spice blend. After a quick fry and blot, all of the above got together with a homemade tartar sauce of freshly-made mayo flavored with kimchi brine, capers, parsley, mustard, yuzu juice, cider vinegar, and some random so-so relish from the fridge since we were out of cornichons.

There were also steamed collards, which I should have put on the plate for some color. But damn, this fish. Polenta makes for a superbly crunchy crust that contrasts beautifully with the amazing texture of halibut. Much more interesting than flour. And if you don't make your own mayonnaise, might I humbly suggest that you should, since it's a completely different food than the dreck one finds in the store. And it's ridiculously easy, especially in the food processor; I might just write a post describing my idiot-proof technique to get your own culinary Priuses (Prii?) moving. This tartar sauce was ever so luscious.

For dessert, because it was one of those Saturday afternoons, Milo and I made an apple tart, which was much like the one I wrote about last month, but with a different glaze. This glaze was Julia's apple/plum/star anise jelly, a little apricot juice, and local pear brandy. The butter wasn't frozen when I made the crust, since I forgot to put it in the freezer beforehand, but it was cold enough to work; because it was less hard, it broke up a bit more than usual, and the result was almost like puff pastry around the edges.

Friday, March 12, 2010

You Gotta Feel The Feeling

I've finally absorbed the routine of bread-making into the stubbornly erratic fabric of my chores around here, and have been keeping a steady flow of loaves coming so we're never wanting for tangy, crusty goodness at any juncture (and croutons, panzanella, and pappa al pomodoro are now perpetually available given the equally constant presence of hardening heels). It's really a question of practice–not just of the recipe and technique, but of timing so that it integrates seamlessly into normal life.

Another important part has been arriving at the understanding that I am not a normal baker. I use a scale to measure out the ingredients, sure, but the ratios of different flours (white, whole wheat, rye, sometimes triticale or spelt) fluctuate every time. I sort of do it by feel and trust that the result will work because the totals add up. And it does. But exact percentages and exact times for rising are just not things that I care about. My bread is good–very good, recently–and it will get better as I develop more of a feel for it. But as with the hydrocolloids, where initially I measured diligently down to tenths of a gram and now just sort of add what seems like the right amount, the feel is everything for me. Sometimes things don't come out, but they usually do, and if it's worth doing again I tend to improve upon it. Being fully OK with your nature is the biggest part of happiness.

I'm still using Andrew's master recipe, but with modifications. I like to make double loaves, because they turn into gorgeous boules in our larger Dutch oven. They also last a bit longer, meaning that I need to bake roughly every third day. I mix up the flours. And I do a half-assed partial knead and then let the dough sit overnight in our laundry/furnace room until it's all bubbly, rather than his more disciplined method. Then a quick shape and proof on the counter under a dish towel while the oven heats up. I use a timer for the baking, though, since that part definitely matters.

The loaf above was from last week, and this one is from yesterday:

The radial scoring seems to make a big difference, allowing the center to really expand upwards into a beautiful dome. Adding rye seems to make for a more sandwich-friendly loaf with smaller holes. Some friends of ours who also received the same starter and recipe when we did have also modified it into their own unique version, and it's just as good as ours although completely different–almost completely whole-grain, with flax seeds on top (I trick I use sometimes).

Next up, I'm going to start adding things like olives or nuts, and I'm keen to make rolls as well. Despite my carefree, improvisational approach to cooking, I do prefer to master the basics before winging anything. And I finally feel ready to wing.

I've submitted this post to yeastspotting, where they loves them some good bread.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oh God, It Burns

Man, has it been nice here. Sunny, well into the 50s, and simply pummeling winter's stiffening corpse into oblivion. I got a full bed of early, salady things planted, raked, pruned, hacked, and generally kept my heart rate up doing myriad useful things. Yards of primo compost are on the way, with fruit-bearing plants to follow soon behind. Now I know that climate change isn't real, because braying jackasses like Sean Hannity have pointed out that it actually snowed during the winter, but nonetheless we comfortably had dinner outside on March 10. When winter is actually three months long it's pretty enjoyable. As long as it doesn't rain again all summer I think we're in for a good year. We have some friends not 5 miles West of us who still have lots of snow on the ground, but we're down to a few dirty piles where the big banks used to be. Bulbs are erupting. It smells different.

So once I decided that we'd be eating outside, my thoughts quickly turned to the shichirin we haven't used all winter. I considered it a couple of times, but it seemed like too much trouble, and besides it's a bit tall for use on the table. But on the ground outside, with cushions? Perfect. I marinated some quail in miso, sake, honey, and ume vinegar while the fire got going, and added shredded fennel to the carrot-daikon dish I made on burger night (previous post) and woke it up a bit with salt, pepper, mustard oil, and ume vinegar. And, also like burger night (which was last week, actually) I sautéed some pak choi.

Where things got interesting was with the garnish. There were some kumquats in the fridge, left from the marmalade I made for some duck, and I knew we were grilling, so I poked around for something that would work with them, settling on a jar of (very good) mango chutney. It's pretty thick, and not without chunks, so in the interest of getting it easily into the painstakingly hollowed out kumquats, I thought to thin it with some local absinthe. It seemed like they might do fun things together flavor-wise, and probably work with the fennel in the salad.

Once the shichirin gets hot, things cook extremely fast. Since we were outside, I just used regular hardwood charcoal; the smokeless binchotan stuff is pricey so I saved it for inside use. The clay of the stove heats up to a glowing orange, radiating tremendous heat up at the food. These little birds were done in about three minutes.

We made little nests of garlic chives–the only wild edibles growing so far–for the kumquats, and there was brown rice as well as the greens and salad. The kumquats were even better than I suspected they would be; it's a wonderful combination, and grilling them adds even more. Milo was dubious, so he grilled a couple whole, with no chutney. Once he tasted these, though, he asked if he could eat all of them.

For dessert, we tossed apple slices in honey, cinnamon, and local pear brandy, then grilled them to make use of the still-hot fire. It's going to rain for a few days coming up, but that's good; it will give everything the juice it needs to explode upward and get this vernal party started.

But Wait! There's More!

A while back, I crafted an obscenely fabulous burger. But since it had been a while since I wrought such decadence, I felt something similar was in order. To begin with, I had come home with local beef and lamb, and couldn't decide which I wanted to eat. So I ground some together, adding in a nice fatty heel of duck prosciutto for good measure since the beef was very lean after I trimmed it. I seasoned the grind with garlic, herbs, and finely minced scallions.

But that was only the beginning. See, rummaging around in the freezer trying to make room for the new arrivals I had discovered a hunk of foie gras, so I pulled it out and defrosted it. I formed burgers, then stuffed them each with a silver dollar-sized piece about 1/4" thick.

Then, because I am crazy, and thus it is the manner in which I roll, I cut some bacon skin into brunoise and gently pressed the top of each burger into the tiny cubes of smoky, fatty, skin. And then I cooked them. Meanwhile, Yukon golds were going in the oven, tossed with oil and herbs, and I toasted some organic and yet totally trashy white bread that the wife brought home due to a dire lack of bunnage (at the store, that is). And I made some more ketchup, though it was completely different from the last time: oyster mushrooms, tomatoes, apple cider, balsamic vinegar, honey, and garlic all cooked until gloppy and then served chunky style, ladled on top of the bloated, oozing Genius Burgers™.

I did also make sautéed pak choi as a vague nod towards health and such, and the mustardy tang of the greens did in fact add something to the mix. I also softened julienned carrots and daikon in some sake and soy sauce:

These were good burgers. And before you get all riled up, flecking your monitors with irate spittle at the excessive use of four animals in five forms just to make a damned burger, let me say that occasional reckless hedonism like this makes life as splendid as it can be. Plus, it's not like I added the venison in or anything. If we'd had moose, though, I would have, and I would have loved it and squeezed it and named it Sarah.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Cauliflower Carbonara

Not a great picture, admittedly, but a good example of how about five things can be turned into a pretty satisfying and nutritious dinner in next to no time.

To wit:

  • A head of cauliflower, caramelized hard in a pan with a bit of duck prosciutto and olive oil, with garlic and minced dried porcini added towards the end
  • A bag of penne, cooked just shy of al dente
  • A splash of roasted chicken stock
  • An egg, beaten, added after all of the above was combined and taken off the heat
  • chopped parsley and coarse salt, with black and Espelette pepper to finish

Freaking awesome for something so simple.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Getting Warmer

So the other night I had a hankering for a nice lemony, olivey tagine. We got some chicken thighs, and everything was going as planned when I got it into my head– based on the squishiness of the ground in certain places– that a trip to the garden might be a good idea. And so it was. The beds are mostly thawed, and we got a ton of carrots and parsnips out in no time, with lots more still there. Even some of the indestructible greens are making a comeback, including radicchio, mizuna, Asian cabbage, and endive. And a few chioggia beets are still holding on under the plastic, though they might be completely woody by now. The greens, at least, will get et.

The roots, plus sweet potato, onion, preserved lemon, olives, spices (cumin seeds, ras-el-hanout) and chick peas which I had simmered in leftover dashi for a few hours to soften got all cosy together and bubbled away until thoroughly giving and fragrant. We ate it over whole wheat couscous, and it was damn fine, tasting quite authentic and super-satisfying on a chilly evening.

And of course I saved the bones, so a couple of days later (yesterday, to be exact) I threw them in a smallish pot and made a gorgeously perfumed stock. At this stage, I wasn't sure what dinner would be, but an idea was forming. I defrosted some Washugyu flank steak, already cut for yakinuku, and thought about pounding the strips a bit and then rolling them up around scallions to make negimaki, but had sort of an Italian feeling so I made some pasta dough instead. While it was resting, I mandolined a turnip into paper-thin sheets and blanched them, sliced some king oyster mushrooms thin and caramelized them pretty hard in a bit of duck fat, and wilted some spinach with garlic. I whipped up a quick tomato sauce using good purée, wine, herbs, garlic, and olive oil, and then made a roux with duck fat and flour in the mushroom pan and strained in the Moroccan chicken stock to make gravy. And I began to cook the pasta while I quickly browned the meat.

See where this is going? A piece of pasta, then some sauce, turnips and mushrooms, more pasta, gravy, then meat...

Then pasta, sauce, and spinach...

Then pasta, gravy, and mushrooms...

And then pasta, a dollop of sauce, mushroom trimming brunoise crisped in duck fat, and marjoram leaves. The result was a lighter yet extremely full-flavored lasagna, with no cheese and none of the gut-bomb after effects of the traditional version. Next time I might flavor the pasta– with herbs, or fennel pollen, or something aromatic– but it doesn't need a whole lot. Once the garden is up and running, the possibilities will be limitless.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Yellowtail Told By An Idiot

We went to the city for a night, for a real live date–including dinner at WD-50, which I may write about–made possible by my Brother coming up to hang out with Milo so we could stay at his place. On our way back, we got some fish in the Chelsea Market so we'd have something to eat for dinner. Milo really has a thing for yellowtail sashimi, so I bought a one-pound block of sushi-grade hamachi and we were in business.

I trimmed off the collar and marinated it in miso, sake, and agave syrup while I dealt with the sashimi. Last time we had this, I concocted a sauce that garnered particularly enthusiastic praise, and he made sure that I remembered how to make it: light soy sauce, ume vinegar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, yuzu juice, and a drip of agave quickly whisked together. We also had a mango and an avocado that needed eating, so I made a quick salsa sort of a thing with them and a bit of leek and the sashimi sauce that remained in the bowl after spooning it over the sliced fish.

Once that was dispatched (quickly, needless to say) I gave the collars a hard sear, removed them, added chopped leeks to the pan, and deglazed with extra marinade once they got all caramelized and crispy.

Next up, more of the wonderful fat sanuki udon in dashi with some of the new batch of homemade kimchi on top. I didn't take a picture, but as I mentioned before bowls of noodle soup are not hard to find on this blog. Once I'm done doing taxes I'll have more time for longer posts.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Lucking In

A little tweaking and some quality ingredients can take what looks like a pretty ho-hum standard and make it a whole lot more interesting. Case in point: meatloaf and ketchup. The meatloaf was just plain old boring ground turkey, but I used a good-sized spoonful of freshly ground magic spice blend (see here) and the remains of the duck breast from a couple of posts ago minced fine to add extra flavor and richness. I also made a panade with milk, a beaten egg, panko, and a drop of cognac, and added in a little bit of rendered duck fat for juiciness.

While it baked, I steamed sweet potatoes and sautéed kale with onions, garlic, and a little more duck fat. I also mixed tomato purée, papaya juice, kimchi brine, dashi, ume vinegar, mustard, agave syrup, maple syrup, and some red wine together, simmered them down, and then blasted it all smooth with the immersion blender. It tasted EXACTLY like ketchup, only better–more intense and interesting. A little xanthan would have helped with the syneresis. Combined with the very nice meatloaf, the result was much, much better than it had any right to be considering the half-assedness of the process.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Awake And Bake

My March article about baking bread is up now on the Chronogram site. Have at it.

Bread from the oven of William Alexander, author of the upcoming book “52 Loaves.” Photo by Jennifer May.

I also linked this to yeastspotting, because they loves them some homemade bread.